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Architecture of the Absurd: How "Genius" Disfigured a Practical Art 1St Edition Edition

3.3 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1593720278
ISBN-10: 1593720270
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"This is a brief but delightful tour of contemporary architecture with a guide who is famous for his candor. He divides our best-known building designers into the architects, who keep in mind the users of a building, and the artistes, who keep in mind the cover of Architectural Review. Being John Silber, he names names and shows you the artists' buildings, travesty by travesty. This book will gall some of them. Even more so will it embarrass the guileless souls who have fallen under the spell of the artists' metaphorical lyricism 'explaining' their own work- and paid millions for such pretty words." Tom Wolfe"

About the Author

JOHN SILBER was the president of Boston University for twenty-five years and is an internationally recognised authority on ethics, the philosophy of law and the philosophy of Kant. In 2002 he was named an honorary member of the AIA.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 97 pages
  • Publisher: Quantuck Lane Press; 1St Edition edition (November 12, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1593720270
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593720278
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.7 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #509,707 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
John Silber is a former president of Boston University, a philosopher and a self-taught architect. "Architecture of the absurd" attacks certain trends in contemporary architecture. Some architects, the author argues, consider their buildings to be sculptures or artworks. These frequently weird buildings are defended by nebulous quasi-philosophical arguments, while the architect elevates himself to the status of Genius. In other words, these architects see themselves less as real architects and more as modern artists. Unsurprisingly, their creations are beset by the same problems as other modernist or postmodernist works of art.

Silber believes that buildings of this sort are non-functional, aesthetically disastrous and frequently too expensive. The architects no longer serve their clients or the public at large, preferring to build absurd houses to inflate their "genial" egos. Silber's main examples include the MIT Stata Center, the Peabody Terrace, the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Simmons Hall. A surprisingly large amount of bad buildings seem to be concentrated in Cambridge, Massachusetts! My personal "favourite" is the Stata Center (pictured on the book cover), where scientists are carrying out sensitive research for the US military...inside offices with transparent walls made of glass! The building leaks constantly, and several strange details of the interior design has been covered by large wall papers, since nobody could stand them. Indeed, the Stata Center looks like a cross between a chaotic building site and a modern art gallery. The Peabody Terrace looks like something that could have worked in the Soviet Union during the Cold War. And Simmons Hall? Silber has a point that it looks like one of Saddam Hussein's prisons!
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Format: Hardcover
Neither my love of architecture or architectural criticism were indulged by reading this book. Fortunately, I didn't lose $[...] on it as it found me courtesy of a friend regifting it. This selectively researched and speciously reasoned volume would never have passed President Silber's muster had it been submitted by one of his faculty seeking tenure at Boston University during his reign there. It's more fitting of a blog with its confusion of opinion for knowledge, and seems like little more than a vehicle to register his seemingly obsessive hatred of Frank Gehry.

The tragedy here is that there is a point to be made about some architects, and the people that give them free reign, whose work shows more concern for a page in their portfolio than respect for the function of a building, the people who will use it, and others affected by its aesthetic. But how much "absurd" design results from such a disdain for public utility versus simply different perspectives on form and function? Maybe Silber could have researched that. Instead, this opinionated polemic erects a monument to Silber's ego as egregious as the Stata Center.

For a pointed criticism of Silber's architectural acumen, see Mark Lamster's review in the Los Angeles Times online ([...]) Schadenfreude, indeed.
2 Comments 17 of 23 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
To understand "AOTA" one needs to know a key fact: John Silber viscerally hated most everything that came after 1800. (OK, after 1803, the year of death of his beloved Kant.) This "philosophy" is present here, but not presented very honestly. His thorough lack of formal architectural training is on full display. Yes, his planning experience as BU president is somewhat relevant, and perhaps he garnered something from his father's career as architect. But these are poor grounds for the pompous egotism that permeates this pamphlet. A modest critique would be more credible, but that is not for the likes of Silber. Instead we are treated to his own tart, occasionally rude, opinions (usually prejudices) on certain despised trends in modern architecture, as well as an apparent vendetta against Frank Gehry. Please don't misunderstand: there are substantive critiques of modern building design to be made, but this isn't among them. Some projects discussed here deserve his disdain, but many do not. Silber is sometimes on the mark because there are numerous examples of questionable architecture, but when he gets it right, it just seems like luck. Thus the old adage: even a blind squirrel occasionally finds an acorn.
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Format: Hardcover
I am a young architect and was quite excited when someone at my firm alerted me to this book. The thesis that the field of architecture has become absurd is one definitely worth exploring but this book fails to make the compelling argument I know it could. The text is fairly unfocused and rant-like and the background information he gives for the examples he cites is one-sided and incomplete. Even the line he drew between the absurd and good architecture was inconsistent even measured by his own criteria. I would expect a philosopher to be able to form a much more complete and persuasive argument than this.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This was an intriguing book for me. After reading the book I realized that the author's opinions about Gehry and Libeskind were parallel with my views of these architects, but I just couldn't get over how the book comes across like the rant of a third-year architecture student.

There was a part in the book where he criticizes how the new Denver Art Museum by Libeskind was inappropriately designed for displaying art. After a page or two of this criticism I was expecting an interview with or at least a comment or two from the curator of the Denver Art Museum backing up the author's claim, but there was no confirmation from a legitimate source.

The book is a hundred pages of why the author dislikes a handful of contemporary architects. I just wish that he had spent another hundred pages confirming his claims and proving why I should dislike these same contemporary architects.
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