Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Rise of Neo-Modernism?

Architectural critic for the New York Times Nicolai Ourossoff spent a good number of words today thrashing a straw effigy of Jane Jacobs.

That schism ("modernists vs. historicists") dates from the 1960's, when the activist Jane Jacobs challenged Moses' megalomaniacal plans, but it has little relevance today. For architects like Mr. Pasquarelli, the suburban promise embodied in Moses' freeway and park projects represent, for better or worse, a part of our collective memory. Their task, as they see it, is to salvage the corners of unexpected beauty from those childhood landscapes and give them new meaning. It is an approach that is far more relevant to contemporary life than Jacobs's - and every bit as humane.

Huh? Help me understand first, how Jane Jacobs can be dismissed as simply an historicist? It seems to me that her architectural preferences might be better summarized as "humanist." Second, in what way is her vision of urban life irrelevant to contemporary life? Let it be recognized that Jacobs' Death and Life of Great American Cities had no illustrations and really had no specific proposals for architectural design or detailing (historicist or otherwise) -- she was not an architect and didn't pretend to be one. Jacobs did, however, propose a vision of the city that valued street life, the activities of immigrants and the marginal, and opposed the brutal (and brutalist) destruction of the city in pursuit of dubious claims of economic development, power, speed, and aesthetics.

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