Alexandra Lange | Essays

Texan Capitals

I don’t usually like to write about architecture that isn’t there. Too much of architecture blogging is picking over renderings, so much so that by the time the building is actually built, we are already over it. Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI, unveiled for real this week, doesn’t feel any realer to me now than when I saw the swoopy, transportation-inspired form however long ago. And reading reviews of the museum while it is still empty doesn’t help.

But I have to lift my self-imposed moratorium to make one comment about Robert A. M. Stern Architects’ design for the George W. Bush Presidential Center (brief chuckle about the fact that it is no longer in vogue to call these boondoggles libraries). Christopher Hawthorne ably reviews the building and its relationship to the man, the man and his relation to the architect and landscape architect, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. But he misses what is, to me, the most salient influence: Philip Johnson, Bob Stern’s mentor and friend, and the popularizer of a Texas school of neo-neo-classicism built of brick and limestone. Johnson worked in this mode on several projects for Houston’s leading family, the de Menils, as well for the university’s school of architecture — there’s also the 1956 Boissonas House in New Canaan — and it is not without irony that their aura should be transplanted and augmented for the glory of the Shrub. It is wholly without irony that RAMSA should now be mashing up mid-century formalism with eighteenth-century formalism. It’s all history.

Posted in: Architecture

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