Yesterday’s Visions of Tomorrow

12 thoughts on “Yesterday’s Visions of Tomorrow”

  1. Philip Johnson is said to have once taken a sly dig at Frank Lloyd Wright by calling him the greatest architect of the 19th century. Apocryphal or not, the quip rings true for me. Wright’s early stuff was amazing, but as time passed more and more of his buildings just got odder and odder. His prairie houses are timeless, but to me the Marin civic center looks like something one would see on the cover of a 1940s science fiction novel. I’d say he jumped the shark. A lot of American architects do that eventually, including Johnson. If he did make that remark about Wright I hope he did it before he got into his postmodern phase. After that he was in no position to say such things about other architects.

  2. It’s easy to villainize suburbia, but we have to recognize it was a seductive vision and still is. Private mid-century modern paradises, enveloped by nature… it’s quite nice once you’re at the destination. The problem of course is all the other stuff. The parking lots, freeways, destruction of public space and uh… financial externalities.

  3. Is Marin really functionally insolvent. That’s interesting! I would have thought the rich folks could pay their way–but maybe they’d have to raise taxes beyond what people would currently bear.

  4. Very interesting building. Thanks. Not to my taste though. Much of it looks more “dated” than many of FLW’s timeless work.

  5. “Nothing is more dated than the Future.” Though I can’t recall the author of that aphorism, I thought of it immediately upon seeing these pictures.

    In a way, one can admire the temper of the times, and the artifacts that their inhabitants created in accordance with that sensibility. They knew that they had chosen, consciously and deliberately, to break with their ancestors and their traditions, and to invent something new on the basis of principles of their own devising. Like the Alhambra de Granada or the Zeppelinfeld in Nuernberg, their best buildings are both striking and instantly recognizable as the works of a particular time and place.

    If now their works are passe and slightly embarrassing — really, doesn’t this building remind one of nothing so much as the half-glimpsed matte painting of a city of the United Federation of Planets in Star Trek, a forerunner of the for-visitors parts of the UN Headquarters and the Epcot Center? — perhaps that should cause us to wonder about the worth and the feasibility of the principles that gave rise to them.

    1. I was with you right up to the end.

      There is nothing wrong with architecture/building design that perfectly captures the ethos of a place and time…the zeitgeist. This one does.

      Accepting somewhat neutrally that “things change in ways that can’t be foreseen” allows us to go a little easier on our forebears who didn’t have the advantage of our modern hindsight.

      1. Chris, thanks for your thoughtful reply. I agree that “[t]here is nothing wrong with architecture/building design that perfectly captures the ethos of a place and time…the zeitgeist.” My critique was more directed at this Zeitgeist in particular.

        I also accept that “things change in ways that can’t be foreseen.” I would argue that part of the fatal conceit of the specific Zeitgeist embodied in this building is that those who built it believed that their own “modern hindsight” allowed them to discard the past and to foresee and control the future with technological manipulation of all things.

        I can’t judge them too harshly; as our forebears, this is the “tradition” that they passed down to us, and we still generally practice it.

        1. Thanks for the clarification and amplification. We probably agree more than disagree.

          “We” (in the sense of society at large) certainly do still believe we can “foresee and control the future with technological manipulation of all things”.

          I think many who read here (and our host) don’t necessarily agree.

  6. I remember we drove past this on the way up to your house. I grew up with FLW as my idol. I lived in Chicago, and we sometimes would pass his houses in Highland Park, Oak Park or Glencoe.

    Think about the time he lived in. He could afford to be anti-urban, because America had thriving, packed, industrial cities. The emptying out and the sprawl were far into the future when FLW practiced his earliest work from 1890-1930.

    As for the Marin County Civic Center, it reminds me of what Marin has become: an introverted place, cut off from the rest of the world, with elite people who live in a circular maze of money, madness and surfaces.

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