Right in My Own Backyard

I’ve just been reading about a massive new development project that’s planned for Lehi, Utah, a town just south of where I grew up, in the next valley over. Up until a few years ago, Lehi was a bucolic farming community where the largest structure of any kind was the old roller mill where Kevin Bacon and his friends staged their high-school dance in the movie Footloose. I used to love driving down that way in my big Ford Galaxie, past the sweet-smelling fields along narrow two-lane (and in some cases, one-lane) roads that were so infrequently travelled that no one had bothered to maintain the lane stripes.
As with so many of the places I knew as a teenager and young adult, however, that Lehi is gone forever. Nowadays Lehi is another anonymous suburban wasteland with some of the most congested traffic conditions along the Wasatch Front (the result of a whole bunch of new residents trying to get to work along those narrow old roads), and it’s about to get worse. The planned development is described as an “85-acre ‘high-adventure’ residential and retail development” that will include the tallest building in Utah, a 450-foot, five-star hotel and convention center. I have no idea what a “high-adventure” residential and retail development is supposed to be, and I can’t imagine a less likely place to plant a skyscraper than the wind-swept bluff that divides the Salt Lake Valley from Utah Valley, but here’s the really agonizing part: this entire project is being designed by none other than Frank Gehry.


You may recall that I’ve written about Gehry’s work before. If you don’t feel like going back and reviewing the relevant entries (which are here, here, and here), the short version is that I hate it.

Gehry’s buildings, which have been described as “deconstructivist” and “post-structuralist,” are, to use language more familiar to us common folk, just plain weird. They’re asymmetrical, discordant messes that tend to either resemble an extra-terrestrial pup tent or look like they’ve been caved in by some clumsy giant. In my mind, the much bally-hooed Disney Concert Hall in LA resembles nothing so much as a sheet of crumpled notebook paper that’s been dipped in silver paint and plopped down in the middle of an otherwise respectable neighborhood. The damn thing is quite simply ugly. (My apologies to Cranky Robert, who I know quite likes the Disney Hall. I guess the Evil Twin Syndrome that gives us so much in common doesn’t extend to everything.)

I am not happy. No, sir, not happy at all. I am, in fact, profoundly depressed to think that one of the last unobstructed vistas in these parts is about to be eaten up for the sake of giving the world another of these po-mo monstrosities.
Of course, the developer, a young whippersnapper named Brandt Andersen who made his fortunes in computer software before moving into real estate and sports, sees things somewhat differently. Check out this pretentious mission statement from his company’s web site:

Although I have never been an Artist under the traditional definition, I believe art can be created in ways other than with a brush. I love how Art reflects the generations past; good or bad history is told through the works we create. …For that reason I have invested not just in property but also in the community living experience. Because I appreciate Art, we are collaborating with the greatest Architect of our time. [Ed. note: Capitalization is as it appears on Brandt’s site.]

Um, yeah, okay, Brandt. There’s no accounting for taste, is there?

I don’t know, maybe I’m in the minority on this. It’ll be interesting to follow the letters to the editor over the next few weeks, to see if the mass inferiority complex that afflicts many Utahns will lead people to buy into that load of cod-swallop about art-with-a-capital-A because they hope Gehry’s reputation will bring prestige and tourist dollars to our quiet little backwater. We’re always hoping that someone will pat us on our collective heads and say, “Good job, Utah, you’re really much cooler than you think you are.”

Personally, I find more beauty in that old roller mill. It’s still there, you know, still operational and churning out really tasty pancake mixes. If that makes me an ignorant yokel, then so be it.

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4 comments on “Right in My Own Backyard

  1. Jen B

    … I like Frank Gehry. And I admit, I was more than a little excited to see he would be designing a development in Utah… but I thought Lehi was an odd location for it. (My exact words when I saw the article were, “Lehi? Why there?”) I just don’t think Lehi needs Utah’s tallest building… unless they’re building a hotel there because the Gehry development would itself be a tourist draw. (Cart before the horse, maybe? Except that they might be right…)
    I do agree with you that Brandt Andersen’s Use of capitalization in his mission statement is Pretentious and Self-agrandizing.

  2. jason

    Hey, Jen, I figured this entry would catch your attention.
    I suspect that you’re right about the movtivation for building this thing in Lehi – Brandt Anderson is hoping to create a tourist draw from which he will no doubt profit handsomely. Whether it’ll actually happen or if he’ll go bankrupt trying to make it happen remains to be seen. Either way, he definitely needs to dial back his mission statement a bit.
    As for Gehry, we’ve disagreed about him before and no doubt will continue to. I find nothing beautiful or even particularly interesting about his work; frankly, it revulses me on a visceral level. It simply looks wrong to me. But then, it’s all in the eye of the beholder, right?

  3. Jen B

    Indeed. 🙂 I think we decided that the reason I liked his stuff (“Wow, it looks like crumpled paper!”) are the exact reasons you hate it (“Yuck, it just looks like crumpled paper…”)

  4. jason

    That sounds about right… 🙂