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Behold, the new Richard Gilder Center for Science — an addition to New York’s American Museum of Natural History, designed by Jeanne Gang, the most-published architect on The Eyesore of the Month!

Here’s what you get when you ask computer aided design (CAD) to give you a “bat cave.” CAD is universal now in the architecture biz. This technology has aggravated the feedback loop between the human tendency to seek novelty and the bizarre-ness of every new building produced in our culture. Even before CAD arrived on the scene, novelty-seeking drove post-World War Two building design. That itself derived from the accelerated sense of “progress” induced by our turbo-charged cheap oil economy, which brought on dizzying technological innovation, another feedback loop. The net result was the buildings that represented human endeavor — especially, public buildings, museums, courthouses, libraries — had to look like nothing ever seen before. This programming also served to demolish people’s sense of history, of which the thinking classes were increasingly ashamed, especially after the fiasco of two world wars and Auschwitz.

What was wrong with this grand cavalcade of novelty-seeking, you might ask? It was creative… innovative… diverse! Well, yes. But it also tended to ignore the archetypal symbolic language that buildings need to project in order to inform people what each building means and what its role is in human endeavor. You could no longer distinguish a school from an insecticide factory. It also obliterated the anthropomorphic element in architecture that fitted buildings into a design ethos that reflected human form, in particular the “tripartite” configuration of top, middle, base (head, trunk, feet) which is the basis of many so-called classicisms.

Yet another consequence of perpetual novelty-seeking for the sake of “progress” is that buildings no longer relate to the other buildings around them. Each is a one-off, and so there is no continuity or unity in the urban pattern. The result is an unfortunate urban cacophony which only ends up expressing the disordered condition of our society.

Now you know.

Thanks to Bryan Kaufman for the nomination

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About James Howard Kunstler

View all posts by James Howard Kunstler
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency and the four-book series of World Made By Hand novels, set in a post economic crash American future. His most recent book is Living in the Long Emergency; Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adapters Who Are Showing Us the Way Forward. Jim lives on a homestead in Washington County, New. York, where he tends his garden and communes with his chickens.

28 Responses to “May 2023”

  1. Freddie May 7, 2023 at 11:10 am #

    I dunno, eyesore….maybe, but a pretty cool looking one.

    • MontanaMan May 7, 2023 at 6:19 pm #

      “ but a pretty cool looking one.”

      Cool? Cool??? cool, you say. So why don’t you tell all of us what is so,
      “Cool.” About it. And I’m being dead serious. Please elaborate and expound upon what you find so “cool,” About-It.

  2. Zoltar May 7, 2023 at 11:24 am #

    This is now a wing of a great museum – museums being places that exist for the purpose of displaying important and extraordinary objects for human wonder and reflection.

    Can you imagine an architectural space less suited for display of anything but itself? This thing was designed with no consideration for hanging or placing exhibits, for providing natural light by which they can be seen, or for the flow of traffic.

    If Neanderthal DNA is ever reanimated, perhaps this could be their living space.

  3. Cavepainter May 7, 2023 at 11:45 am #

    Funny though, how obviously are OSHA (and hence insurance policy) mandated safety standards re staircases, etc.

  4. mjury67 May 7, 2023 at 12:20 pm #

    Right? I would think climbing walls and waterslides for ingress/egress would be more appropriate. And where is office for Dr. Zaius?

  5. Chebyshev May 7, 2023 at 2:29 pm #

    “This programming also served to demolish people’s sense of history, of which the thinking classes were increasingly ashamed, especially after the fiasco of two world wars and Auschwitz.”

    Classic, beautiful buildings were still built during the 20s and 30s, and even shortly after the Second World War. It wasn’t really until the 60s that these ugly structures started sprouting up.

    I kind of think art museums should have more liberty to be avant-garde, though. They house all sorts of striking works of art, so why shouldn’t the buildings themselves stand out? This particular one does look ugly, though, I agree.

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    • SteveK9 May 7, 2023 at 2:43 pm #

      The American Museum of Natural History is NOT an art museum. It was and hopefully still is, a great natural history museum, despite this vomit-generating mess, which can hopefully be avoided when visiting the Museum.

