Architect Stanley Tigerman’s photomontage The Titanic(1978). (via

A sense of place

Two titans talk architecture in Chicago.

Architect Stanley Tigerman and literary critic W. J. T. Mitchell are old friends. So when they sat down to discuss architectural displacement at the Gleacher Center last week, the conversation—like their armchairs—felt comfortable.

Tigerman is writing a book about how deterioration challenges the notion of displacement, influenced by the Japanese wabi-sabi philosophy that believes “nothing lasts, nothing is finished, nothing is perfect.”

Mitchell thinks in terms of what (and who) gets displaced by a building or structure. In New York City, Central Park supplanted 19th-century Irish and African American villages. Around Israeli settlements today, walls painted with trompe l’oeil landscapes express a wish to displace Palestinian villages on the other side, Mitchell says, “and to displace the fact of the wall itself.”

Architects and critics collided over similar issues last year when Critical Inquiry, which Mitchell edits, published an article lambasting the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s plan to build a Museum of Tolerance over a Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem. Mitchell invited Frank Gehry, who had proposed a striking design for the building, to respond to Saree Makdisi, who authored the critical essay.

Gehry eventually withdrew his design for the museum and while he was initially upset by Makdisi’s article, the two reconciled over drinks in Los Angeles. The story shows that “displacement is also about ethics,” says Mitchell. “This was that rarest of moments where a debate actually changes somebody’s mind.”

In their Q and A, Mitchell and Tigerman touched on other controversies including the city of Chicago’s plan to raise funds by selling advertising on public property. “I’m pretty sure that architecture and the environment are not on [Mayor] Rahm Emanuel’s radar screen,” groused Tigerman. Allowing ads on bridge houses along the Chicago River is displacement—and defacement—by branding, he said, and “I cannot tell you how much I loathe it.”

The event was sponsored by the Franke Institute for the Humanities.


On November 16, the Chicago Humanities Forum presented a conversation between Stanley Tigerman and W.J.T. Mitchell entitled "Architectural Displacement."