Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Oh for Christ's Sakes...

It was only a matter of time, but Starchitects take the superficial act to city building. Unfortunately, for all of us that means just that many more people for them to experiment on. And what do you know, they don't understand that cities are systems and unlike buildings don't respond well to experimentations in form simply for the sake of being unique. They truly are blinded by the cult-like nature that architecture education to which it has devolved; of which I cite and excellent piece detailing the devolution:

...architects are not interested in laws of architecture. They prefer to design buildings on the basis of artistic fashion and ephemeral philosophical concerns. The same reaction greeted the efforts of my distinguished colleagues, Christopher Alexander and Léon Krier, to reform architecture as a discipline.

The paper goes on to detail the definition of a cult and offer background as to how the profession has fallen into such dire straights.

Defining a cult:
A system may be identified as a dangerous cult if it has the following characteristics, combining aims with techniques:

1. It aims to destroy
2. It isolates its members from the world
3. It claims special knowledge and morality
4. It demands strict obedience
5. It applies brainwashing
6. It replaces one's world view
7. It has an auto-referential philosophy
8. It creates its own language, incomprehensible to outsiders

I would conclude that architecture lost its humanity as science began to overtake religion as the dominant means for understanding the world. Seems strange for an admitted agnostic to say, but as the world entered a profoundly rational, descartian world based on formulas, statistics, and calculations of engineers, the expression of architecture found itself increasingly isolated. It didn't help that Le Corbusier became worshipped like a God (very cult-like, its own set of idols - remember: Thou shalt not worship false idols).

Seriously, listen to Thom Mayne sometime. Read Peter Eisenmann. I took enough philosophy classes in school to know how to break down sentences word for word into their deepest meanings. These guys make no sense. They might as well just give up the english language and start babbling like pentecostals. (see point 8 in the article)

From the original WSJ article:

Architect Daniel Libeskind is designing the downtown of Orestad, a five-kilometer-long urban area south of Copenhagen. The 19-hectare area will include two concave 18-story towers, which will dominate the main square and will be visible from the center of Copenhagen, and low-rise buildings with landscaped roofs.
If it/he is lucky the best case scenario for Orestad and the people of is that this achieves an equivalent status of EUR, another architectural experimentation on the city, in Rome; awfully brazen to attempt to compete with through contrast, Copenhagen. I bet he fails miserably. In fact, I'm quite certain of it. Check the pictures of EUR on Google Earth. The most striking characteristic all of them have in common? Not a person in sight. Why? For one, the only people that go there to revel in all its fascistic glory are architecture students, too stupid naive to notice that and object to its study.

The other, and more fundamental, reason is simply that it is not a place designed for people, but an architectural playground of expression. Of what? A particular historic philosophy, exactly as pointed out in the cult article, not the biological, sociological, and psychological needs and wants of humans.

Let's go thru the WSJ imagery shall we:

ooooohhhhh... wavy arbitrarily chosen forms...ahhhhhhh...

Thus proving they have no use for precedent or study of the effect past experiments on the ground have on people and cities. When I was in my early years in design school, I too rejected precedent. I got A-minuses on projects instead of As. Apparently, that was better and more appropriately realized punishment for me to mature past that than receipt of the Pritzker Prize.

Notice that there is zero sidewalk and the plethora of sky bridges. Are they all stuck in 60s Futurism or just wayyyyy smarter than all of us and realize that in fifty years we will have no clean air to breathe outside and the lack of ozone will melt our skin right off? Well, guess what? If it comes to that point, all life support systems on the planet will have shut down and we'll be extinct, or the last vestigious will be feeding off Soylent Green.

I've got an idea. Lets make a cylinder... no that's been done before... Now lets TWIST it. Hell Yeah! High Five! We'll get an award for this, no doubt!

I love being in buildings that look like they might fall over how about you?

Overscaled spaces, lack of understanding of human-scale. The mark of the beast. 666.

Nice facade. Seems like a pleasant building to stroll along. What? Again, no sidewalk? Has this building been dropped into the desert or is this actually the physical realization of that dystopian world I described above? Is this the Soylent Green factory?

In all seriousness though, I really don't worry about this. I know for a fact that all of these efforts will fail miserably, because they simply don't understand that true genius is in the details and subtlety. The problem is that for every one of these projects that gets built (most of which won't I presume because of the exorbitant costs of their fantastical dreams in a poor world necessitating practicality) that is another acre, another dime, another brick, and tens of thousands of people that have to endure failure.

We're coming to a point where we can't bear to make such mistakes of the over-grand any longer and need to focus on building sane, people-first, people-friendly places.

Post Script: I couldn't find room for this portion of the article, so here it is:
An example of a new approach to urban planning, Mr. Frenchman says, is the Arabianranta development in Helsinki, which emphasizes digital technology as much as architectural structures. It is a "smart city," where personal and professional relationships are fostered online. The 85-hectare development, expected to be finished in 2012, conceives of interconnectivity as a new form of public space; the 3,500 dwellings are networked so residents can share information. Computer technology is treated as public infrastructure, like water or electricity.

"Technology can help us rethink how cities function," Mr. Frenchman says.
Because of their unified vision, master plans have the potential to create great beauty. But for the same reason, they risk provoking strongly negative reactions.
Now that is a smart way to think about the city.
The city of Brasilia, built in the 1950s according to a master plan by Lúcio Costa, is hated for its barren public spaces, even though individual buildings by Oscar Niemeyer are admired. Berlin's Potsdamer Platz, redeveloped under a master plan by Renzo Piano in the 1990s, has been criticized for the mediocrity of its architecture and its inability to blend into the surrounding older neighborhoods.

Ms. Hadid's 3-D drawings of the Kartal project are instantly recognizable as the work of the designer, who is known for buildings and furniture that capture a sense of movement. The Kartal structures have a surreal, sand-castle quality.

Surrealism. I rest my case.