Counterfactual Architecture (From the Archives)

After a few musings about counterfactualism in art, why not in architecture as well?

The cartoon pasted below is from the May, 1991 issue of Spy Magazine (click on image for larger view).

The piece essentially asks the counterfactual question: "what if Philip Johnson had been able to use his considerable influence to award the commission for the Empire State Building to one of his colleagues?"

The cartoon pokes fun at a variety of contemporary architects, imagining how they would have designed the Empire State Building according to their own architectural predilections: Richard Meier pursues his trademark modernist purism; Frank Gehry and Peter Eisenman, express their de-stabilized deconstructivist sensibility; and Robert Stern (the best of all) simply copies the original Empire State Building's design, in accordance with his nostalgic, revivalist bent.

Yet, it is Johnson, who was often critiqued in the pages of Spy (most famously by Michael Sorkin who discussed his fascist past in the October, 1988 issue), who is mocked most directly for adhering to no firm principles whatsoever.

Architectural history is full of buildings that never were never realized.  Some architects are just as famous for their unrealized designs as those that were actually built (take, for instance, Louis I. Kahn and his unbuilt design for the Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem).

How history (architectural history in particular) would have been different had these buildings seen the light of day is a question I will return to in future posts.


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