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Architecture & Etiquette: Buildings As Party Guests by ajkandy
December 31, 2008, 12:35 pm
Filed under: griffintown

by AJ Kandy

This last post of 2008 finds us (all 43 of you dearest, darling readers) on the cusp of a new year. Many of us will be going to parties tonight, which brings to mind Emily Post’s dictum: “The good guest is almost invisible, enjoying him or herself, communing with fellow guests, and, most of all, enjoying the generous hospitality of the hosts.”

Emily Post was born Emily Price, the daughter of architect Bruce Price, who designed the Windsor, Viger and Chateau Frontenac station-hotels for the Canadian Pacific Railway, as well as the Royal Victoria College in Montreal.

Emily Post Building, 39 East 79th Street, NYC

Emily Post Building, 39 East 79th Street, NYC

Mrs. Post herself dabbled in development, collaborating with Kenneth Murchison, an architect from her father’s firm, to build a 14-storey co-op apartment building for herself and her friends to live in.

A well-proportioned NYC Beaux-Arts mid-rise tower, it exemplifies the “good guest” rule. It is neither loud, nor overbearing, nor a bore. It follows the host’s dress code, complementing its neighbours’ style, while possessing a quiet charm and beauty of its own. Many of the best buildings in any city are like this; not showpiece sculptures to be set upon a dais, but elegant ‘background buildings’ that represent variations on a theme. For example, Paris, like many older European cities, has a very uniform architectural texture — perhaps too uniform for some — but it’s a courteous, generous public realm that many cities still strive to emulate.

In this context, overbearing ‘skyscraper farm’ developments wedged into low or medium-rise neighborhoods are like a gang of football hooligans intimidating your dinner guests. ‘Starchitecture’ showpieces, which uniformly ignore their neighbors in favour of eccentric, egocentric flashiness, are like those people who insist on coming to a formal event dressed in fluorescent pink Spandex, drink all the champagne, climb on top of the piano and start singing showtunes off-key.

As quoted earlier here, HRH Prince Charles gave an excellent speech in January of this year which touched on this very point:

We have endured for too long the prevailing lack of courtesy within the public realm and the time has come to reinvent “good manners” in the way we build. We should surely be asking whether it is a natural pre-requisite of “being modern” to display bad manners? Is it “being modern”, for instance, to vandalize the few remaining relatively unspoilt, beautiful areas of our cities, any more than it would be “modern” to mug defenceless elderly people? Can it not be modern “to do to others as you would have them do to you?” That’s the question.

Have a happy and safe New Years’ —


Great analogy.

BTW, Have you taken a look at Mark Kingwell’s new book, Concrete Reveries? I’m a couple chapters in and, though some of the philosophy is kind of dense and wandering, he makes some elegant points about the role of architecture.

Happy new year!

Comment by alanah

Thanks! And happy new year to you as well! I hadn’t heard of the new Kingwell book, so I’ll have to check it out, thanks for the tip. Any salient points you’ve read so far?

Comment by ajkandy

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