The Insolence of Architecture

Martin Filler in the New York Review of Books:

ScreenHunter_664 May. 31 14.21Rarely do architecture writers convey a sense of place with the observational acuity, physical immediacy, and (on occasion) moral outrage of the British journalist Rowan Moore. Since the turn of the millennium, Moore—a Cambridge University—trained architect and younger brother of Charles Moore, the newspaper and Spectator editor and Margaret Thatcher’s authorized biographer—has been the architecture correspondent for The Evening Standard, then the director of the London-based Architecture Foundation, and is now the architecture critic of The Observer. Michael Sorkin burned up the pages of New York’s Village Voice in the 1980s with his tirades against Philip Johnson, Paul Goldberger, and other voices of the architecture establishment. Since then no other newspaper architecture critic has been as sharp an assessor of the built environment as Moore and as rueful an evaluator of the ever-increasing commercialism and pointless exhibitionism that dominate contemporary construction.

Moore begins his lively, wide-ranging, and thought-provoking new book, Why We Build: Power and Desire in Architecture, with a devastatingly funny if deeply disturbing set piece that finds him in a helicopter hovering over the architectural theme park that is Dubai, the oil-poor Arab emirate determined to use flamboyant urban development to “brand” itself as a desirable destination for investors and tourists, and thereby to become a global economic powerhouse on the order of Singapore. Although Moore invokes Francis Ford Coppola’s famous “Ride of the Valkyries” sequence fromApocalypse Now, his eye for the grotesque detail reminds me more of the opening of Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, in which a statue of Christ suspended from a chopper hovers over the Vatican, with arms outstretched in seeming benediction.

More here.