THE COMPANY THEY KEEP
MIPIM, the annual global-real-estate gloat fest, wrapped up on Friday the 13th at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes. Following the money this year were three of architecture’s most illustrious representatives: Zaha Hadid, Thom Mayne, and Wolf Prix. Alex Gorlin, the New York architect with a nose for nonsense, was among the 500 packed into La Salle Estérel in the Palais to witness the trio wax about architectural salvation in “the current economic climate” as if it were a passing thunderstorm.
Gob-smacked if not surprised, Gorlin reports: “Wolf Prix said, ‘I don’t want to sound like an American, but now is the time to think positive and not get discouraged. There is the danger that a new conservatism will arise with the lack of money, and we will be asked to do stupid forms again!’”
“Zaha fretted that with all this doom and gloom in the air, we risk backtracking to 20 years ago, when we couldn’t build radical shapes. ‘Remember,’ she said, ‘architectural space leads to enlightenment.’ Thom Mayne was asked by a member of the audience what the present financial crisis meant for the profession. Mayne responded with inadvertent hauteur, ‘We on this panel do not represent the architectural profession, we are like trial lawyers. We are specialists, so we may not be affected as much as others.’ When pressed by the moderator, he conceded, ‘Well, architects will be out of work for many years.’” Just not him.
Gorlin went on to report that lip service was duly paid to finding creative solutions for new problems, even as Hadid blurted out that “we certainly don’t want to go back to designing sheds.” Then Mayne offered without apparent irony (or short-term memory, for that matter), “Now that the Bush era is over, there is interest in new ideas.”
But perhaps the most apropos statement about the age of easy money and expensive starchitecture was uttered by Frank Gehry, seated in the first row, to Wolf Prix as he left the stage, “You know, all you all talked about was yourselves.” So we end with the pot calling the kettle black.
THE PULSE OF PEI
The PULSE Contemporary Art Fair distinguishes itself from the Armory Show, which runs concurrently farther up the Hudson in early March, by promoting its art as “contemporary,” in contrast to the other’s “new” art. The distinction can be fuzzy, just as parody and parodied are sometimes indistinguishable. That’s what we were pondering while crawling through the PULSE show, when suddenly we came upon a booth hyperbolically hawking The Centurion, a new condominium at 33 West 56th Street designed by the awkwardly named Pei Partnership Architects with I.M. Pei Architect. A giant photomural of Pei and his two sons, Sandi and Didi, beckoned visitors. Considering the context, we were inclined to view it as a conceptual art installation, satirizing the post-bubble demise of extravagant living in designer buildings. We were wrong. A real-estate agent on hand confirmed that this was New York Residence’s third appearance at PULSE, and that they expected to attract the show’s foreign visitors to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Another agent piled on by announcing that this was the nonagenarian architect’s last building. When our expressions turned quizzical, he quickly clarified: “I mean, he’s going to retire.”
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