Monday, September 20, 2010

Slaves to Fashion

I thought this was funny. John Massengale posted this video of Andres Duany at CNU 18 in Atlanta where he discusses the new design/aesthetic movement bubbling out of academia called Landscape Urbanism, which is really little more than starchitects hiding behind greenwashing and landscape architects desiring their own star quality and meeting somewhere in the middle.

Duany can be very snarky and humorous, in fact, this is when he's at his best rhetorically. I found it quite profound when he distilled the design aesthetic down to two primary moves, shards, sharp angles, and riverine or alluvial forms, which reminded me of the post I made a few days ago about the two new downtown Dallas parks and their exact perfect locations as both bookends of successful Main Street area as well as in areas of greatest delta between potential and existing.

Then when you look at the designs of those parks, you see...


...and alluvial patterns. No different than Gehry or Koolhaas littering the world with themselves, only in a softer, greener, more cuddly format. It likes to pretend to be of nature, but excludes humans. It is the embodiment of a pretty, but compartmentalized sprawl. People over there, cars over there, buildings over there, roads down there. Rinse, wash, and repeat. And ultimately it is just as non-functional - particularly in very urban conditions such as downtown Dallas.

The fundamental problem is that the driving force is aesthetic rather than performance or function and if fashions/preferences change, the designs, parks, get cast aside as sooooo last year. When something has to be "of our time," then tomorrow it is no longer of that time, and whether it is a building, park, car, or article of clothing, if it is purely style and no substance, its value returns to zero when it no longer holds its one asset, "being of today."

While certainly fashion-based design can stumble upon utility to accompany style and achieve timelessness as its eras masterpiece, the odds are typically against it. Why? Because the best design responds directly to the conditions of the site. If you go in with a set design aesthetic and by God you will put some angles, shards, swoops, and parabolas no matter what, you are not addressing the site with a clear and open mind.

Remember one of the rules of science/urbanism, gaze upon things as if you've never seen them before. Otherwise, you are a decorator. No offense. Well, yes actually, offense.