Doing Their Own Thing

U.S. architects: goodbye to glass boxes and all that

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as apt to be inflected by supergraphics as by walls. Moore's latest project, with which he is "thrilled," is really a stage set. The Piazza d'ltalia fountain in New Orleans was commissioned as a celebratory space for the local Italian community. Moore dismissed all thought of "unitary" Tuscan directness and produced a razzmatazz design, a caprice resembling the gaudy, papier-mâché fair sets of Sicilian festa decor: fragments of Roman and Renaissance buildings around an 80-ft.-long stone map of Italy, like the masterpiece of a megalomaniac pastry cook. A fountain spurts out of Moore's Sicily, and its water runs down in rivulets representing the Po, the Arno and the Tiber.

Carried further, mannerism turns into jokes. One exponent of the building as sight gag is Chicago Architect Stanley Tigerman. His best-known visual joke is the Daisy House in Porter Beach, Ind. The house is in the shape of a phallus; a flight of white concrete steps, cascading down to the lake shore, represents the semen. Tigerman can also be serious, as in his award-winning Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped at the University of Illinois' Chicago Circle campus. Since most blind people are at least partly sighted, and can register color, the library is candied with bright primary hues; and though its windows are the wrong height for people who walk erect, they are considerately built low for those in wheelchairs.

This revival of color—mainly mock-industrial color, the sharp hues used for coding function in factories—extends to other architects. The "high-tech" look that pervades Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer's projects is inherently slangy and decorative. If one buys a sculpture to perk up a building, it argues, one will probably get something made of brightly painted pipes, drums and I-beams. So why not forget sculpture and paint the ducts one has? "We've plunged headlong into the decorative arts," says the firm's head, Hugh Hardy. "Craftsmanship is busting out all over. It's clearly a reaction to the asceticism of the Modern movement."

"But that asceticism may also be quoted. The work of Richard Meier in particular, and to a lesser extent that of Charles Gwathmey and Michael Graves, is permeated by the Corbusian dream of the "white world," the building as a metaphor of clarity, order and singularity set against the enveloping otherness of nature. (If Mies and the grid-internationalists have ceased to be quotable, Le Corbusier has not; and the difference is due to the richness of Corbu's ideas, his use of volume and surface rather than abstract space.) Meier's architecture is highly abstract, but it is not inhospitable. A project like his Bronx Development Center in New York City, with its suavely detailed metal walls, certainly alludes to the Corbusian machine look; but it would not have been built by contractors in the '20s, and its rigorous attention to scale and finish amount to a degree of luxury that has almost vanished from public building since the 19th century.

Charles Gwathmey relates the purity of Meier's buildings, and his own, to direct expression rather than a longing for the abstract or Utopian form: "Our work has been called very abstract, but we wanted the exterior and interior of the building to be simultaneous. The form is derived

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