April 1, 2011
Collaboration in Seattle/De Young in Trouble!
Metropolis Hits and Misses
Collaboration in Seattle
We weren’t the first to cover OMA’s Seattle Public Library. Not by a long shot. It opened in the spring of 2004 to great fanfare and a media stampede. The lead architects—Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus—were hailed (somewhat predictably) as visionaries. The building was an architectural triumph. Both were arguably true, but that was only part of the story. Our dilemma: finding a fresh take on the library when virtually every media outlet in the world had already covered the damn thing. The solution was deliberately counterintuitive. We waited until after the horde had dispersed and then weighed in. Why? We were convinced that our planned approach couldn’t be replicated. No one would devote 20 pages to a multipart story featuring not just the famous architects but the considerably less-than-famous project architects, clients, donors, lighting designers, graphic designers, interior designers, and engineers. The story became a template for how we cover milestone projects and a kind of metaphor for how complex buildings are designed: by multiple teams working collaboratively.
De Young in Trouble!
Early in my tenure, I assigned a story about a battle raging in San Francisco over a proposed design by Herzog & de Meuron for a new de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. Our writer, Ken Coupland, did an admirable job showing the uniquely messy public process, but he ultimately reached the wrong conclusion. He thought—San Francisco being San Francisco—that the museum’s opponents might be vocal enough to stop the project. A couple of months after the article appeared, another controversy surrounding the design erupted. “It looks like that design is in real trouble,” I said one day to Allan Temko, the beloved former architecture critic at the San Francisco Chronicle. “Oh, no, that is definitely going to get built,” Temko said. “Willie Brown has told the museum they can build whatever they want as long as they raise the money for it.” And that, indeed, is exactly how it played out.