Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mr. Kamin Protests: Mr. Becker Apologizes - to a degree

Pulitzer Prize-winning Blair Kamin of the Chicago Tribune is among the nation's most respected architecture critics and, truth be hold, a very nice man. So when, he bitches and moans about being misrepresented you eventually have to listen.

The point of contention was a paragraph I wrote in my post about the travails of the old Chicago Post Office:
Of course, all of the city's dutifully sober critics at the time, most prominently Blair Kamin , dismissed the concept as a morbid caprice not even worth discussing. The big idea on their platter? Condo's. Carving condo's out of floorplates as big as two square blocks and actually suckering people into buying them. Yeah, right. Remind me again, which of those ideas was the big fantasy?
Almost immediately after the post hit the web, there was a comment posted by Mr. Kamin disputing the construction that inferred that he was among those proposing condo's for the site. So I added my own comment reprinting his actual words, and a sentence to the original post: "[Mr. Kamin takes exception: see comments]". This was apparently not enough, as Blair soon thereafter left a message on my home answering machine (unfortunately I was at work all day - sorry) again expressing his displeasure, which he indicated was shared by others posting comments on my site. (Actually, there was one.)

So I've included a revised paragraph on that post that I hope will remove any ambiguity about Mr. Kamin's position. He never proposed condo's for the Post Office, and I apologize if the paragraph in question inferred that he did.

The condo reference, however, was a secondary issue, a sideshow to the larger point that only a radical rethinking of the city may be enough to save it. Befitting his position as the critic of what remains, even in today's troubled state, one of the most powerful publications in America, Blair is kind of the pope of architectural criticsm, codifying the conventional wisdom of the moment. He is, in short, a supremely cautious man. He has many interesting things to say, but has he ever written anything that startled or surprised you?

Blair has a hard-won reputation to maintain. It is reasonable that he be cautious, even if not always useful.

I, on the other hand, have no reputation to speak of - other than, perhaps, that of the guy sitting alone at the far end of the bar spouting his opinions to the air - and am free to speak incautiously. And I say this: quibbling over the condo's reference is a pettifoggery diversion from the real issue: is the future of Chicago to be found catering to what "every business leader wants" when many of the most powerful of their number, traveling in a herd, have left us with a revised cityscape of staggering, generic mediocrity, or is that future to be found in a vision like John Ronan's for the old post office, and similar, muscular rethinkings of urban life that could actually lead to the city's salvation?


Anonymous said...


Thanks for the apology. Much appreciated.

Let's get on with the game of startling the readers, not for its own sake, but when it's necessary.



Erik Maldre said...

I love this! We need more interaction of Becker and Kamin. And this time I could say I was part of the action. (I was the one person who Kamin referenced from the comments page of the previous post.)

Chicago is fortunate to have these two great architectural minds. How about we get Becker and Kamin on a panel discussion some day?

I agree that it's of vital importance that this great city's future demands visionary thinking. This city was built on grand plans. Following the status quo is not the Chicago way.

No two architectural critics are the same and it most certainly should be that way. An open dialogue is a necessary key in reviewing and defining what is great. Keep on fighting the good fight, Blair and Lynn.

Anonymous said...

throw Lee Bey into the mix and that would be a pretty fun panel to watch. I'd buy tickets!

Anonymous said...

Is Blair even an Architect?

We Need Lee Bey Back ! ! ! said...

I've come to think that Blair Kamin is to architectural journalism what Loewenberg is to architecture - vast amounts of mediocrity except when Jeanne Gang is involved.

Maybe if Mr. Kamin actually lived in the city his writing would gain back some of the lustre it has sadly lost over the years.

Blair, we miss you. Lynn, keep it coming.