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News Highlights of the Week: September 29 – October 5, 2007

October 5, 2007

by James Murdock

Editor’s note: You may read the news digest below or listen to it, plus other news headlines from ArchitecturalRecord.com, as a podcast by clicking this link.

Click the play button to begin | Click here to download

Herbert Muschamp, architecture critic for The New York Times from 1992 to 2004, died of lung cancer this week at the age of 59. Love or hate his writing, and plenty of people did both, the controversial Muschamp still has people talking. Elaine Woo, writing for the Los Angeles Times on October 4, noted that Muschamp’s exuberant 1997 review of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao is credited with turning the designer “into a household name”—and for better or worse, one might add, ushering our current starchitect era. Julie Iovine, in an October 3 obit for the Architect’s Newspaper, wrote that while “everyone has a notorious Herbert story”—not all of them positive—few writers have “stirred up so much heated passion about cold bricks.” And Nicolai Ouroussoff, who took over Muschamp’s job at the Times, wrote on October 3 that his predecessor’s “wildly original and often deeply personal reviews” could also be “devastating, and maddening to readers who took exception to his quirky and, some argued, self-indulgent voice.” Look for RECORD’s obituary of Muschamp, by Joseph Giovanini, on Monday.

Maurice Cox, meanwhile, is marking a far happier milestone this week—his appointment as design director for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The agency announced this on October 2, his first day on the job. Cox brings a résumé brimming with accomplishments: associate professor at the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture; a recipient of the Loeb Fellowship at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design; former mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia; and founding partner of the firm RBGC Architecture. He received his degree from the Cooper Union during John Hejduk’s tenure as dean. Among other tasks at the NEA, Cox will “oversee the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, Governors’ Institute on Community Design, and Your Town programs, and provide professional leadership to the field.” He replaces Jeff Speck, who as RECORD reported, stepped down on March 23 after two two-year terms so that he could return to private practice.

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The death knell appears to have sounded for Rem Koolhaas’ Torre Bicentenario, a 984-foot-tall skyscraper in Mexico City, aiming to be Latin America’s tallest, whose shape has been likened to a coffin. As RECORD reported in July, the building exists on paper only—now it seems likely to remain there forever. The New York Times wrote on September 29 that “neighborhood opposition” and “the threat of lawsuits” scuttled a proposal to build the tower in the city’s historic Chapultepec Park; Mexico City’s mayor also withdrew his support for the project. Although the Times’ article failed to list the developers by name, it added that they might “seek another site for the skyscraper.”

Just call him leaky Libeskind. Toronto’s Globe and Mail reported on October 3 that the seals around windows in the noted architect’s “Michael Lee-Chin Crystal,” an addition to the Royal Ontario Museum, have failed and are letting in water. Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise. As RECORD reported when the building opened in June, the Crystal ROM—as it’s known—bears a strong resemblance to Studio Daniel Libeskind’s addition to the Denver Art Museum. That building opened last year and, as RECORD reported this April, sprang several roof leaks after heavy snowfalls. But in Toronto, museum officials are coping with more than foul weather—they also face the “unpredicted” element of bad “human behaviour.” It seems that the Crystal ROM’s windows, which in some cases slant diagonally outward over the street, attract daredevil climbers wishing to test their strength. And footprints reveal that diagonal walls are tempting people to scale them. Although the museum anticipates that such problems will abate once all of the galleries have been hung with art—also a “daunting” task, the paper noted, given that curators admit Libeskind “didn’t design this building based on the collections”—in the meantime it is installing baseboards and stainless steel barriers. Similar measures are needed to prevent visitors from reaching out to touch items on display including a dinosaur skeleton suspended from the ceiling. “It has been horrendous but very exciting,” a palaeontology curator said of the unwanted groping.

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