Demolition Man

By Rachel Levitt | Boston Magazine |

John Silber lectures ambitious architects: Stop building for posterity, and start pleasing the masses.


Architecture of the Absurd By John Silber (Quantuck Lane Press, 128 pages, $27.50) Good art doesn’t snub mass appeal, and needs no theoretical posturing to be appreciated. That’s former Boston University president Silber’s argument in this self-indulgent screed against imaginative architecture. By his logic, Shakespeare is super (he made money, right?), but Beckett is bad (his boldness came “in the absence of purposeful innovation”). And boo to unique design: Frank Gehry (MIT’s Stata Center) and Steven Holl (MIT’s Simmons Hall) are, to Silber, architectural hubris run amok. These buildings are so ugly! Clearly, the boards were suckered by some kind of architectural con game! Marbled throughout is a fascist doctrine: “The people are right, until they’re wrong.” Consider Daniel Libeskind’s fanciful (and ultimately doomed) World Trade Center replacement, the Freedom Tower, which received massive popular support. Silber says the public simply didn’t know what was good for it—but does that mean its replacement, an unremarkable glass tower, is better? “[T]he marketplace is not known for its elevated taste,” he sniffs. If that’s so, this book should find a huge audience.