Kamin Surveys a Decade of Design

Event: Oculus Book Talk: Blair Kamin, Terror and Wonder
Location: Center for Architecture, 11.03.11
Speakers: Blair Kamin — Architecture Critic, Chicago Tribune
Organizers: AIANY Oculus Committee
Sponsor: Designer & Books; McNally Jackson Books

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Terror and Wonder, by Blair Kamin.

Courtesy AIANY

For close to two decades, Pulitzer Prize winner Blair Kamin has written about architecture from both a critical and passionate perspective for the Chicago Tribune. Terror and Wonder — Architecture in a Tumultuous Age gathers some of the best of his writing over the last 10 years, framed by a discourse of reflections on an era torn between reaching new levels of civic renewal and a Dickinsonian mindset of despair.

It takes a spirit like Kamin, who is not stuck in duality, to pull this off. “My aim…. is not to construct this story as a two-dimensional morality play, in which ‘spectacle’ is bad and ‘sustainable’ is good…. the end of this tumultuous decade brought an opportunity to gaze back with keen-eyed clarity at the glories we left behind, as well as our all-too abundant failures.” Defining moments of the 2lst century range from the devastation of 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina; the real estate boom and bust; “starchitecture”; and civic renewal, green architecture, and a growing concern over our crumbling infrastructure.

Kamin’s tour of the most brilliantly executed buildings is balanced, for example, with a sobering reality that not every city that dreamt of being the next Bilbao achieved it, even if they ended up with a stellar, iconic building. Many firms laid off staff to pay for design fees and ended up with, as Kamin puts it, an “if we built it they may not come” dose of reality. Reading this after finishing the chapters on the destruction of the Twin Towers and Hurricane Katrina, it is clear that Kamin sees architecture during the past decade as a powerful channel of force, and a celebration of community and hubris, sometimes all on the same site. Standing on the edge of 2011, entering into what may be the great economic equalizer, 2012, it will be critical not to confuse common ground and common humanity in the built environment with mediocrity of design or public space. Rather, in this era of challenges, we must fight for the collective future by reminding ourselves of what Kamin observes: “We are what we build. We build what we are…. only by tending the garden of our shared spaces can we truly make democracy flower.”

Maxinne Rhea Leighton, Assoc. AIA, is a member of the AIANY Oculus Committee. She is in charge of managing the Northeast Region Business Development and Marketing at Parsons Brinkerhoff.


Note about Oculus Book Talks
: Each month, the AIANY Oculus Committee hosts a Book Talk at the Center for Architecture. Each talk highlights a recent publication on architecture, design, or the built environment — presented by the author. The Book Talks are a forum for dialogue and discussion, and copies of the publications are available for purchase and signing. The next talk will take place on 12.12.11, featuring Bjarke Ingels, author of Yes is More! Click here to RSVP.