When I first heard about this I thought, “About time!” It's been twenty-seven years since Robert Stern’s Pride of Place--which, admittedly, was not an encouraging precedent. But I was optimistic: I even liked the idea of focusing on ten specific buildings, even though it’s gimmicky, and they wouldn't be the ten buildings I would choose.
And the idea of an hour devoted to a single building, with lots of clever camera work to convey something of what it feels like, supplemented with lots of lively argument about what it is and what it means: how could it go wrong?
Well, by being a single show, rather than a series. Instead of an hour, each of the lucky buildings got about 4 minutes. Just enough time for Geoffrey Baer to spew a couple of Dan Protess’s inane Power Point bullet points over an incoherent jumble of images. Pride of Place at least had the intelligence to budget eight hour-long episodes to cover the same time span.
Intercut in this rubbish were talking heads contributing sometimes apt and intelligent remarks (When’s the last time you saw Denise Scott Brown on TV?), but their quaint scrupulousness was lost as the tour group crammed in way too many masterpieces.
Indeed instead of conveying any experience, Protess & Baer fell back on the hack tour-guide’s gimmicks of (1) irrelevant personal gossip (Wright ran off to Europe with his mistress! Henry Ford was an anti-Semite!) and (2) historical assertions that would be interesting if examined and carefully parsed (Thomas Jefferson made neoclassicism the official style of the early USA)—which of course there was no time to do.
Chris Hawthorne’s inexcusable thumbs-up L.A. Times review betrayed an appalling de haut en bas “It’s good enough for them” attitude. But it’s not good enough. The tour-guide approach undermines the whole idea of aesthetic value, reducing art to a pretext for personal gossip or pedantic tittle-tattle. I hope nobody else watched it.