Vincent van Gogh, Dutch post-impressionist painter, death 29 July 1890
Robert Moses, American urban planner, death 29 July 1981
Although Richard Rogers is most known for his winning collaboration with Renzo Piano and Gianfranco Franchini for the controversial and ground-breaking Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, his career is far more expansive and netted him not only awards and recognition within his own country but also on the world stage with a Pritzker Prize in 2007. At first glance one may look at the Pompidou Center and believe it is under construction or in a constant state of repair with the scaffold-like grid encasing the public library and modern art museum inside. However, this experiment with what would
become “high-tech architecture” merely puts on display all the mechanical, plumbing and support systems which make the building function. Even today, designers still seek to bury the guts of a building within the walls which in effect make it more difficult to detect and access problems. Rogers wanted these pieces to be exposed as a primer of how a building functions. His intricate understanding of urbanism and more importantly the causes of its decline was recognized by the British government which appointed him several essential positions within planning and development organizations. Rogers was also the mastermind behind London’s Millennium Dome and Lloyd’s building and continues to innovate and illuminate in the built form and in writing.
The starving, misunderstood, tortured artist; this is what most people believe about Vincent van Gogh and for the most part it is correct. Since his passing psychiatrists have hotly debated from what of over 30 possible diagnoses he actually suffered. Most likely it was a combination of multiple issues exacerbated by malnutrition, insomnia and alcohol. The result of these problems is most infamously the “ear” episode. In reality, van Gogh didn’t actually cut off his entire ear (images of Reservoir Dogs dancing in my head); it was only (and I say this with a bit of ironic sarcasm) a portion in a manic fit after an argument with Gauguin, whom his doting brother sent to look after him. Even the manner of his death has been recently debated (and this new theory has yet to be accepted by the van Gogh estate) as the iconography of the van Gogh enigma is both revered and pitied. The offical story remains: after van Gogh shot himself in the chest in a field, stumbled home and died two days later after somewhat lack-luster medical care came the majority of his fame posthumously. Colleagues and collectors
began to hold multiple memorial exhibitions of the thousands of paintings he completed in his short career of about ten years. And yes, only one painting sold during his lifetime but currently his work is among the most expensive ever sold. Whatever one believes about van Gogh, either romantic genius or mentally ill psychotic or both, the work speaks for itself. It is vibrant, emotional and moving; the true nature and purpose of art.
“Those who can, build. Those who can’t, criticize.” was what Robert Moses once said in response to those who questioned his vision. And build is just what he did, forever sculpting the landscape of not only New York City but the art of urban planning. Often vilified for his heavy-handed ambitious building and highway projects, his unintentional legacy was to make people stand up, take notice of their surroundings and ultimately care about the urban fabric in which they live. Most notably, Moses’ plan for the Vieux Carré Riverfront Expressway in New Orleans lead the citizenry to fight for the designation of the French Quarter as a historic district halting the project. Imagine NOLA without those 14 by 7 blocks of history if Moses had his way. Like most New Yorkers, he never held a driver’s license but the driving force behind much of what he was able to build was to accommodate the automobile which also fostered the growth of suburban sprawl. As chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority he had massive amounts of funding for his projects which he could spend freely without oversight. Among his mishaps include a development scheme which allowed Penn Station to be destroyed; he fought against the Shakespeare in the Park as a free festival; essentially ran the Dodgers out of New York
and was responsible for the fiasco of the 1964 New York World’s Fair. However, for all the bad there is plenty of good. Moses not only was instrumental to making New York more accessible by car but he built multiple public pools during the Depression through the WPA, wooed the United Nations away from Philadelphia and built tens of thousands of apartments within the city (forget he destroyed almost as many as he constructed).