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Lunatics we Love - Prince-Ramus Lost in the Esquire Funhouse






 -by Lynn Becker

[December 15th, 2008] - Esquire and Joshua Prince-Ramus, partners in hyper-ventilation.

The Magic of America, by Marion Mahony Griffin


It begins with the image of Vitruvius "wherein he fellates his client--some emperor named Caesar" and goes downhill from there.

If you thought my stuff is bad, you've yet to encounter what may be the worst writing on Esquire Magazine, December 2008architecture you may ever encounter, Scott Raab's The Young Savior of American Architecture Burying Frank Gehry, in the December Esquire. The subject of Raab's portrait, Joshua Prince-Ramus of the firm REX, is one of the most talented architects in America, and his Seattle Public Library, for which he shares credit with Rem Koolhaas, is one of the most accomplished and enthralling buildings of the new century, but in Raab's piece he comes off as either high on drugs or drunk, quite possibly on this own ego.

"All the great architects--every one of them--says, 'It represents. . . .' I say to students, 'Don't you think it would be great if architecture just started doing again? Why are we representing? Do--it's much more powerful. I've never seen a client give a shit about my personal vision. I had to figure out how to piggyback what my vision was onto their issues. I've never been comfortable"--he grabs a sheet of white paper, uncaps his pen, and starts whorling in black ink--"doing Frank Gehry. I would never suppose that someone would look at my sketch and go, Aaahhhhhhhhhh. No wonder architecture's dead--because that's what everyone thinks architecture is now. When Calatrava and Gehry die, it's done--no one's gonna pay us to do that. So it's terrifying for me to look at schools trying to bring out your personal vision."

And just to be clear about how Prince-Ramus selflessly subsumes his personal vision to the needs of his client, here is his design for Museum Plaza in Louisville:
Museum Plaza, Louisville, REX, architects
Joshua Prince-Ramus and Rem Koolhaas at the opening of the Seattle Public Library
Joshua Prince-Ramus and Rem Koolhaas at the opening of the Seattle Public Library
In case you hadn't heard, Joshua-Ramus's design has "saved" Louisville, the city of my father's family which I hadn't realized was so desperately in need in saving. Why does the design look this way? Why it's all about reality, of course, about the adjacent Ohio River flooding "into the zone sometimes as much as twenty feet, two or three times a year." The solution: "Pick the whole thing up, spin two of the towers underneath, reposition these to improve the views and the relationships, and then make circulation connections to it." Of course! Just one look at the design and you can tell no other, less attention hungry solution to period threats of water in the basement could be possible.

It is, of course, pure coincidence, as I've observed here, that Museum Plaza looks remarkably similar to Rem Koolhaas's proposal (or perhaps Prince Ramus's - he was previously one of the founding partner of Koolhaas's firm OMA) for a "Hyper-Building" in Bangkok from twelve years before:
Hyperbuilding Project, Bangkok, OMA Architects
But lest you think the design was anything other than a sober consideration of the needs of the client, here's more from Prince-Ramus:

"In a meeting with the client in Louisville, they said, 'Wait--so what you're saying is, a kid in a bathing suit will come down from the luxury condo and have to walk through the public space to get to the swimming pool next to people in black-tie going to see the opening of the de Kooning show?' And we're like, Yesssss! Isn't that exciting?"

And speaking of Prince-Ramus's battle against what Raab calls the "sculptors, starchitects, and fey theoreticians of his profession" opposed to whom "he's actually building things.", that old con man Frank Gehry apparently occasionally gets things built, too, most recently a new addition for the Ontario Gallery of Art which appears to be neither capricious nor oblivious to function. Oh, and Museum Plaza? It's on hold.

I've talked with Joshua Prince-Ramus a couple of times and I was struck by his talent, thoughtfulness - and modesty. His design for Museum Plaza is stunning - even if it shares the same brazen "look at me!" poke-you-in-the-eye bravura that he claims contaminates the work of Gehry, Calatrava and, it would appear, every other architect on the face of planet except Joshua Prince-Ramus - and I hope as the economy regains its footing, construction will resume. There are germs of reasoned and arresting thinking somewhere within Raab's idiotic mixmaster mashup of a man and his career. As embarrassing and incoherent as his Esquire rant is, I'm betting it will be like Bill Clinton's 1988 Democratic convention speech, terminally hip versus interminably boring, something Prince-Ramus will eventually live down and move far beyond.

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© 2008 Lynn Becker All rights reserved.

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