Forget for a moment that President Obama bumped the New York Times’ Jill Abramson from the dais to deliver this year’s commencement address at Barnard and not his alma mater, Columbia College. Tonight, the Times’ architecture critic Michael Kimmelman will be delivering a lecture at Barnard’s Diana Center, titled Public Space and Public Consciousness. However, a busy Kimmelman also appeared last night at GSAPP, for a conversation with Columbia Professor Gwendolyn Wright.
Kimmelman addressed growing criticism of his focus on the city as a whole as opposed to addressing architecture as buildings, by reminding the audience that he’s only been at the gig for four months and still had plenty to address. He said he had hoped to create a more porous and fluid forum for debate about the city and architecture, through blogs and reader commentary—but that the resources to edit and filter comments at the newspaper are thin, and there was a concern that the blog could be “taken over by crazy people.”
He added that Ada Louise Huxtable remains the model for dealing with citywide and policy issues alongside architecture. “A false dichotomy has been set up; there’s this idea that writing about urban affairs and architecture are separate,” he said. “They’re part of the same world.”
He acknowledged the criticism. “When is he going to write about…” he parroted an oft-asked question. “…architecture,” Wright finished—before concurring that the same problem exists in academia where a distinct line is drawn between social history and architectural history.
Unsurprising for a former European corespondent, he invoked Rome and suggested that rather than looking at Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI as a sculptural object, he could address its Bilbao-esque intentions. MAXXI may have been positioned as a game changer for an underdeveloped Roman neighborhood, but infrastructural changes needed to be in place to make any real difference. The same thing goes, he contended, at the High Line, whose success now has James Corner getting calls from far flung cities to order up their own High Line that will transform the neighborhood. Kimmelman said such high-profile works of architecture and landscape design are but capstones to what was essentially a very long haul addressing infrastructural and government processes that have little to do with architecture. “It creates the illusion that architecture alone can make a change,” he said said of Gehry‘s Bilbao. “There was lots of structural and social engineering that preceded the building.” After the event, he spent almost an hour talking with students about sites and projects in New York.
Public Space and Public Consciousness will be delivered at 6PM tonight at the Event Oval in the Diana Center.