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

IMG_2306

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.

[via]

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?