Wednesday, March 23, 2011

When the Test of Time Meets the Tipping Point

After Chicago architectural critic Blair Kamin wrote about the Arts District, the Economist decided to pile on:
Is it enough to build these gigantic monuments to modernity (in an otherwise not-so-modern and remote place) and assume that the razzle-dazzle will lure the tourists? Dallas's experiment illustrates the flaws in developments that consider the needs of architecture at the expense of people. A culture district without the glue of wandering pedestrians (or an atmosphere of working artists; or let's face it, streets) may struggle to earn its keep.
One thing I'd like to add: when Kamin queries, "where are the coffee shops and bookstores?" I say, those things are responsive to neighborhoods, in retailer terms, rooftops. There is no neighborhood. Furthermore, those things respond to what Bill Hillier calls "pervasive centrality," and I coming to a similar conclusion thousands of miles away and decades in age/experience apart call "convergence," or being in the center of stuff, particularly a neighborhood.

The Arts District is "off to the side," currently "a roadside attraction," a "billboard along a freeway" that is more akin to a supersized string of fast food joints to pick up your daily dose of culture at the drive-thru. It is built of a mindset that "location, location, location" no longer applies, except that location is still the primary factor in built permanence. I make the point to walk through it as often as possible, not to admire beauty but to think what could've been and what still might be.

The cheerleading stage is over and the Test of Time of reality has begun to set in on the ideology of shopping spree pseudo-urbanism, "oooh, it worked for Bilbao! We'll take five of them." Now what?

Feel free to add your ideas in the comments. I've outlined some of mine here and I've got a couple graphics in the works to show how they might work.