Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Fug-Ugly Monstrosity, As Observed by a Stranger to Our Town

On Sunday the Times Book Review favorably eyeballed David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries, a book composed of journal entires the ex-Talking Head and cha-cha enthusiast made while touring various metropolises of the globe with his musical combo. A dedicated bicyclist in his hometown of NYC, Byrne totes a foldable bike on tour so he can get out and about and take in the local sight-age. As the Times reviewer put it, the book is “partly about cycling but also about whatever Byrne happens to have on his mind at the time.”

We assume (but we’re not spending $25.95 to find out for sure) that the book does not include what Byrne had on his mind regarding Houston, where he stopped for a concert this past summer at Jones Hall (whose sound quality he pronounced “possibly the best of any hall we’ve played in”––hey, that’s something if you’re keeping score), most probably after his book had gone to press. Just as well, because Byrne’s take on Houston––brought to our attention a few months ago by the infrequently active but excellently named Amnesia Houston blog––is painfully mundane. It’s the sort of routine surface-y observations an out-of-towner would commit to memory while pedaling around the downtown area for a couple of hours and then Googling around for another 20 minutes: Enron, no zoning, the lack of pedestrians on the streets, the proximity of old-black-guys-on-the-front-porch 4th Ward to the skyscrapers (complete with cliched photo of said from 4th Ward vantage, nowhere as striking as 25-30 years ago, what with the newish development in the far background), rumination on Jones Hall namesake Jesse, blah wheeze and so on. Byrne does, however, offer a ripe description of one off Our Town’s true monstrosities, one that certainly bears repeating:
A block or so past the run-down shacks — this is Houston where there is NO zoning — is the new Federal Reserve Bank. It’s a weird, almost surreal post-modern edifice.

The mind turns to Alan Greenspan, former head of the Fed, who helped via deregulation to get us into the mess we’re in today — the whole Goddamn world is fucked, Alan! This very out of place structure somehow lingers, like a fart left by someone no longer in an elevator. Alan was recently quoted as saying “I made a mistake.”
Perhaps this snooty New Yorker was unaware that the cheesy, Lego-like structure was designed by none other than internationally renowned architect Michael Graves, notable for also designing “a line of household goods” for Target and more recently was in partnership with [yellow tail] wines. Perhaps Sr. Byrne did not recognize the true genius of Graves' design as a “playful” metaphor for the Target-like facade of our increasingly abstract post-post modern economy. Perhaps the globetrotting bicyclist didn’t “read” it the way we read it as we hurtle past, on our way to purchase Chinese-made goods at the "River Oaks" Target: as a rebuke, and a warning that we should get busy converting our remaining assets into hard metals and burying the hoard as deep in the backyard as the occasionally permeable clay will allow.

Here’s an interesting critique of the building, prompted by the same Byrne journal entry.


Robert Boyd said...

I guess I'm the only one, but I like it. I think more buildings should be made of Legos.

Slampo said...

Legos are good, especially for the new middle school, which is what this building actually evokes, but for the Federal Reserve something more substantial is in order. Like the old one.

We would not, however, go so far as likening the new one to a stale fart odor.

NyquilJunkie said...

That school was not designed to resemble a middle school.

It is an homage to the shotgun shack, the fourth ward's prevailing architecture before being replaced by Condo Kitsch.

I am not making this up. It is a giant shotgun shack.