Alexandra Lange

Serious Fun

From Charles Moore’s You Have to Pay for the Public Life written in 1965 and still one of my all time favorites.

Whatever the nature of the welfare state, these public buildings seem to offer less to the passerby than such typical—and remarkable—California institutions as the Nut Tree, a roadside restaurant on the highway from Sacramento to San Francisco, which offers in the middle of a bucolic area such comforts as a miniature railroad, an airport, an extensive toy shop, highly sophisticated gifts and notions, a small bar serving imported beers and cheeses, a heartily elegant—and expensive—restaurant, exhibitions of paintings and crafts, and even an aviary—all of them surrounded and presented with graphic design of consummate sophistication and great flair. This is entirely a commercial venture, but judging from the crowds, it offers the traveller a gift of great importance. It is an offering of urbanity, of sophistication and chic, a kind of foretaste, for those bound west, of the urban joys of San Francisco.

I am headed to California this week, and realized I might be passing by the Nut Tree. Alas, Nut Tree classic (could that be any more Alexander Girard?) is gone, to be replaced by a mall with a filigree of retro kiddie railroad. It is the same story as Ben Thompson and the festival marketplace: what starts out as urbane is inevitably turned into a mall.

In my book on architecture criticism, Moore gets to tell the future what its monuments will be: the freeways. I think he is right, just look at the High Line, and Thom Mayne.

Posted in: Theory + Criticism

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Alexandra Lange Alexandra Lange is an architecture and design critic, and author of Writing about Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities. (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012). Her work has appeared in The Architect’s Newspaper, Architectural Record, Dwell, Metropolis, Print, New York Magazine and The New York Times.

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