“YES, SOMETIMES I GO into the room with my advisers and I start shouting. And then they say, ‘And then what?’” The question hangs in the perfectly cooled air in Sa’ad Hariri’s marble-floored sitting room, where Beirut appears as a sunlit abstraction visible at a distance through thick windows. Hariri’s father, the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, martyr of the Cedar Revolution, arches his black eyebrows from a giant poster near the sofa, looking out at his son with a sidelong, mischievous glance. “It hasn’t been a joyful trip,” Sa’ad Hariri is saying.
To accurately assess trends in architecture and urbanism one needs a time horizon longer than 365 days. Just to design a building often takes longer than that. Even so, 2008 may come to be seen as a watershed year for contemporary architecture. The electrifying campaign for the U.S. presidency, the sputtering housing market and the global economy's free fall, the ever-more chilling and urgent need to slow the pace of global warming: these developments and more awakened architects to the realization that they've more important things to design than monolithic, high-end goodie bags.
Who's Your City?: How the Creative Economy is Making Where You Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life By Richard Florida (Basic Books, 374 pp., $26.95) In 2002, with The Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida launched one of those terms or categories or ideas--there have been many--that try to structure our contemporary societies into something more complicated than the Marxian conflict between the owners of the means of production and those who are exploited as proletarians working on them.
The Toronto City Council has banned an exhibit comparing the anti-Jewish rhetoric of Adolf Hitler with the anti-Jewish (and anti-Israel) rhetoric of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I don't exactly know what was in the exhibition. But this prohibition seems to me to be prima facie both disgusting and dangerous. "Disgusting" because it puts up Toronto itself as a barrier to discussion of one of the crucial issues of our time, which is the tie between fascism and Islamofascism. "Dangerous" because it shows how fragile is the right to free expression even in free societies such as Toronto.
The Haunting of L. By Howard Norman (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 326 pp., $24) Howard Norman’s novels are hard to like. Starting in 1987 with The Northern Lights, each novel has featured a taciturn, antisocial male protagonist, as disconnected from his own inner life as he is from the people around him. Norman’s landscapes mirror the emptiness of the characters who inhabit them: this American writer is unique in setting his books in the bleakest regions of Canada, from the expanses of northern Manitoba to turn-of-the century Newfoundland. And his prose is as inhospitable as the terrain.
IDIOCY WATCH, CONT'D: "There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. The magical appearance of the terrorists' luggage, passports, and flight manual looks rather too good to be true.... Even the anthrax scare looks suspiciously convenient.