Architecture of the Absurd


Friday, July 22, 2011

A window view from inside MIT's Stata Center, designed by Frank Gehry. A window view from inside MIT's Stata Center, designed by Frank Gehry. (Physicistjedi/Wikipedia Commons)

Last week, the New York Times called the new CCTV Headquarters in Beijing the “greatest work of architecture built in this century.” Designed by Rem Koolhaas, the building looks like a giant Mobius strip, with its glassy, twisting arch. Kurt Andersen visited the building a couple of years ago, when it was still under construction, and was already impressed.

Star architects such as Koolhaas, Frank Gehry, and Daniel Leibiskind have created sensations with singular, unconventional designs that look (and sometimes are) unbuildable. John Silber thinks that’s a problem. He’d like to see our buildings showing less individualism, more standards. Silber is the former president of Boston University and the author of Architecture of the Absurd: How “Genius” Disfigured a Practical Art.

He told Kurt that praising the impulse to “genius” encourages cost overruns, monuments to vanity, and just plain bad design: “Old Dolly Parton had it right: it takes a lot of money to look this cheap.”
(Originally aired: March 7, 2008)


What's the most absurd building you've seen? Tell us, and we may talk about your pick on air.


Slideshow: Architecture of the Absurd

MIT's Stata Center, designed by Frank Gehry

The Ray and Maria Stata Center was designed by architect Frank Gehry for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

MIT's Stata Center, designed by Frank Gehry

A view from inside MIT's Stata Center.

MIT's Stata Center, designed by Frank Gehry

Inside MIT's Stata Center.

MIT's Stata Center, designed by Frank Gehry

Inside MIT's Stata Center.

MIT's Stata Center, designed by Frank Gehry

The windows of MIT's Stata Center.


John Silber

Comments [3]

Dina from Massachusetts

The MIT building is perfect for an institute of higher learning because it challenges the viewer and user to think about their relationship to the building, as opposed to the typical mind numbing structures we see too often, ie big boxes dotting the horizon.

Jul. 25 2011 04:42 PM
Catherine Alberte from New York City

Very interesting piece and there is certainly grounds for questioning and arguing about architecture that tries to push the envelope too far. But unfortunately Kurt Anderson ended it by glibly characterizing all architects as crazy geniuses. Most of us work long hours trying to creat spaces and buildings that work, come in on time and on budget as well as create delight and comfort. Most of us are also dedicated to doing our part to change the paradigm for how buildings are designed, built and operated to reduced their energy usage.

Any coverage of architecture is welcome, but there is so much more to the profession than starchitecture.

Jul. 24 2011 08:43 PM
Michael Bitzer from Hopewell, N.J

Chaos and disruption of positive thought seem to be the focus of the MIT structure, odd for a supposed institute of higher learning, to distract from progress with a fixture representing something akin to structural failure, and acceptance of judgement and design without regard for human needs.

Jul. 23 2011 08:12 AM

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