MICHAEL SORKIN RETURNS to the pages of Architectural Record this month with a scathing critique of the New Urbanist coup of Gulf Coast reconstruction efforts. Sure, you can call Sorkin an ageing remnant of the 1960's lefty vanguard, but you must also admit that with regard to what's going on in Mississippi and Louisiana, he's absolutely right on the mark. In addition to pointing out the incredible shortcomings of the recent report issued by the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) -- a document that he accurately describes as aesthetically prescriptive while environmentally / socially / economically ignorant -- Sorkin describes with joyous irony how the CNU's authoritarianism has come to mirror that of the Modernism so loathed by New Urbanists. The article is not posted online yet, so bear with me as I quote at length:
I am not the first to observe that the CNU -- as an ideological and orgnizational construct -- is remarkably (and deliberately) similar to the Modernism it so acerbically criticizes for cruel formalist monomania and self-important manifestoes.... The issue with such prescriptions is not the superiority of one uniformity over another, it's the uniformity itself.... The New Urbanists' ideal subject may be a happy consumer committed to traditional family values but the fallacy is the same: the idea that architecture is not to be designed for people in all their messy, sqaulling, and delightful difference but as a means of assuring that they converge into behavioral sameness.Yet despite his valiant and undying critical outlook, Sorkin nonetheless fails to offer a viable alternative -- or even any example of a concrete counter-solution -- to those being offered by the New Urbanists. Isn't there some kind of progressive reaction -- a redirection, a re-harnessing of the forces already at work -- that can somehow offer a better future for the Gulf Coast?
I could go on and on... but instead (since it isn't yet online), I recommend reading the article in the actual magazine itself. That way you could understand Sorkin's critique within the wider context of our profession, as represented by the editorial staff at Architectural Record, who somehow deemed it appropriate to sandwich within Sorkin's piece an advertisement for a cavity wall system that (and I quote) "[helps] prevent mold-induced asthma." Maybe I'm reading too much into the arbitrary nature of magazine advertising practices, but doesn't it seem more than a bit callous to insert a plug for mold-reducing products into the middle of an article about an entire region still suffering the effects of devastating floods? I think it's clear that we as architects need to do a lot more than circle "34" on our Architectural Record Reader Service Card in order to prevent the spread of mold, not to mention the other myriad miasmas that plague our Gulf Coast cities.