Mysteries of the Mall and Other Essays – Witold Rybczynski – Quotes

So I didn’t expect to come upon a new kind of place, that is, a place that demanded unknown rules of behavior, not twenty miles from my house, and certainly not in a shopping mall. This encounter happened in the 1970s. – regarding food courts

The title of this collection [A Sense of Place, A Sense of Time] refers to his intriguing thesis that Americans’ sense of place, their actual sense of physical belonging, is mainly conditioned not by architecture and urban design but by shared daily, weekly, and seasonal rituals and events, that is, by a sense of time. This has something to do with the relative newness of American cities and towns; on the whole, Jackson argues, there has not been enough time to establish the individuality and variety that mark the older cultures of Europe. paces are identified not so much by their physical features as by the events that take – and took – place in them. 

Sprawl is sometimes described as if it were a natural calamity, like a flood or a forest fire. But it’s hardly sudden: sprawl has been taking place for most of the twentieth century, and it might be useful to recall the recent history of some of sprawl’s pioneers.

Truck transport and the automobile have had the opposite effect; so has the deregulation of airplane travel and telecommunications. Generally speaking, recent technological developments like cellular telephones, cable television, personal computers, and fax machines have all supported dispersal. Indeed, it is difficult to think of a single invention in the past fifty years that has not been inspired by the desire to make modern life more decentralized. – well, we can argue here about Google’s, Facebook’s and co’s access to data, but when it comes to physical things it makes sense.

A 1990 international study identified the five brands that were most recognized and most highly esteemed around the world. They were Coca-Cola, Sony, Mercedes-Benz, Kodak – and Disney. – thirty years down the line I think only Coca-Cola would survive on this list

The truth is that a nineteenth-century warehouse exhibits greater craft in its construction than all but the most expensive modern buildings. The beautiful cast-iron structure of the cattle market at La Villette in Paris, is a reminder of a period when even four-footed users were granted a measure of architectural grace.

Mark Twain weighed in: “In Boston they ask, How much does he know? In New York, How much is he worth? In Philadelphia, Who were his parents?”

If large cities are the home of the nation’s poor, as is now the case, should not the nation shoulder at least part of the burden? This is not a message that most Americans want to hear.

Modernist buildings without decoration can be handsome structures, like Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building or Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute, and can make their powerful presence felt at a distance. But what happens when one approaches? Nothing. There is no finer grain, no detail, except perhaps a neoprene window gasket or a bolt head. Seen close up, the abstract shapes of the bronze mullions and flat concrete surfaces are one-dimensional, dull, uninteresting. 

Decentralization may yet come, but although we need reading programs, and neighborhood libraries, and books, we need civic monuments, too. Civic monuments enshrine values that we hold dear, and publicly proclaim these values to us and our children.

Frank Lloyd Wright was more prolific – Le Corbusier’s built oeuvre comprises fewer than sixty buildings – and many would argue that Wright was more gifted. But Wright was a maverick; Le Corbusier dominated the architectural world from that halcyon year of 1920, when he started publishing his review L’Esprit Nouveau, until his death in 1965. He inspired several generations of architects – the author included – not only in Europe but around the world, first with his impeccable white villas and the International Style and then with his rough concrete buildings, which gave rise to the movement known as Brutalism. He was more than a mercurial innovator; irascible, caustic, Calvinist, Corbu was modern architecture’s conscience.

Behind every great architect, to adapt a familiar adage, there is a great engineer.

What do the Pritzker Prize winners I. M. Pei, Richard Meier, Robert Venturi, Renzo Piano, Norman Foster, Rem Koolhaas, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, Jorn Utzon, and Zaha Hadid have in common? They have all used the same structural engineer: the London-based firm popularly known as Arup.

My review of Mysteries of the Mall and Other Essays

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska 

4 thoughts on “Mysteries of the Mall and Other Essays – Witold Rybczynski – Quotes

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