Tag Archive for 'architecture'

Saving Buffalo’s Untold Beauty

Downtown Buffalo

Photo Credit: Tony Cenicola/The New York TimesA photo of downtown Buffalo.

The Times had a great piece yesterday on Buffalo’s architectural legacy, and recent attempts to save historic buildings:

Buffalo is home to some of the greatest American architecture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with major architects like Henry Hobson Richardson, Frederick Law Olmsted, Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright building marvels here. Together they shaped one of the grandest early visions of the democratic American city.

Yet Buffalo is more commonly identified with the crumbling infrastructure, abandoned homes and dwindling jobs that have defined the Rust Belt for the past 50 years. And for decades its architecture has seemed strangely frozen in time.

There is also an accompanying slide show, from which the photo above was taken.

Full disclosure: I’m originally from Buffalo.

ICA Boston


Photo, originally uploaded by droush16.

It looks like the new ICA on the South Boston waterfront has to delay it’s September opening:

In interviews yesterday, ICA officials, architect Ricardo Scofidio, and construction company manager John Macomber said that the remaining work was not major. Among the pending tasks—termed “minutiae” by one ICA trustee—was the need to test the building’s ticket counter and climate control system.


Back-Bay Apple Store, Part II

Boston Apple Store DesignSome details are finally starting to emerge surrounding Apple’s plans for the construction of a signature Flagship retail store in the Back Bay, Boston. IfoAppleStore reports that renderings of the proposed design have leaked (see left), and that the backward-looking Back Bay Architectural Commission has serious misgivings about the 3-story modern glass structure.

This is a shame… our wonderfully acerbic alternative newspaper, The Weekly Dig, said it better than I can:

Putting aside the mental gymnastics it takes to believe that one glass building would destroy the neighborhoody feeling of a three-lane boulevard that hosts a mall, a convention center and the city’s second-tallest tower, Apple’s run-in with the BBAC raises a more immediate question: Is a cabal of frigid elitists stifling Boston’s growth while they defend some bullshit Brahmin conception of what an ex-landfill should look like?

I sympathize with those urban planners and critics who reject the strip-mall/parking-lot 20th-century method of development – God knows, Boston is as pedestrian-friendly as any city in North America, and we’re better for it. But, there are many examples of new projects designed to mimic the look of 19th-century Boston, without succeeding in preserving any sense of neighborhood cohesion. One glaring example of this is the mammoth Hotel Commonwealth, in Kenmore Square, which I’ve commented on in the past. That building has as much “old-world charm”, as a 1970s-era French Tudor style suburban tract home.

Mandarin Oriental BostonWhat I find strangest of all, is that this is a relatively small parcel of land we’re talking about. Consider that on the very same block, across the street, Mandarin Oriental is building a huge hotel, in front of the Prudential Tower/Mall, at street-level.

If one of these developments is going to change the character of the neighborhood, I’d worry more about that project.

Public = Avant Garde ??

The ProposalsI read a little piece in the Times today concerning the two finalists chosen by the LMDC for the World Trade Center, and I have a few reactions.

Let us read some of what Mr. Muschamp writes:

“[Daniel Libeskind’s design] is an emotionally manipulative exercise in visual codes.

Alright. Does any ordinary user of the World Trade Center — worker, tourist, subway rider, etc. — have any idea just what Mr. Muschamp is talking about? Why has architecture become this jargony realm of intellectual nonsense?

I don’t know. The death and destruction of WWI caused a huge shift in Western values, specifically because science and technology was employed so successfully in the killing of a generation of men. In the decades after the war, the long-held idealized notion that technology would usher in peace and prosperity was dashed, and many of the prevailing assumptions in the arts were also vacated. It was in this void that the Modernists arrived– along with their avant garde aesthetics and their intent to social engineer.

So what has Modernism accomplished? Well, not much good. We’ve still got the rich and poor, yet we have ugly civic space. For instance, the original WTC was a wind-swept, anarchistic structure, cut off, and horribly out of scale from the surrounding streets and neighborhood. When you stood in the Plaza looking up at the structures, it was difficult to feel anything but dread. In fact, that seems to be a prevailing requirement of the Modernists– your building must impart DREAD. Unless, of course, you are one of the initiated. You have to be educated for seven years at MIT to understand the beauty of the Brutalist form.