  6. conniedtate@gmail.com May 7, 2023 at 2:37 pm #

    All of these observations are true. But at least it’s not a box! We live in an architectural ‘ecosystem’ that is dominated by straight lines and right angles, endless glass and steel monoliths, with nary an organic flourish in sight. (Think the Javits Center in NYC, or the hideous Hudson Yards.) There is something to be said for curves and undulating surfaces that give a person the physical experience of being contained and supported by features that at least attempt to approximate nature’s own forms. Would that this aesthetic could be extended to ordinary dwellings, and not just the occasional public edifice.

    • DrTomSchmidt June 2, 2023 at 3:44 pm #

      JHK once wrote exactly that, that Modernism in the guise of rectilinear Miesian buildings represented the triumph of the newly-won war and an assertive masculinity that left no space for feminine curves. Like the graceful arches over windows or the subtly curving spire of the Chrysler building. Of course the top view might be the one outside a womb and out into the general world, which is a little crass.

  7. Disaffected May 7, 2023 at 2:56 pm #

    As the old timers might say, “It’s artsy-fartsy drivel.” This is the product of a civilization that’s guilty of reading it’s own press clippings. Pretensions of delusions of grandeur.

  8. FGB3 May 7, 2023 at 3:14 pm #


    Jim, just when I think you’ve finally come around to my thesis, “This programming also served to demolish people’s sense of history…” off you veer into a benign conclusion, “… of which the thinking classes were increasingly ashamed, especially after the fiasco of two world wars and Auschwitz”.

    My theory is, and has been, the idea that the destruction of history is far more insidious than a simple, so-called “collective”, guilt over the 20th century’s wars and genocides, as bad as they were.

    Orwell and others have taught us that one of the methods of totalitarianism is to destroy the people’s history, as well as its language (white is black, freedom is slavery, etc.), religion, and other cultural elements. It is much easier, the totalitarians discovered, to subjugate people if you sever them from their roots, their families, their gender, and their histories.

    As a species we’ve always had the totalitarian idea and desire within some of us since the Beginning. But what we saw in the 20th century, as especially during the decades of the 1930s, was on a whole new level of despotism (which your Auschwitz example was one small part).

    I believe what was different about the 20th century totalitarianism was that it originated in a small group of perverted idealists around the beginning of that century in England. This small group was special: it was extremely well-organized, had access to great wealth, and were patient and dedicated. And fanatic.

    I might add they were also secretive because they knew if their plans were made known to the general population they would be shut down… hard! Furthermore, this group, one could use the term “cabal”, realized that their goals could not be achieved within the span of their own lifetimes. Hence this cabal is multi-generational. It is basically handed down either through families or close-knit societies (or “clubs” if you prefer that term).

    Their ultimate goal is nefarious, and I won’t go into that here. It is enough to know that in order to achieve their goal they need to have control of the main power centers of our current civilization. This is a global goal (which is one reason why the term “globalist” has become so apropos).

    This cabal has slowly infiltrated, for example, its way into almost every academia, for example, and is the reason you see these architectural monstrosities, divorced from our cultural history.

  9. psteckler May 7, 2023 at 4:04 pm #

    What happens when AI starts designing these buildings? The possibilities are endless (and frightening).

    • Cavepainter May 7, 2023 at 4:25 pm #

      Haven’t been into art galleries lately have you? There you see most “works” are products of robotic/algorithm/software exercises, pedagogically exact, mechanically tight and glossy, but creatively vapid — that is to say, void of humanness.

  10. KappaJoe May 7, 2023 at 6:53 pm #

    Architecturally apropos if only “The Flintstones” were part of natural history.

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  11. Chris at Fernglade Farm May 7, 2023 at 8:11 pm #

    Hi Jim,

    Mate, far out! I took a good long look at the finish on the walls, and I really feel for the blokes who had to apply that finish. The lumpy texture on the walls which can be seen in the way the light plays across the err, wonky surface, reveals just how hard that job would have been, and you can even see the the hand work used in the finishing of the surface. It would have been a devil of a job. And if you look carefully, you can see the joins, and what at first appeared to be shadow lines are actually I believe lines where there is possibly a higher concentration of moisture than the surrounding surface. That’s not good I reckon.

    Anyway, after all that work, I don’t see any exhibition space in the photos. It is possible that there is some of that elsewhere. Kind of suggests that the building itself is the exhibition.



