The Seattle P-I's finally gotten smart and brought in some experts to take care of the opinion-page coverage of Rem Koolhaas' early design work on the downtown library. On February 6 -- okay, that was a month ago; I'm playing catch-up -- the P-I ran a piece by Jeffrey Karl Ochsner, chair of UW's Department of Architecture (though the online version of his article credited him as chairing its Department of Agriculture!). Ochsner holds back on judging the exterior, hoping (as I've heard several other architects suggest) that the schematic is a trial balloon, not a fully fleshed-out exterior. Of course, if you followed Frank Gehry's design process for the Experience Music Project, you know that further fleshing out can make a design even weirder than its early, less-formed versions.
Ochsner's great gift in the article is to focus on the pragmatism of the building, how Koolhaas' ideas spring from real needs of the library. Koolhaas' combining of spaces designed for specific uses with open, flexible areas is a brilliant solution to the problem of institutional evolution within built spaces: He's made a building that can learn and change as the institution within it does. Also, Ochsner is smart about the way Koolhaas' ideas of transparency extend from the high-modernist glass box tradition -- just without the box part.
Given that neither daily here has its own staff architecture writer, the opinion pages have been the only section running interesting stuff on Seattle architecture. This reverses the natural order of things, where information would precede opinion. The downside of the current approach is apparent in the waves of letters which appear regularly on the opinion pages, where first-glance reactions and architectural ignorance result in lame calls for an architect skilled at "classic pastiche" (P-I letter to the editor, February 13) to replace Koolhaas. Letter-writers vie with each other to come up with the best reductive slur for the building, including "old typewriter covered with cheesecloth," "some newfangled high-tech cheese grater," and "a storm-drain filter."
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Their buildings may be sparking controversy, but it's undeniable that Seattle Public Library architect Rem Koolhaas and Experience Music Project architect Frank Gehry have greatly raised the level of local interest in architecture. The latest evidence is Gehry's upcoming Seattle appearance as part of the Seattle Arts and Lectures series. Originally scheduled at SA&L's regular venue, the 2,115-seat 5th Avenue Theatre, the May 15 lecture has been moved to the Opera House, which has around 750 more seats. (Tickets are $18 for the main floor, $15 for the balcony, and available solely through Ticketmaster.)
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The future of the live performance industry may be very similar to the present state of the sports industry. The New York Times reported last Wednesday on the renaming of the venerable Selwyn Theater on 42nd St., which will now be known as the American Airlines Theater. SFX, the huge new entertainment conglomerate which owns most of America's amphitheaters, has already begun selling naming rights to its stable of venues. Locally, we've thus far been spared the indignities of attending concerts or musicals at the Amazon.com Theater, partially because our largest venues -- the Paramount, Moore, and 5th Avenue Theatre -- are owned by small, local companies.
Other sports-like things to watch for: concert promoters owning radio and TV stations (as Barry Ackerley owns both the Sonics and sports radio station KJR). The huge radio and TV station conglomerate Clear Channel Communications recently made a $4.4 billion bid for the aforementioned SFX, which would link venues, promoters, ticket sellers, billboards, and media outlets in a positively unwholesome synergistic relationship. Fortunately, neither company has much of a local presence. We get manipulated primarily by homegrown, local companies.
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