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As one of highbrow architecture’s most celebrated figures, Steven Holl provides ample proof that the best-known practitioners of the art are often merely the ones most skilled at hiding their basic illiteracy while manipulating clients, colleagues, and, especially, the media. A few weeks ago, Time’s Richard Lacayo named Holl “America’s best” architect, after dubbing him an “up-and-coming” young thing in 1986. And though in the 15 years since then Holl has delivered the rather handsome Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki, the Finns must have made him sweat for every square foot of it, because in less exacting circumstances, his work is simply a mess of clumsy, clichéd odd shapes and silly verbiage hiding behind a bit of microwaved spirituality and popular science. Holl’s Chapel of St. Ignatius at Seattle University continues, four years after completion, to strain for a formal (or at least graphical) resolution not had in its maker’s claptrap concept of “chromatic space” wherein “light is phenomena, mystery, and wavelength.” That quotation does not even plumb near to the bottom of the repellent rhetoric he recently compiled in his monograph Parallax, but it does sort of put you, the buyer, in the proper bewaring position. Speaking of which, Holl is known to be a sore winner (with typical megalomania, he thought it necessary to insult his audience when he accepted a Progressive Architecture Award in 1997) and an even sorer loser (can we roll the tape from the second time he lost the competition for the American Library in Berlin, in the late ’80s?). So you may want to find a seat near the rear when Holl speaks at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15, at the National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. $18. For reservations call (202) 272-2448. (Bradford McKee)