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“A Good Old Building Is Better Than A Bad New One”

November 7, 2005 Books, Downtown, Midtown, Planning & Design 2 Comments

I ran across an interesting commentary on St. Louis:


Except for the arch and the old courthouse, which form some genuinely provocative urban views, downtown St. Louis is a monument to chamber of commerce planning and design. It is a businessman’s dream of redevelopment come true.There are all the faceless, characterless, scaleless symbols of economic regeneration — luxury apartments, hotels, a 50,000 seat stadium and multiple parking garages for 7,400 cars. Sleek, new, prosperous, stolid and dull, well served by superhighways, the buildings are a collection of familiar profit formulas, uninspired in concept, unvarying in scale, unrelated by any standards, principals or subtleties of planning or urban design. They just stand there. They come round, rectangular, singly and in pairs. Pick your standard commercial cliche.

The new St. Louis is a success economically and a failure urbanistically. It has the impersonal gloss of a promotional brochure. A prime example of the modern landscape of urban alienation, it has gained a lot of real estate and lost a historic city.


Wow, pretty harsh words. Tragically they are nearly as true today as the day they were first published — February 4, 1968. Yes, the words above are from nearly forty years ago.
Ada Louise Huxtable, Architecture Critic for the New York Times from 1963 – 1982, had plenty to say about Architecture and planning. I read a compilation of articles called Goodbye History, Hello Hamburger: An Anthology of Architectural Delights and Disasters while I was in architecture school in the late 80’s. Today while boxing up some stuff I ran across the book, long since forgotten. I recall enjoying her writing when I was in college so I look forward to re-reading the book to see how her views have stood up to the test of time and my own personal experiences in the last 15 years.

I’ll leave you with another quote from Huxtable. Remember that in 1968 our symphony hall, Powell Hall, had just opened:


The success of Powell Symphony Hall in St. Louis is probably going to lead a lot of people to a lot of wrong conclusions. In a kind of architectural Gresham’s law, the right thing wrongly interpreted usually has more bad than good results.

The first wrong conclusion is that Powell Hall represents the triumph of traditional over modern architecture. False. The correct conclusion here is that a good old building is better than a bad new one. Powell Hall represents the triumph simply of suitable preservation. And, one might add, of rare good sense.


Ms Huxtable was awarded the first Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism in 1970.

– Steve


Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. Huxtable’s ability to project the future of buildings and places is eery. Here’s what she wrote about the World Trade Center in 1966, before it even opened (this quote is from an essay in her collection _Will They Ever Finish Bruckner Boulevard?_):

    “Who’s afraid of the big, bad buildings? Everyone, because there are so many things about giantism that we just don’t know. The gamble of triumph or tragedy at this scale — and ultimately it is a gamble — demands an extraordinary payoff. The Trade Center towers could be the start of a new skyscraper age or the biggest tombstones in the world.”

  2. phantom says:


    Are you sure you didn’t insert a picture of Olympia Dukakis by mistake?


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