Public Intellectual Ian Buruma Purchases $1.5 M. Condo in Public Eyesore

transfers2 4 Public Intellectual Ian Buruma Purchases $1.5 M. Condo in Public EyesoreIan Buruma, one of the world’s genuinely sharp, eloquent public intellectuals, has bought a condo in one of New York’s genuinely unsightly new condos. According to city records, he spent $1,495,000 on an apartment at the Kalahari on West 116th Street. He and Eri Hotta, who taught at Oxford until 2005, closed last month.

On the plus side, their building has solar paneling and wind-generated energy, music practice rooms, sustainable bamboo floors in the apartments, and 120 lottery-drawn affordable housing units to go with the luxury spaces.

But the Africa-inspired facade just doesn’t work: When the new building was ranked as the city’s single ugliest condo by Time Out New York late last year, the magazine wrote: “This is reminiscent of the Kalahari Desert. Municipal buildings in the Kalahari Desert, that is.”

One day, some grad student will come up with just the right phrase—maybe “post-colonial bourgeois”—to describe the Kalahari’s facade, which looks like a middle-aged white man’s impersonation of youthful African design.

Or maybe Mr. Buruma will write something better. When he was announced as the winner of this year’s Erasmus Prize (given for “an exceptionally important contribution to culture in Europe”), a press release called him a new cosmopolitan—“a citizen of a new world, in which boundaries of all sorts are easily transcended; where people of diverse cultures work together readily and experience economic and cultural exchange as intrinsic.”

This month, Mr. Buruma is following up his 2006 book on Theo van Gogh’s death, Murder in Amsterdam, with a novel called China Lover. He didn’t return an e-mail asking about the apartment, but here’s one (unfairly speculative) reason why he might need a place in Manhattan: He’s one of several writers who’ve been mentioned as possible successors to The New York Review of Books’ monolithic co-founder and editor, Robert Silvers.

mabelson@observer.com