Yes, that's an AI generated landscape. I've been trying to make the programs do all the work. No prompts, just fill in the sides. The building in the middle is real - a New York skyscraper from 1960. As for why, we'll get to that.

Good weekend; hope yours was the same. It rained, which we needed - it's as if the skies got the knack for it, and remembered that this was something they used to do, and enjoyed a lot. We had an anniversary dinner at the Smack Shack, a lobster place. "The fries are Cajun fries, is that okay? They got a little bit of a kick!"

"Kick is great. Bring 'em on."

A newborn had more ka-pow. I don't know how they can possibly say they had "kick." I know, I know, this is Minnesota. But we do have spice here. The table had a bottle of Crystal (sigh) and a bottle of Cry Baby Craig's, which is a great hot sauce. They didn't have warning labels and I wasn't required to sign a waiver before I opened the bottle. We can take it.

But it was nice to get out. The restaurant occupies an old Fuddrucker's, a zombie chain that still staggers on in some places. I think I passed the old store twice a week for 20 years, and never felt the need to try it. It was originally named Freddie Fuddruckers, which is even worse. If you have an ucker in your name you'd best avoid Fs entirely, not double their quantity.

Something I discovered in the course of checking out something else. The St. Louis Orpheum.

Take a look at the sculptures on the exterior.

The sculptor was Leo Lentelli. I’d never heard of him, which doesn’t mean anything, but the fact that the country had a reasonable supply of Beaux-Arts sculptors says a lot for the era.

It brought to mind a tweet about a robot that made sculptures, and asked people how they felt about it. Eh. I’m not upset, if there’s human input into the design. If anything it means we can make these places and spaces again, with robots and 3D printing. They’re just tools.

So that excuse is gone. But they still won’t do it.

The irony is that the modern styles already look as if they were designed by machines. And designed for them, for that matter. I am no fan of the new J P Morgan building in NYC, at all:

One of the largest skyscrapers to go up in NYC. It’s as if the challenge was “redo the John Hancock Tower in Chicago, but less appealing.” The skyscraper bros over at the forums love it, and call it a return to classic New York forms. Why it’s the first Deco skyscraper in decades.

No. They’re using Deco wrong, but that’s a lost cause. Second, this unadorned, looming, manspreading thing does not care about notions of culture or shared humanity or the myriad details that fascinate the eye and lift the spirit. It’s a brute.

Some people like it because it’s a brute, I guess.

You’re wondering if it replaced some classically-styled building. It did not. It replaced the Union Carbide Building, an SOM International-Style skyscrapers that some regard as equally inhumane. While I am not a fan of the rote zoning-envelope ziggurats of Emery Roth and Sons, I do like a well-done example, and the Union Carbide was particularly well done. We tend to lump them all together nowadays, and because they’ve been around for 50 years, we are incapable of apprehending the impact they had at the time.

Annnnd you're saying the bar seems to have been a bit low back then. This is just another one of those black boxes.

Yes and no. It’s more humanly scaled than J P Morgan. It has a certain serenity. It was designed with workers in mind - the company wanted no one to be more than a certain distance from a window. And it had that crisp, spare sense of the new technocratic age, the mood of a waiting room where you take the rocket to the space station:

(I got these from the 1960 Architectural Forum magazine.)

Regardless of your opinions on that technocratic age, it had high hopes. It was hubristic, of course - we can rewrite and replace everything, including all the standards of architecture - but either A) there was an appetite for this, because the clients wanted it, or B) pace Wolfe, the clients were intimidated by the architects and critics and had to go with this to show they were au courant.

Maybe some of both in varying proportions. It’s interesting to look through the 1960 Architectural Review - the issue that touts the challenges and accomplishments of Union Carbide - and realize that everything had changed. Every new building wore the same suit, more or less. Some were just banal . . .

(It’s worse in real life)

Some were monumentally indifferent to anything:

I mean, come on. I know that's not a particularly insightful commentary, but come. On.

And they built more of them! In a row! And they had the audacity to call it part of Rockefeller Center.

The smaller buildings expressed a sense of institutional and civic gravitas, I suppose, but in the end, the church . . .

. . . was indistinguishable from City Hall. And sometimes the City Hall looked more like a church than the church.

In the end, it failed. It could not evolve, just reiterate. It was supplanted by all-glass modernism and then the (gasp) playful historicity of Post-Modernism, eventually coming back to classic skyscraper forms.

  Cesar Pelli gave Minneapolis the RCA building, which we really appreciated. Still do.

But that vogue gave way to the empty monuments of today, buildings like the World Trade Center, a thing that twists in its seat like a nervous schoolboy, and simultaneously pushes down as it pushes up.

The original WTC was boring, but it worked because there were two of them. They should have built them back, but with a lightness and energy the originals lacked.


The most damning passage in the magazine can be found in some enthusiastic reporting on urban renewal in Chicago. Look at this sad old street!

Now look at how we’ve brought it up to date!

Great job, everybody!

The site today is lifeless, and the old building looks cast-off and lost. You suspect everyone would have been fine with the old buildings, upgraded and saved.

To remind you where we began: the exterior of an old theater. There's a word that describes this, and it might not be the first you think of.

The word is ordinary.

As in, this wasn't unexpected. It was above and a beyond, but not outside the definitions of commonplace American urban experiences.

All that said, I love the early 1960s Architectural Forums. Now and then there's an image of a lost world, a place of grace and new ways of bringing beauty to the world. A threshold upon which the whole culture stood on the edge with tremulous anticipation.


What about the rest of him besides the hand?







It's a tough dame who's . . .

She’s getting a makeover.

Hard case.

She changes her look.

She’s checking in with her parole officer. She was convicted of MURDER. But she’s out. Her parole officer tells her she has to stay away from This One Guy, which means the entire movie will consist of the trouble she has with That One Guy.

It sounds like a great noir setup, but the director is Douglas Sirk, chick-flick auteur. But: the script is by Sam Fuller. Can't think of a more unlikely duo.

So we have the good guy parole officer falling in love with her, and she’s torn, and runs away, and comes back, and runs away, and goes to the bad guy, then feels pulled towards the good, and so on. You just want someone to shoot someone already!

So someone does.

Lots of 40s interiors, as befits a Sirk. And about 3/4th of the way she has to change her hair color back, which is a big thing, and it’s remarkable how she seems to be a different person. The blond version seemed insincere, and we didn’t quite get what drew our hero to her, but the brunette version seems stronger and more real, and tragic. By then it’s a sad and miserable story, and it seems no one’s going to be happy, ever. So maybe noir! Or a weeper?

By the way: the leads . . .

. . . were husband and wife. And that's all I have to say about this one. Except this: where was that hair salon?

We know where, don't we? This is all we need to know.


Now two ways to chip in!

That'll do: off on another week of stuff, and I hope you enjoy it.



blog comments powered by Disqus