I’m writing more about Warren Platner, my favorite terribly wonderful or wonderfully terrible architect, this time for Dwell, so I have been on the hunt for other critics who share my alternating appreciation (1981 interview on YouTube) and dismay (Paul Goldberger on Pan Am) over his glittering and geometric oeuvre. I thought Herbert Muschamp might be able to roll with it, seeing as how he loved that other modernist apostate, Edward Durell Stone.
So I looked Platner up in the index of Hearts of the City (useful!), and ran across Muschamp’s appreciation of the Ford Foundation (great Metropolis article) from 1995, when it was given the AIA Twenty-Five Year Award.
BERGMAN MOVIES. FINNISH textiles. Franny and Zooey. Bertoia chairs. Kind of takes you back, doesn’t it? — to the last liberal moment, before the 1960’s became The Sixties, with all the cultural helter-skelter that decade now stands for.
The Ford Foundation Building takes you back there, too. Designed by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo & Associates, this 1967 landmark will receive the 25-Year Award from the American Institute of Architects at the organization’s convention next month. The 12-story building is well worth a retrospective look, not only as one of the last first-rate office buildings to go up in New York but also as the expression of a time when people were more confident that they knew what first-rate was.
I couldn’t agree more. The Ford Foundation is a hinge building, between corporations as benevolent, if paternalistic, and corporations as panoptical; between the dream of modern efficiency and the nightmare of modern impersonality; between modernism, as embodied by the building’s Cor-Ten by Roche Dinkeloo, its total interior design by Platner, and its garden by Dan Kiley, and postmodernism, as embodied by its brown-on-brown palette, slightly suburban attitude toward the city, and all those indoor plants. The reason we don’t talk more about the Ford Foundation is, I think, the reason we don’t talk more about Platner. We don’t know where to put them, and some of the paths leading from their work are not places that lovers of modernism choose to venture.
Muschamp expressed the wonderful/terrible nature of the building so well.
[By 1967] People were eager to look for the sinister substance lurking behind benign cultural images, whether it was the enlightened policies of a foundation financed by a car manufacturer, or the democratic intentions of United States military interventions. Vincent Scully, the architectural historian, gave voice to that impulse when he referred ominously to the “military scale” of the Ford Foundation Building’s stark granite facade.
Michael Sorkin’s late review of the building is entirely paranoid, its tone so sarcastic that when I assigned it to a group of undergraduates, they failed to understand the satire and read it as praise.
Yet on a recent visit to the Ford Foundation, I was struck by how luxurious it was to have this building to criticize. The level of excellence attained by its design is so vastly superior to today’s prevailing standards that I felt like jumping into a time machine and defending it from its critics, myself among them.
Read the full review here.