Lileks Delivers An Architectural Fisking

James Lileks takes the new Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis and pokes it with a sharp stick a few times – and as they say, hilarity ensues:

And then there’s the face. Can’t build a new Euro-style cultural complex without inadvertent anthropomorphizing. Here we have the face of a fellow whose wife dragged him to the Guthrie, and it’s the middle of the third act, and he really, really has to use the bathroom…

It’s the face of the dramaturg asked to research Nazi culture for yet another update of a Shakespeare play, with the stipulation that he avoid swastikas and the color red. It’s like they modeled him on the Boss level of Tron.

Fortunately I wasn’t drinking coffee when I read that, or I’d have spit it all over my iMac. Indeed, the façade of the Guthrie Theatre looks like the Master Control Program from Tron. The whole building grimaces like someone’s getting a proctological exam from Dr. Hook. If anything, the building looks like “Oh God, not this self-indulgent crap again.”

It’s Marvin the Paranoid Android’s visage reconstructed on a gargantuan scale.

Now granted, I love the Guthrie and theater in general. However, is there some rule that the Guthrie needs to be such a sterile space? That it needs to be imbued with a sense of remoteness and coldness? If the goal of this place as a space is to make people appreciate the high arts, that maybe a giant glass mooninite with a perma-grimace may not have been the greatest idea? That maybe it shouldn’t be a building so far up its own asshole that it looks like it hurts?

Then again, Lileks puts it far more eloquently than I:

In the last few years Minneapolis has spent a great deal of money refurbishing old grand theaters – venues for warhorse musicals, touring shows, pop stars, etc. These spaces are civilized and urbane, and they elevate the eye. You look around, and you’re rewarded with something more than an appreciation of the marble-cutter’s skill. It may be ersatz rococo candy for the leisure class, but it’s connected. It’s connected to two thousand years of culture, a connection that long ago evaporated in the hearts of the architects and their patrons. (The holdouts would seem to be the movie theater architects, who know enough to reach back to the vocabulary of the 20s to give their multiplexes pizzazz.) A stiff bracing shot of modernist élan was good, in small doses; jet-age Googie architecture was better, in larger doses, and said more about post-war America than a hundred blunt empty boxes ever would. But we lost our ability to summon the past, because the past had nothing to teach us. The past is dead! Perhaps. But it’s the present that feels like a mausoleum.

Minneapolis is lucky to have a thriving theater community. It’s too bad that the new Guthrie’s space just looks so odd, as the Guthrie truly is a cultural jewel for the city. Good architecture inspires – the columns of Rome still awe two millennia after their construction – and the only thing the new Guthrie building inspires is a laugh.

One thought on “Lileks Delivers An Architectural Fisking

  1. Mmm… stark. Dark. Cold. I love it.

    If only it wasn’t surrounded by such ugly buildings…

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