Beta
X

10May

Bold Ventures by Charlotte van den Broeck review – architects of their own demise

A poetic tale of 13 flawed buildings that spelled catastrophe for their designers

Late afternoon, Friday 27 January 1922. The sky unzipped and snow began to fall in Washington DC. It came down steadily all night and right through the next day, shrouding the city. Trains were evacuated, cars abandoned in the street. By 8pm on Saturday, 28 inches had fallen. Undaunted, 300 citizens decided to brave the translated streets to see the silent film Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford at Crandall’s Knickerbocker theatre, a picture house so luxurious that the chairs in the orchestra pit were upholstered in silk. The audience howled as Wallingford sat on a tack. A second later the entire roof collapsed under the accumulated weight of snow, coming down in a single slab of stone and steel and crushing the people below. Ninety-eight died and more were mutilated or injured.

This sounds like the very definition of an act of God, but the coroner’s hearing concluded that the disaster was a consequence of faulty design on the part of the architect, Reginald Geare, who had failed to correctly recalculate the load-bearing capacity of steel after the contractor, Harry Crandall, insisted on a last-minute change to cheaper material. Five years later, Geare took his own life. In 1937 Crandall too killed himself. In his heyday, he had run a whole chain of cinemas, and in a letter explaining his decision, he wrote: “Only it is I’m despondent, and miss my theaters, oh so much.”

Continue reading...

Related

Olivia Laing: ‘I’m sorry, but Jane Eyre is a horrendous little hysteric’

The British writer on discovering Barthes, channelling Burroughs and appreciating the talents of Pat...

Read More >

Summer books: Bernardine Evaristo, Hilary Mantel, Richard Osman and more on what they’re reading

Authors share the books they have enjoyed reading this year, including a hilarious dark comedy, poet...

Read More >

Wilhelm Reich: the strange, prescient sexologist who sought to set us free

He believed orgasms could be a healing force and coined the term ‘sexual revolution’. Reich’s und...

Read More >

The Hard Crowd by Rachel Kushner review – New Journalism given a new lease of life

The US novelist mixes grit with gloss in sharp examinations of artists and writers – and her wild y...

Read More >

Remain in Love: Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club and Tina by Chris Frantz review

The trouble with David Byrne ... A revealing inside account of the highs and lows of a band who look...

Read More >

The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M John Harrison review – brilliantly unsettling

Harrison is fabulously alert to the spaces between things in this novel of collapsing certainties in...

Read More >