Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"They Kept Asking Whether They Can...

...They never bothered to ask whether they should."

I think I am quoting Jurassic Park there, but it's essentially paraphrasing what I've said about many architects and engineers over the past five plus years.

Thom Mayne says Dubai is headed towards ecological catastrophe.
Former RIBA president George Ferguson hailed Mayne’s intervention.

“Thank God a star architect has spoken out on this issue because too many are willing to pander to money and power Dubai,” he said.

The article juxtaposes his speech with:
...this week’s unveiling of proposals by Dubai’s leading developer Nakheel for a 1km-tall skyscraper by international architecture firm Woods Bagot.
1 km?! Mayne, while I've disapproved of some of his work, admired other, and occasionally derided him for nonsensical presentations, he is absolutely on point with this statement:
“It is not going to work on many levels, from social to infrastructure and ecological.”
Ecologically, the footprint of these towers (in terms of energy and material, not physical siting) is absolutely immense. But, I'm more concerned about the social dislocation of sending so many people so far from the street, the place where all great cities and livable places have as the lifeblood of successful placemaking.

I'm not quite sure how to rectify the issue. I've often ridiculed many an architect, planner, engineer, you name it, for being too type B and essentially drafting whores for the real powers that be; eschewing any opportunity or perhaps unable to suggest proper design solutions in favor of satisfying client ego.

The book, The Edifice Complex, goes into detail on "how the rich and powerful shape the world" architecturally, both for better and often...worse. My only guess to curtail the maniacal building of egocentric megamonuments to themself is...bear with me now...a system that prevents an unhealthy agglomeration of wealth in only the few.

See a few case studies: Dubai, where there exists extreme, uber-, mind boggling wealth in a miniscule percentage of the population and the buildings are equally as mind boggling.

Say, Dallas in the S&L boom in the 80s, Vegas, Miami, and the Inland Empire, each in their own way in the past decade's housing boom and bust. Each developed at numbing rates without thought or care for the consequences or the trail of destruction left behind.

Last case, go to Copenhagen where there really isn't much of a "wealthy class" so to speak. Rather, more or less an upper middle class, a middle class, and a lower middle class, yet is considered the fairest and free-est market economy in the world. The design is also contemporary, cutting edge, yet HUMBLE, acknowledging its place within the city and standing out at appropriate moments for important buildings.

Mayne expounds:
“Our clients are all embracing good urban design, solid planning principles, and the view that sustainability must be absolutely part and parcel as we approach the design challenges we face.

“Sustainability isn’t just about whether you’ve got a good air-conditioning system that doesn’t use a lot of energy, it’s also about building communities that can be sustainable."

Apropos. The social fabric that binds us all. Any kind of singular sustainable building is irrelevant with focusing on the physical and social connections of our world.

Now the question remains. Has Mayne had a Road to Damascus moment here or is this merely a case like Rem where he says or writes all the right things but when put in practice is way off.