March 12, 2005

Review review!

It's that time again! You know, where I get to rant about the newest TDR, and you probably don't care? Fun, yeah? It's a staple of our blog.

Little did I know when I posted below about The Review's insights into art that the aesthetes at 44 South Main would humor me with an entire issue devoted to architecture at Dartmouth.

The articles aren't online yet so I can't link to them, and I don't think I'll bother when they are online. Suffice to say that if Joe Rago (who writes half the publication these days; rumor has it he has turned a few potential Reviewers off...) and Roger Kimball (managing editor of the quaint New Criterion, whose interview with TDR in 1996 is pleonastically reprinted) had their way with campus architecture, this would be one dreary campus.

Sure, the Shower Towers were an expensive misfire, but we got money to blow, and how many students really think the Hopkins Center is unequivocally "not a success," as Kimball says? Kimball's criteria for great architecture smack of elitism -- more or less just a more archaic, "classically" grounded elitism than the kind he accuses Robert Venturi (Berry, Rockefeller, Cummings) of. Has he never noticed the droves of Dartmouth students heading straight for the the Courtyard Cafe after checking their mail, spending hours there, athletes and artists coexisting and all checking out the diverse exhbitions around them as they wait in line?

What about the sight of the Hop at night, the colors in the Top all aglow for pedestrians outside to see, providing a refreshingly transparent contrast to the spotlit ramparts of Baker across the Green? And how about the view from inside the Top? The Hop might be a little haphazard in its layout (part of its spontaneous charm?) and its curving concrete forms might look a little retro and overdue for a whitewash, but I happen to like this building very much, and I personally don't know one student who feels otherwise. Maybe it's the fact that I have eaten about 900 sausage breakfasts there, but it's the one building at Dartmouth I actually get a little sentimental about. Kimball calls Wallace Harrison, the designer of the Hop, the "Venturi of his day." Well, judging just by the buildings representing the two architects on this campus, I would call this ridiculous. The Hop strikes me as almost childlike for all its sincere revelry in colors and shapes.

I won't get into Berry here right now, but I swear, again, at some point, I'll write that defense of it. It's by no means a "perfect" or even "great" building (and not as good as the Hop, IMO), but it's not as insidious as some of these supposed classicists will have you believe. I mean, Kimball makes it sound like, for all practical ideological purposes, Berry's a cross between a gulag and Disneyland,* or something.

Enough for now. I get worked up about architecture. Too bad the "program" at this school, which I dabbled in, was a disappointment and a half.

Oh yeah, and I'm glad I could provide TDR with their latest ad campaign (p. 18). Seriously -- because I'll admit it: I kinda like The Review. And, architecture aside, Joe Rago puts on a pretty good one-man show.

* As you might know, it's been argued (like in my Urban Geography class reading, by those wacky postmodern theorists) that Disney and gulags share some design traits, incidentally. Cf. Fun Facts of Magic Kingdom's Underground Complex.

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