Anyway, back to Mr. Muschamp:

And… the longer I study Mr. Libeskind’s design, the more it comes to resemble the blandest of all the projects unveiled in the recent design study: the retro vision put forth by the New Urbanist designers Peterson Littenberg. Both projects trade on sentimental appeal at the expense of historical awareness. Both offer visions of innocence ? nostalgia, actually.

Peterson Littenberg is nostalgic for Art Deco Manhattan circa 1928, before the stock market crash caused the United States to abandon the prevailing ideology of social Darwinism. Mr. Libeskind’s plan is nostalgic for the world of pre-Enlightenment Europe, before religion was exiled from the public realm.

This is always the argument of these elite intellectuals against classicism — that somehow, ornament, scale, proportionality and humanity are to be despised as Imperial. Now, obviously both plans are far from Classicism, but, in the interest of democracy, why cry historicism when the alternative is intellectualized ugliness?

The general public, I believe, longs for dignity in public architecture. I prefer the Think project, but the lattice work looks like Tinkertoy, and I find it tacky that they have pods within the latticework. How intimidating would it be to get in an elevator, and shoot up 100 floors to a “cultural space”, knowing full well that there is nothing but air and Tinkertoy beneath you? Frightening. The Eiffel Tower it is not.

No doubt whatever gets built at the WTC site will be very modern, and cutting-edge. It is my hope that it exemplifies the dignity and purpose human beings deserve and crave. Let the people choose, not the intellectuals.

Zakim Bridge

I was futzing around in Photoshop the other day, in-between working on some freelance gigs… (it’s coming matt!)… and I created this little vectorized version of the new Charles river bridge in Boston. I think it’s fabulous that the city named it for Lenny Zakim, a civil rights activist and community leader—especially given that he passed-away in 1999.

I certainly understand why government buildings and other projects are named for WWII heroes and long-dead (some corrupt) politicians, but I’m encouraged by this choice… It’s a modern, personal and meaningful choice.

Personally, I’m kind of ambivalent about all of this Big Dig stuff. Elevated highways are evil, so I will be glad to see the Green Monster come down. Still, what will be put in it’s place? And at what cost? The current plans call for mostly green “open” space, surrounded by surface roads that might have as many as 4 lanes. Whoa. Wait up. You’re replacing 8 lanes of elevated highway, with 8 lanes of modern, wide-lane surface streets. Not to mention the 10 lanes underground.

It would be a mistake to try and correct the transportation and urban renewal mistakes of the 1950s, by dropping a narrow park in the middle of all that asphalt. This city needs to knit back together the fabric of a neighborhood that was sheared in two. That means moderately-scaled buildings, shops, caf?s, sidewalks and, in the middle of all this: a park. Maybe with a fountain. And, you’ve got to minimize traffic. Make it difficult for cars to move through there.

Downtown Boston burned in 1872, so reinventing downtown is nothing new. I’d hate to think that this scenario would unfold: Developers get to build tall, private skyscrapers cut off from the street; the fire department gets wide traffic lanes; the tree-huggers get the rest as dead “open” space. That’s a recipe for a non-place. This should be the place… the destination.

Biography of an Architectural Icon

coverI started reading this book, Divided We Stand, a biography of the building of the World Trade Center.

Written before the collapse on September 11, though informed by the earlier bombing in 1993, the author offers context and cultural comment on what was arguably the world’s most famous building (were they one or two buildings?). What is especially shocking is that not only was it one of the last cataclysmic ‘urban-renewal’ mega-schemes held over from the 60s, (it was completed in 1972), that eliminated 16 blocks of low-income (though thriving) commercial space, but also it was the largest government-sponsored real estate speculation in the history of the world.

Managed by the Port Authority of NY & NJ, a dubious organization, it was pitched as a ‘vertical-port’, to replace the decaying shipyards below, (which were traded quid pro quo to NJ for their ‘ok’ to build the WTC). What it became, was a state-sponsored plaything for the Rockefeller brothers, (both Governor Nelson, and Chase Manhattan CEO David). With massive tax breaks for tenants, the city of New York lost millions of dollars in tax revenue, and by the mid-1970s was bankrupt.

President Ford, at first, decided to let NY wallow, but political pressure forced him to organize a bailout. Funny. How could you consider letting America’s first city implode, and expect to get elected as America’s first citizen?