James Fallows, who usually writes about politics for The Atlantic, unwittingly whipped up an urban planning melee this week when he wrote about Thomas Pritzker's interview with Frank Gehry at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Fallows enjoyed the talk, up until the end, when Gehry brushed off a rude question asker--"a fairly insistent character whose premise was that great 'iconic' buildings nonetheless fell short as fully attractive and effective 'public places,' where people were drawn to congregate and spend time." Gehry denied this applied to his work, the questioner persisted, and Fallows reports it got a bit nasty: "'You are a pompous man,' [Gehry] said -- and waved his hand in a dismissive gesture, much as Louis XIV might have used to wave away some offending underling."
Gehry emailed Fallows after the item ran with an "I apologize for offending you," which Fallows said was "classy in the extreme and makes me feel better in many ways." Everything was wrapped up nicely. Oh, except that "insistent character" in Aspen? Was Fred Kent, the president of the Project for Public Spaces, who holds an Urban Geography degree from Columbia, has worked with Margaret Mead, and spoke at the Aspen conference a couple years ago. And his question maybe wasn't so crazy. Fallows printed an "'equal-time' statement" from Kent, in which Kent replied to the accusations against him (including one made by Gehry that he had hounded Pritzker all over the conference), and says he believes that starchitecture has so far not been good for cities: "I hope that the design establishment will begin to recognize the emergence of interest among young designers and the public as a whole in making great places rather 'branded', 'iconic', stand alone buildings that never give a thought to the broader context of their surroundings. [sic]"
The drama rages on over at Fallow's Atlantic blog. In the latest installment, Fallow's architecture professor brother-in-law refers to Gehry as "the 'Prada' of today's high-end, profligate, extreme new urban environments." There's also a clip of Pritzker and Gehry's talk at the Aspen Ideas Festival website, but sadly it does not include the juicy stuff.
· Fifty-nine and a half minutes of brilliance, thirty seconds of hauteur [James Fallows]
· An email from Frank Gehry [James Fallows]
· Cornucopia of updates #5: Frank Gehry [James Fallows]
· Does Fallows accept Gehry's lame excuse? What would Jane Jacobs think? [City Comforts]
· More on Frank Gehry, public spaces, etc [James Fallows]
· Next in the Gehry/public place series: view from Rome [James Fallows]
· In Conversation with Frank Gehry [Aspen Ideas Festival]