John Silber, the bad-boy former president of Boston University, has a new screed out, a book entitled Architecture of the Absurd. It's an attack on the excesses of ego-crazy architects, who put up buildings that don't work, cost too much, defy engineering prudence, and set new records in the Exhibitionist Derby. One proud son of Seattle (Bremerton, actually), Stephen Holl, comes in for attack on his Simmons Hall dormitories at MIT, meant to resemble a sea sponge and looking a lot like a very large, very tattered kitchen sink sponge. Holl's two local buildings are the greatly admired Chapel of St. Ignatius at Seattle U. and the awkward Bellevue Arts Museum which didn't work in its curious first incarnation and is now back for a second life. In a review in The Wall Street Journal, Francis Morrone cites the Holl dormitory as "an example of what nonprofit institutions allow themselves to be talked into by architects whose 'Theoryspeak' proves irresitible to boards of culturally insecure trustees." Silber widens his target list to include Frank Gehry's Stata Center for computer science labs on MIT, now being sued for "design and construction failures," after opening four years behind schedule. Like many Gehry buildings, including the Experience Music Project in Seattle that Gehry largely disowns, it looks on the verge of collapse. Is absurd architecture itself about to collapse? Not likely, and for two reasons. These attention-hijacking buildings get international press, bigger donations, and surges of tourists to jack the admissions up. The second reason is that architects have long been trained to defy the lowly tastes of their patrons, arguing that they are building for future generations who will understand the work of genius better than the lowbrows footing the bill. Clients will continue, in Silber's biting words, "to forfeit their dignity as persons and allow themselves, through vanity, gullibility, or timidity, to be seduced." Seattle, while not exactly culturally secure, has largely done a good job in keeping the Genius architects on a reasonably short leash. Portland, which prefers refurbishing older buildings for its cultural institutions, has pretty much stayed out of the game after the awkward Michael Graves city hall. Vancouver, after its fine buildings by Arthur Erickson decades ago, seems to have built all its new buildings to look alike.