The Wall Street Journal: Staying Warm in the Machine

November 14th, 2011

The Wall Street Journal
November 14, 2011
By, Pia Catton

It’s been 30 years since Tom Wolfe published his full-throttle attack on modern architecture, “From Bauhaus to Our House.” But during a lecture on Friday, the ever-dapper author, now 80, seemed keen for the aesthetic fight as always.

Mr. Wolfe had been invited to a conference—”Reconsidering Postmodernism,” presented by the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art—to comment on the intervening three decades since he went on the offensive. To judge from his remarks, not much has changed since he wrote his opening salvo in 1981: “O beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, has there ever been another place on earth where so many people of wealth and power have paid for and put up with so much architecture they detested as within thy blessed borders today?”

Wearing a buttery version of his customary all-white suit, Mr. Wolfe reiterated his best observations and themes from the book, many of which continue to affect life in this city in surprisingly ways. For example, have you been to the new Aureole? The restaurant was once nestled into a charming Manhattan townhouse that made you feel as though you’d walked into a private home. It now resides in a glass box at the bottom of the Bank of America Tower on 42nd Street. The move allowed for the addition of a proper-sized bar, but it might as well be in Dallas.

Mr. Wolfe also used the occasion to return, glancingly, to his public fight to preserve the integrity of Edward Durrell Stone’s 1964 building at 2 Columbus Circle, now the home of the Museum of Arts and Design. The Venetian motifs of the curved, marble façade were hardly beloved by all, but Stone had been pushing back against the rigidity of modernism. The preservation debate raged (Mr. Wolfe chipped in with a two-part editorial in the New York Times in 2003) and what you see there now is the glossy, contemporary design by Brad Cloepfil.

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