Mark Lamster | Essays

A Letter to a Critic, Departed

Dear Herbert:

Please excuse this impertinence. I know we weren’t friends—who am I kidding: you didn’t know me from Adam, and I was no fan of yours — but I found myself on Duane Street this morning (don’t ask) and it occurred you might be interested in what’s been going on in your absence. I promise to keep it short, because I’m sure you have better things to do wherever you are. (Does Mr. Wright let you get a word in edgewise at lunch, I wonder?)

First the good stuff. We had a royal wedding last year. You would have loved it. Pomp and circumstance. Kitsch. Glamour. Architectural hats. Really all that was missing was someone to tie the whole thing into the Arcades Project for T. I’m so sorry you weren’t here.

Also, you will be happy to know, all of your old superstar besties are still in the chips. Rem is still straddling both sides of every fence, god love him. Zaha has some new extravagance opening weekly (you can imagine the detailing, but you never cared about that anyway, so whatever). The Whitney has adhered to the codicils of international law in hiring Renzo for its new building, as all museums must. As for your favorite, Frank, you can actually live in a shimmery metal tower known as, if you can believe it, "New York By Gehry." It’s very Marilyn! You can see it from your old block.

So some things haven’t changed all that much, but let me tell you, it’s a much different world. First off, we have a black president, and he’s even design forward! Seriously! It’s Obama, the senator with the book about his dad. Everybody hates him, though. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that in cleaning up Dubya’s mess he jumped in bed with some Wall Street nasties. So there’s all kinds of protesting, and not just from the crackpot right (you don’t want to know) but also from the wayward left — in Zuccotti Park, of all places. I’m sure you’d have been out on the barricades, waving your Jamison and Baudrillard and Braudel.

As for the architectural profession, you might not recognize it. Everything now is green, even the skyscrapers. The landscape architects have taken over. (Also, they’re now calling themselves “landscape urbanists,” which tells you something about the direction of affairs.) Actually it’s a good thing. You should see the High Line! It’s amazing, you just have to shove your way through all the tourists. A real urban spectacle, and you loved that.

The other big trend is design for social change. Also a good thing, I think. The object building has given way to the bike lane. Even at MoMA! (Hypothetical: Would Philip be appalled, or would he have jumped on board with the new math? I’m guessing the latter, but maybe you can just ask him?)

Which brings me to the state of your own former perch. Nicolai, alas, didn’t work out. It was like you without you, so what was the point? Rumor has it he’s working on a book. (Me too!) He's been replaced by Michael Kimmelman. Yes, it’s true, and I must inform you that he has apparently made it a personal mission to repudiate your entire tenure, not that I blame him. Sorry!

But perhaps you don’t care any longer — I know you washed your hands of the architectural business before you departed our sordid world. It was never glamorous enough for you, though you did your best! If it’s any consolation, people no longer read the paper the way they used to. We all communicate on something called Twitter, an open faucet of narcissistic babble that passes for public space in our straitened times. (Even Paul’s taken to it! And Witold! Oh yes, me too!) I’m sure you would have had a field day.

I’m not going to bullshit you and tell you we all wish you were back down here working your old gig. Nobody wants that. But I will admit that I occasionally find myself reading your old columns. They still sting, but less than they used to, and I find a little pain makes one feel all the more alive.

Wishing you well,
Mark Lamster

Comments [3]

I couldn't agree more on Herbie. But you forgot to tell him about all the stuff going on in China. Makes Haha Zadid and Frank look like has-beens.

I already feel the Muschamp nostalgia. At least he actually wrote about architecture (i.e. the building) and not a million political things around it. Kimmelman's latest column was perfectly written except for one major flaw: the architecture sucked. Muschamp had a better eye.


I love you for "an open faucet of narcissistic babble" and always will.

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