A notable predecessor’s example gives reason for open-mindedness in assessing a previous era’s buildings, even the “ugly” ones from the 1960s and 1970s that Tom Keane conflates with bad architecture (“Good with the bad,” Op-ed, May 7). Eminent art historian Charles Eliot Norton demonstrated the risk of wearing stylistic blinders when, in 1890, he expressed the hope for “the destruction of all the buildings erected in the last half-century” on Harvard’s campus.
Among the buildings Norton would have erased were H. H. Richardson’s Austin and Sever Halls and Ware and Van Brunt’s Memorial Hall. Such structures clearly were “ugly,” comparable to Keane’s more recent targets. In their place, Norton envisioned a chaste, harmonious, and well-behaved Harvard campus, an entire precinct characterized by the nobility that Keane rightly finds in the Boston Public Library’s McKim Building — although it would only have been achieved through the sacrifice of what are now acknowledged to be great works of architecture.