Quotable Quote: Cultivating Bad Taste

Categories // Urban Design, Architecture

Quotable Quote: Cultivating Bad Taste

CityCenter, Las Vegas, Nevada.

“In the 1960s, Robert Venturi and I played a game we called ‘I can like something worse than you can like.’”

- Denise Scott Brown, in Art Forum this fall, referring to the difficult problem of taste, and how to transcend it. If there is one characteristic that all architects have in common, it’s probably their self-possessed belief that they can transcend fashion — that modern architecture is ‘above’ formalism and taste. This was what Adolf Loos was getting at, when in Ornament and Crime he wrote that “If I want to eat a piece of gingerbread, I will choose one that is completely plain and not a piece which represents a baby in arms of a horserider, a piece which is covered over and over with decoration… Modern people will [understand me].” CC Philip Johnson.

But as we all know, no one can escape personal taste. We like what we like. We’re powerless to resist that chair, that phone, that frame, which will in four years make us squirm. And we should stop fighting it, says Scott Brown (this is basically the same sentiment expressed in this super Choire Sicha/Tom Scocca piece on Penn Station).

Click through for some thoughts on the idea of ugliness in architecture, and why it matters.

A lifestyle piece in the Times last week reframed the question of taste for us. In what would have otherwise been a innocuous item about a publishing power-duo Charlotte and Peter Fielle, Andrea Codrington Lippke peripherally investigates the phenomenon of fashion through the couple’s interest in the oft-derided English Aesthetic. The couple undertook the painstaking, long-term project of outfitting one of the rooms in their home in authentic William Morris and Chrisopher Dresser-designed fashion, proving that taste is indeed subjective and, of course, cyclical in nature (see: Charles Jenck’s Evolutionary Tree). One of the most telling quotes in the article regards the banality of contemporary design: “‘A lot of modern interiors over the past decade have begun to look like hotels,’ Ms. Fiell said. ‘We’ve all seen the white room with the Jacobsen chair. It can be so bleak. Introducing antiques can really humanize and personalize spaces.’”

The bleakness of post-War design is a symptom of the aesthetic having been run into the ground, obviously. So we’re taking Scott Brown, and the Fielle’s, advice: challenge your definition of good taste, and dare yourself to like what’s considered ugly. You’ll certainly be in a more interesting place than where you began. What’s a challenge for you? Do you think ugly is a term that should even enter the lexicon of architects? Is there a particular building you despise? Or is everything simply a matter of perspective? A few starters:

Haters gonna hate. It’s easy to name Gehry as one of the most criticized figures in the profession (also, one of the most successful). We highlighted ten of the funniest comments about his newest project in Australia, above. Can you wrap your brain around loving this model? If so, you are probably a genius.

Proving that taste is subjective, the NY Daily News named Renzo Piano’s much-loved New York Times building as the ugliest in New York. To put that in perspective, they put a TGI Friday’s on the East Side at #9. Image (c) Mimoa.

Maybe not so obvious, but Zaha Hadid’s aesthetic is a polarizing one. Highly fashionable at the moment, but will the MAYA paradigm become the post-Modernism of the 2030′s?

We’ve heard more than a few missives against Robert Venturi’s Seattle Art Museum.

An image of the NYT-profiled Fielle drawing room, in its English Aesthetic glory. Image (c) Michael Harding for The New York Times.

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