As we have seen, in the instance on 9/11 when an aircraft didn't hit its intended target, passengers made an effective response. Passenger response is what we should work to enhance. It's free, and it is the only thing likely to work.
The Bilbao Effect
W itold Rybczynski's fine article about public competitions for architectural commissions was right on the money ("The Bilbao Effect," September Atlantic). Museums in particular are subject to egregious silliness when it comes to the design of new buildings, additions, alterations, and so forth. This is true for two reasons: architects are usually given carte blanche to do what they want, regardless of what is needed, and people who know absolutely nothing about museums think these unique institutions can serve purposes for which they are totally unsuited.
No one can fault architects for taking advantage of opportunities to showcase their talents. But the consequences are often problematic. The East Wing of the National Gallery, in Washington, D.C., provides an excellent example. It is a cold, banal waste of space, with exhibits relegated to obscure corners. This is not unusual. For many current architects of museums, the buildings are more important than what will be seen in them. To make matters worse, the public is given an even lower priority than the contents. Visitors are made to trudge though empty and unattractive spaces, up and down stairs and ramps, while seeking exhibitions, bathrooms, elevators, and exits. The staff members of these new museums often struggle with impractical architectural schemes that in time will prove expensive and troublesome.
Steven H. Miller
Morristown, N. J.
I agree with Witold Rybczynski, especially with respect to the pictured, and described, planned addition to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C. He writes, "Show-dog architecture, especially in a signature style, is unlikely to pay much attention to its surroundings."
The proposed huge scrunch of metal foil could be "interesting" on a hilltop somewhere, but it would be totally out of place near the center of our nation's capital, among very differently designed buildings that reflect our nation's history. Nor is the proposal comparable to I. M. Pei's addition to the National Gallery of Art, which, although "modern," reasonably fits the Mall scene.
John A. McVickar
W itold Rybczynski's opinions on architecture and his preference for the understated are all fine and good, but in no way do they indict the splendid, the grand, and the spectacular in great buildings. How impoverished the world would be without its most obvious architectural examples of the "wow factor": the pyramids of both Egypt and the Americas, the temples of Luxor and Angkor Wat, the stupendous cathedrals of Europe. Add to these in our time the Sydney Opera House, I. M. Pei's work at the Louvre (and everywhere else), Arthur Erikson's Law Courts in Vancouver, and, indeed, Gehry's great Guggenheim at Bilbao, along with a satisfying list of other candidates, and you have an embodied and stunning counterargument to any notion that such works can be trivialized by reductive name-calling. By his own standards, Rybczynski's use of such phrases as "Look at me," "one-night stands," and "the wow factor" could easily be applied to the Taj Mahal!