Eavesdrop NY 20

Zaha at the Sistine Chapel, on her way to an audience with the pope. (Courtesy Zimbio)

Zaha at the Sistine Chapel, on her way to an audience with the pope. (Courtesy Zimbio)

Two issues ago, we brought your attention to a lawsuit in which Reed Construction Data accuses the McGraw-Hill Construction Group of industrial espionage, mail fraud, and racketeering. Norbert Young, president of the construction group, which includes Architectural Record, was mentioned twice as the alleged spy supervisor. Since then, an internal memorandum on November 9 seems damning in its terseness: “I wanted to inform you that Norbert Young has left The McGraw-Hill Companies.” That’s it. No reason given, no thank you for years of service—just the name of the person-in-charge-for-now and a boilerplate pledge to sound leadership and innovation. Cold.

The Catholic Church works in mysterious ways. One day it’s condemning, the next embracing. Eavesdrop’s eyebrow arched upon seeing that Pope Benedict XVI had invited 500 artists, architects, musicians, film directors, and one Italian prima ballerina to meet him for a “dialogue”—the Pope did all the talking—between the Catholic church and the arts. Half of the 500 mostly Italian invitees accepted, and among the blessed were Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind, Mario Botta, Santiago Calatrava, and David Chipperfield.

It gets stranger. Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, the director of the Pontifical Council for Culture, organized the event as “the first of many initiatives to bridge the widening gap between spirituality and artistic expression.” At a news conference, he proclaimed that this gap is evident in the art and architecture of many modern churches, which he said “do not offer beauty, but rather ugliness.” Then *Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums, cast more stones at modern architecture by adding, “Nowadays, many people live in the dreary outskirts of cities in ugly houses. They go to church, and it’s uglier still!” Eavesdrop begs his pardon and stammers that we didn’t come all the way to the Sistine Chapel to be insulted.

Renzo Piano, Tadao Ando, and Richard Meier have built Catholic churches recently. Surely they are among those Ravasi acknowledged at the press conference as having pleased their parishioners. Or perhaps this backhanded compliment was aimed right at ’em: “Great modern architects do not want interference with the purity of their buildings.”

Let Curbed.com and Vanity Fair anoint the Best; VirtualTourist.com has gone rogue with its second annual list of the “World’s Top 10 Ugly Buildings.” Only two U.S. structures made the cut: John Johansen’s 1967 Mechanics Theater in Baltimore and Haigh Jamgochian’s 1962 crumpled Markel Building in Richmond. And Yes, Virginia, Libeskind’s Royal Ontario Museum addition made the list, too.

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