One man’s Guggenheim, another man’s toilet

Unconventional design is like an architectural Rorschach

Way back in 1978, at the dawn of postmodernism, the architect and social critic Charles Jencks noted how bad most architects are at gauging public reaction to their work.Unlike many architects, Jencks recognized that laypeople, rather than perceiving sly aesthetic references to history or some other arcane theoretical underpinning, often associate unusual architectural forms with things that are closer to their personal experience. To cite a common example, while modern architects considered the monotonous window grids of their high-rise buildings to be the apotheosis of form following function, critics and cartoonists routinely lampooned them as grid-paper charts or huge filing cabinets. Architects often despair over such misinterpretations of their work by less high-minded observers. While Frank Lloyd Wright saw the circular, outward-leaning shell of his Guggenheim Museum (1959) as an organic spiral for the display of art, others saw it as a gigantic beige toilet. Likew...