  12. DeepAqua May 7, 2023 at 8:48 pm #

    The same goes for modern automobile design. However in that respect one SUV looks strikingly like another. That, along with the blinding LED headlights and computer screen built into the center of dashboards renders vehicles as not only ugly but driver “distraction-mobiles”.

  13. tucsonspur May 8, 2023 at 6:58 am #

    Look at the Art Deco style of the old Hayden Planetarium in NYC and compare it to its riotous, repugnant replacement, an ugly glass cube supported by tragically unsightly tension rods and trusses, also at the AMNH. Now that’s upchucking ugly!

    I love this new Gilder Center for Science addition! Its undulating, sensuous curves give much relief from the severe, stark verticality that is New York. It’s also playful in an ofttimes all too serious city.

    The high, vertical glass wall at the entrance seems to end our delight in the curves too abruptly, so maybe some wavy, whimsical glass could have been used here in wizard like fashion.

    Would there be any sense in imitating the Gothic-Romanesque style of the original building or creating another Pantheon or maybe the Parthenon, reviving the Doric, the Ionic, or the exquisite capitals of the Corinthian Order?

    Many buildings in NYC do relate to other buildings around them, especially in residential areas where we have brownstone after brownstone, rows of Queen Anne townhouses, tenements and housing projects, etc.

    Now this addition would certainly be distinguishable from an insecticide factory, and it just adds something different to a city already resplendent with just about every type of architecture you can imagine. It’s all there, elatedly eclectic.

    One can see hints of Gaudi’s La Pedrera, or the Guggenheim (also in NYC), or many of Frank Gehry’s creations in this audacious architectural adventure.

    What language does the Woolworth Building, or the Chrysler Building, e.g., in NYC speak? Does it say, ‘I contain office space’? Maybe, but it says much more than that. It says, rather, ‘I am the language, enter and enjoy’.

    Save the old, preserve the old and enjoy the old, it’s too precious to lose. Who knows, the time may come when we will build like that again. For now, though, we move on into new realms and revel in the creation and challenge of delightful new designs.

  14. Gypsy May 8, 2023 at 8:27 am #

    Good Grief James. I kinda like it. It’s like going back in time BEFORE buildings were manufactured. Back to the time when Nature made the first functional buildings. I can easily imagine a Cave Dweller painting his surroundings (an 18 wheeler would be the current dinosaur these days) on those cave walls.

    I wonder if The Deity he paints would be female; you know, like Earth Mother. Speaking of: if we go back far enough ~ cave dwellers had a definition of Female. Thanks for stirring the pot James !

  15. Gonga Din May 8, 2023 at 9:17 am #

    Honestly, the first thing I thought of on seeing the atrium photo was my recent colonoscopy. Anthropomorphism, I suppose so. And Science, too!

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  16. JackStraw May 8, 2023 at 2:27 pm #

    That’s not a very diverse looking building. I see nothing but white privilege and imperialism. Shouldn’t it be a black building or at least some type of building of color?

  17. tom clark May 8, 2023 at 4:16 pm #

    JS…Bring on Frank Gehry, he’ll take care of the color thingie.

  18. Ishabaka May 12, 2023 at 9:28 am #

    Seems to me up until 70-100 years ago architects designed buildings to compete in beauty pageants. Now they design buildings to compete in freak shows.

  19. JCalvertNUK May 14, 2023 at 9:55 am #

    The Fred Flintstone Center for Science

  20. Dr. Coyote May 15, 2023 at 9:02 am #

    This weirdly reminds me of the interior of a “volcano” attraction at Panama City Beach in the early 70s. It was built out of cut-rate concrete, had concrete dinosaurs in the yard, woo-woo lighting on the inside passages, all that stuff. It seemed pretty cool to my 6yo self, but some things don’t age so well.

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  21. badberries May 17, 2023 at 1:21 pm #

    Isn’t that a stage set for the Planet of the Apes films?

  22. Tsigantes May 22, 2023 at 1:10 pm #

    I wonder if Jeanne Gang chose that night shot?

    Its like a ghostly Halloween pumpkin including the teeth :-))

  23. malthuss May 28, 2023 at 10:16 pm #

    do the flintstones live there?


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