The Freedom Tower? The West Side Stadium? New York architecture needs a
swift kick in the ass.
Les Freres Corbusier finally puts the punk rock back into urban
planning: Amidst a blaze of streaming media, ridiculous choreography,
and dozens of live fornicating rabbits, a desperate battle is waged over
the creation of New York's bridges, highways, and public housing.
Boozy: The Life, Death, and Subsequent Vilification of Le Corbusier and,
More Importantly, Robert Moses tracks the life of Robert Moses, from
idealistic youth to unstoppable power broker, able to turn parched land
into glorious bridges, highways, and public housing with a mere flick of
the wrist. With guest appearances by Benito Mussolini, Joseph Goebbels,
and the ghost of Baron von Haussmann, Moses learns from the greats until
true power is finally his.
Freemasons dance, FDR levitates, and Daniel Libeskind silently weeps.
None shall be spared.
In a Theater, Seeking Insights on Urban Planning
By Robin Pogrebin
February 22, 2005
Robert Moses and Le Corbusier were not exactly kindred spirits, though
both were larger-than-life urban planners. Le Corbusier, the architect,
proposed reorganizing Paris into superblocks. Moses, the parks
commissioner and city planner in the middle of the last century, created
most of New York City's parks and highways. Nevertheless, these two
figures currently share the stage of the Ohio Theater on Wooster Street
in SoHo in the rather quirky play "Boozy: The Life, Death and Subsequent
Vilification of Le Corbusier and, More Importantly, Robert Moses." After
Sunday night's performance, a panel of experts, along with one of the
play's creators, discussed the legacy of these two figures and the
issues they raise for today's New York.
"How one creates public works in a democracy" is what David Evans Morris
said he and his collaborators on the play - which opened on Thursday and
runs through March 5 - were interested in exploring. As Robert A. Caro
points out in "The Power Broker," his 1974 biography of Moses, "every
great public work has been built under some autocratic regime," Mr.
This idea seems to resonate in the continuing planning for ground zero,
Mr. Morris said, in that the PATH station designed by Santiago Calatrava
is the only architecturally acclaimed piece so far. As a Port Authority
project, the PATH station was largely unencumbered by the many decision
makers involved in the site. "Democracy had nothing to do with it," Mr.
Morris said, "and it's gorgeous."
Today's planning climate - including the World Trade Center site and the
potential Jets stadium on the Far West Side - calls for another
theatrical installment, said Deborah Gans, author of "The Le Corbusier
"We need a sequel in which Danny Libeskind has more than a walk-on
part," she said, referring to Daniel Libeskind, who designed the master
plan for ground zero. She added that such a sequel would have to include
a character called Bloomy (Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg) as well as Boozy
"It's an olympic struggle," she continued, brainstorming aloud. "Moses
is drooling because it turns out that New York is again empty. You have
railroads and coastline that is crying out for more. There is a great
postmodern void you'll have to fill."
The architect Rem Koolhaas would have a part, she went on, saying that
things should be "extra big, extra big," and the "green people" would be
arguing for ecological considerations.
The panel, organized by The Architect's Newspaper, included David
Grahame Shane, an expert on urban design, and Geoff Lynch of the
architecture firm H3 Hardy Collaboration.
Presented by the theater company Les Freres Corbusier, the play was
conceived by Juliet Chia and Alex Timbers along with Mr. Morris, and
written by Adam Scully. It was directed by Mr. Timbers, includes
original songs by Douglas J. Cohen and features characters like Gov.
Nelson A. Rockefeller, the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, Mayor
Fiorello H. La Guardia and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Reviewing
the play in The New York Times, Charles Isherwood wrote: "The show
certainly serves as a lively if loose primer on the career of a
legendary figure in New York City history, but it's hampered as a
theatrical entertainment by the monotony of its self-conscious comic tone."
Mr. Shane took issue with the play's portrayal of Jane Jacobs, who wrote
about the importance of maintaining street life in urban planning, as a
shrill harpy who hurls a croissant at Le Corbusier - her boyfriend in
the play - and organizes housewives to oppose Moses. "I thought you were
really cruel to Jane Jacobs, and unnecessarily so," Mr. Shane said.
"I could tell you were totally up to date on her theory," he added, but
"she was an amazing person who activated" people.
At the same time, Mr. Shane said, the play challenged some of his
notions about urban planning. "I'm a bit of a fan of emergence theory,"
he said, "but now you've got me questioning myself." As the play defines
emergence, "simple components self-organize to create complex,
functioning systems, absent of any 'top-down' control."
Mr. Morris said he and his colleagues poked fun at Jacobs "mainly
because we felt she so clearly won."
"Did she win?" Mr. Shane responded. "That's the real question."
To some extent, Mr. Morris said, the creators wanted to play against
type, lionizing Moses, now known for his hardhearted bulldozing of
neighborhoods, and vilifying Jacobs, now beloved for championing the
importance of preserving local character. "So we turn him into the
superhero and her into the diabolical," Mr. Morris said.
These broad theatrical strokes aside, however, Mr. Morris said Moses was
not a clear-cut figure. "We take what he did so for granted, and no one
else has been able to build on that scale since him," he said.
Mr. Shane said one's ultimate assessment of the Moses legacy in New York
depends on "how green you are."
"It's like we've learned - beyond Jane Jacobs - that everything has a
cost," he said. "We can't breathe the air; waters are polluted. It's a
very, very complicated debate in the end."
As for Le Corbusier, Mr. Shane said, "Corb hated New York, and you
didn't really put that across."
Ms. Gans said: "It was love-hate. He was jealous of it, and he kind of
lusted after it. He loved the silverware."
She said Le Corbusier "would have really liked this play."
"He was a theatrical charlatan at heart," she said. "Le Corbusier was a
"He self-constructed his identity after the First World War," she
continued. "He had a prop - a bicycle - and a bowler hat."
"Amidst a blaze of streaming media, ridiculous choreography, and dozens
of live fornicating rabbits, famed French architect Le Corbusier
inspires builder Robert Moses in his desperate battle to recreate New
York," the Off-Broadway company announced. "Boozy: The Life, Death, and
Subsequent Vilification of Le Corbusier and, More Importantly, Robert
Moses tracks the life of Robert Moses, from idealistic youth to
unstoppable power broker, able to turn parched land into glorious
bridges, highways, and public housing with a mere flick of the wrist.
With guest appearances by Benito Mussolini, FDR, and the ghost of Baron
von Haussmann, Moses learns from the greats until true power is finally
his. Freemasons dance, FDR levitates, and Daniel Libeskind silently
weeps. None shall be spared."
From 1924 to 1968, Commissioner Robert Moses was the most powerful man
in New York City, responsible for conceiving and completing public works
costing $27 billion, including the Triborough Bridge, Jones Beach, the
West Side Highway, Co-Op City, Shea Stadium, the Verrazano Bridge and
Lincoln Center. Beloved and hated, the controversial figure at one point
had a plan for highways to slice through lower Manhattan in what is now
a thriving Soho (the neighborhood where Boozy is playing). To his
dismay, grassroots groups and individuals — Jane Jacobs among them —
helped stop his effort.
Les Freres Corbusier "is known for its exhaustively researched,
topically relevant, comically avant-garde theatrical creations,"
discussing "academic issues in a theatrical frame that is both
accessible for an everyday audience, and bizarrely educational.