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Other Views: I.M. Pei's Headquarters for CAA

November 05, 1989

After many years in the design profession, I still wish I could tolerate the modus operandi of architectural criticism.

How does a critic, as typified by Leon Whiteson in his article "Pei Masterpiece: Too Elegant Here?" (Oct. 22), lavish praise on a piece of architecture, and then go on to make stupid comments about it and its author? As a matter of fact, even the lead itself is an oxymoron of sorts. If it is a masterpiece and I indeed believe it to be one, how can it be too elegant?

How can a building pose "like a dapper executive waiting for his chauffeur to bring the limo around" or have "the air of a man from Manhattan who, hailing a cab on Park Avenue, to his astonishment, ends up at this odd corner of Beverly Hills"? Did the chauffeur not show up, thus prompting the building to decide to take a cab? Ridiculous metaphors!

Buildings aren't anthropomorphic. While they're physically inert, they're certainly not intellectually so. Their success or failure as architecture is in the reactions they generate through the eyes of the viewer.

To suggest that I. M. Pei "should have taken more time to absorb the look of Beverly Hills' Golden Triangle commercial district" is not only inappropriate, it is also gratuitous. Besides, the man has been around a bit.

Creative Artists Agency, after due deliberation, retained the services of I. M. Pei, who brought along his unique vision. It did not retain Leon Whiteson or anyone else, who, however misguided, might have integrated Spanish tile, Art Deco, or other neo-local idioms to create a less successful context.

Pomposity and self indulgence are not architectural criticism. How I long for the erudition and objectivity of Ada Louise Huxtable and Aline Saarinen.


Beverly Hills

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