Center for Architecture

Edification value
Entertainment value
Should you go?
Time spent 29 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The 1997 redesign of the lounge of my freshman dorm at Columbia is a noteworthy recent project of an African American architect/designer.  Feels like damning with faint praise.

The Center for Architecture claims to be “the premier cultural venue for architecture and the built environment in New York City.”  I can’t say that I was all that impressed with it. 

The main exhibit on when I visited was a prime example of a show that would’ve been far, far better as a monograph or website than something you have to go see in real life.  In theory, a show about post-colonial African architecture could be really interesting.  Projects that worked well versus ones that failed, ones by African architects versus Euro-American ones.  There are lots of interesting things to say.  This show doesn’t do any of that.  It just throws something like 80 projects at you, arranged roughly by country.  Each project gets summed up in a brief text and some photos, put into a shallow wooden box and hung on the wall, along with all the others.

It would be like me printing out these museum reviews and putting them in boxes in and hanging them on the walls of my apartment for you to come here and see them in person.  Not that I’m going to do that.

I lost patience with it very quickly.  Shows of architecture have this problem — if they can’t get models or original drawings, they tend to be boring.  But this was particularly egregious. 

Adding insult to injury, there were basic factual errors.  A random box I looked at, on the National Assembly of Zambia, was pretty cool until the text claimed “The National Assembly of Zambia is probably the only parliament in the world, where its members share the floor with a tiger and a lion.” Which is ridiculous since tigers don’t live in Africa.  Looking at the picture, it’s obviously a leopard.  If the text can’t get basic felines right, how can I trust it on anything else?

National Parliament of Zambia, featuring a lion and not-a-tiger

If this is typical of what the Center for Architecture does, I can’t recommend going.

The second show was called “Say it Loud’ about architecture projects by African-Americans.  Good topic, but again, it ended up being a ton of little squares of text and photos to look at on the wall.  Really un-engaging. Theoretically there was some video of African American architects talking about their philosophy, why they got into architecture, etc., but it wasn’t running when I visited.

And the last show was a bit of an architectural fantasy — if you were going to design the summer house for Frederic Church’s Olana (in Hudson, NY), what would you design?  At least this had some primary-ish documents.  It was sort of visually interesting.

Overall the space at the Center for Architecture is  interesting.  A ground floor and two basement levels, including a space that looked like it was set up for a St. Patrick’s Day movie screening.  It’s pretty small, so they are limited in what they can do.  Even still, if I was looking for shows on architecture, I’d go to MoMA and the Skyscraper Museum before this place.

For Reference:

Address 536 LaGuardia Place, Manhattan
Cost Free

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