Randy Gragg's Q&A with architect Charles Rose in Saturday's Oregonian was for the most part an interesting, measured, thoughtful conversation. But by the end I came away wincing at a couple of half-cocked displays of disrespect and bad form.
Rose, the Boston-area architect selected by the Oregon College of Art and Craft to design a new library and studio building, talked to Gragg of the "perfect fit" he felt with the project. "My work is all about the relationship between site and architecture. [And] these are great people who care deeply about craft and architecture."
And indeed, his firm's work is deservedly well regarded for, as Randy put it, "deep sensitivity to landscape and an ecological awareness honed well before green became a global cause celebre." I'm excited Charles Rose is coming to Portland to design buildings.
But on a couple of occasions, it was shocking just how blunt Rose was willing to be. First there was his response to a question about sustainable design:
"We always chuckle about Portland, Oregon. Everyone is so proud of all the LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) buildings they've created. But the fact is, because the temperature differential is so mild, it's really not that hard compared to, say, Vermont, New Hampshire or even down South, where people want air conditioning."
"Chuckle"? Maybe Rose has a valid technical point. But did he really intend to show such an arrogant, dismissive attitude? It's one thing to say, "We have a more difficult challenge on the East Coast and in the South with energy efficiency because of greater temperature fluctuations." It's another thing to basically say, "Portland LEED projects? Give me a break."
But that LEED comment was nothing to what Rose had to say about celebrated Portland architect Brad Cloepfil:
"Brad's work is looking backward. I'm not interested in this high modernist approach. It's boxy and boring. It doesn't challenge me.
Kanye West hired us to do his house in New York. He basically wanted a Giorgio Armani showroom -- the type of architecture Brad does, very orthogonal, minimalist stuff. We decided to go find the guy who did all the Armani showrooms -- Claudio Silvestrin. It's beautiful minimalism. He's the designer; we're the architects. I thought it would be good for the firm.
But I can now tell you that having worked with the best minimalist architect today, it's so boring."
Usually I find such candor refreshing. But if I were Rose's marketing guru, I'd be lying on the floor in a fetal position right now. I mean, who's next for comeuppance: Pietro Belluschi? I'm not saying either Cloepfil or Belluschi or their modernist style can't be subject of criticism - far from it. But I think it should be prefaced with a certain expression of respect.
To rattle off Brad Cloepfil's accomplishments in defense against Rose's jibe would to give it more dignity than it deserves. I also still want to give Rose the benefit of the doubt, because he's an excellent architect and shouldn't be judged on two comments. But if Gragg's interview is an accurate indication, it's a good thing Rose went into architecture instead of engineering, because he certainly doesn't appear to be a bridge builder. Either that, or he's suffering right now from a case of athlete's tongue.