April 03: Cartoon Architecture

2016/04/03 § Leave a comment

On this day in 2005 The Simpsons episode entitled “The Seven-Beer Snitch” aired.

It’s not one of the best of the long-running show, by a long shot; but it is notable for its inclusion of Frank Gehry.  In the story, the Springfield Cultural Activities Board commissions a concert hall of the Pritzker winner to show that the town is not populated solely by uncultured losers (turns out, it actually is), especially in comparison with the neighboring high-faultin’ burg of Shelbyville.  Marge petitions Gehry in a letter that he initially tosses on the sidewalk in a show of dismissal that turns to a moment of inspiration, as the crumpled paper inspires his ultimate design for the building.

Gehry himself was in on the joke, which shows his reasonable sense of humor, and that’s nice to see (hard to imagine Thom Mayne or maybe Rem Koolhaas showing that kind of self-deprecation).  It’s too bad they didn’t take the architecture bit farther; could have been rich material for a funnier show.  The plot actually goes in a very different direction, so we are left with just one additional visual joke as wrecking balls disfigure an otherwise traditional steel frame into a Gehryesque curvy mass.  There’s also a good bit with a Springfield resident calling the new concert hall a “$30 million ‘screw-you’ to Shelbyville.”

These observations are (or were) on-point for Gehry’s fame in 2005, and it is impressive that he had achieved enough a status to be deemed worthy of inclusion in a vehicle as popular as the longest-running animated series/sitcom.  In 2005 he’d completed the Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago, Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, Experience Music Project in Seattle, Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Fred & Ginger in Prague.  Looking back, his architecture encapsulates a heady period in contemporary architecture, in which the forces of unbridled experimentation were matched with limitless budgets, leading to an intoxicating mixture of wild, unprecedented, spectacle buildings.  This episode couldn’t happen five years later; we’d love to see how the writers would address Marge’s sense of cultural inferiority today.  Would they even go the architectural route?  If so, who would be l’architecte du jour?  (We might have hoped for Zaha Hadid, had it not been for the recent sad news.)  Or could architecture be adopted in ways more suitable to the present mood?  Should Lisa petition the mayor of Springfield to adopt principles of sustainability in the greening of the grade school?  What if Moe’s Tavern was given landmark status; would the proprietor embrace or discourage the plaqueing of his establishment?  We’d tune in for those.

Honestly, it’s not a great episode, but if you’d like to see the Gehry part, you need only watch the first twelve minutes are so; see it here


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