A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A Question for the Architects

I know there are a couple reading here (Jack for sure, and I believe TC has some background from his engineering schooling), so tell me-- am I missing something, or is this one of the most truly ugly edifices ever conceived (click on the pic to see a larger version of this... thing):

The only phrase that comes to mind for me when I look at that building is from the Princess Bride, "NO your ears you keep, so that every babe who cries, every woman who screams 'my god what is that thing' will rattle in you perfect ears for eternity."

My god, what is that thing?

And, as a follow up, what's the point of selecting a group that bills itself as the "anti-Calatrava" to build something in a city (Milwaukee) where the most prominent piece of architecture is a Calatrava?! I mean, that's like having a lovely tribute to Superman in your city, and then having someone build a Kryptonite processing plant next door.

I also love the condescension of one of the architects who is quoted in this article:

"But I am fascinated by the Midwest," Maas said. "It has had almost no voice to the outside world, and that makes it an interesting field to explore - an escape from the known."
Well, I'm not an architect, and I don't play one on my blog, but has he honestly never heard of, let's see, Chicago? Minneapolis? St. Louis? Indianapolis? Coloumbus, Cincinatti, Cleveland? Detroit? I mean, I can see overlooking, or being unaware of, Milwaukee or Dubuque, but is there really no architecture in any of those eight cities that people in the "outside world" have heard of? And when exactly did they put a bubble over the Midwest? Did I miss that memo?

Ye gods, what a pompous little prick. By all means, let's give him a prize for being so "urbane." I think the Marcus Foundation is lucky everyone in town is STILL talking about the boneheads on the Marquette University Board of Trustees or this would be receiving much more public outcry.

UPDATE: I don't mean to imply that only the architects can weigh in. Does anybody like this design? The more I look at it, the more it strikes me as something the Borg would think was a really hip building.
First of all, my background, and for that matter, my occupation, my preoccupation, my albatross and my blessing is architecture; I have shared some of the road with Mr. Montag, as a matter of fact.


Nick, it's a European building specifically designed to affront your sensibilities.

Alright, it's not something one would like to see next to Milwaukee City Hall. On the other hand, it would fit in nicely in parts of the Third or Fifth Ward, or possible Menomonee Valley; It would barely register a second look in parts of Chicago or New York.

First of all, the building in question is in Amsterdam, not Milwaukee or Dubuque. From the photo, it looks like it is built in a semi industrial wharf area. Context makes a huge difference in the design of buildings; both the micro- (immediate neighborhood context) and the macro- (city, country, and social context)

Amsterdam and europe in general have always more enthusiastically embraced avant garde architecture than America.

while I personally would probably not end up with this particular building, I also am fairly confident that neither would the architect in question, weere they working in Wisconsin. Within the parameters I understand of the building in question, I have no problem with project itself. the building shows a respect for the industrial background of the vicinity and the post war heritage of Europe in general; It is also an honest expression of the materials and structure used to build it, which are wholly contemporary.

Contemporary and modern aesthetics in architecture are not bad, in and of themselves. An educated eye can discern many bad examples of any style of architecture; Don't get me started on the egregious examples of fakery that abound in the realm of new construction along the highways, offramps, and uselessly curvilinear streets of America that is the state of our current construction industry.

If you read the article closer, you can see that the team has NOT been selected to design a building in Milwaukee. As recipients of the prize, they will be coming to participate in classes at the UWM school of Architecture, and will help in the work of some unspecified urban design project. An urban design project will encompass at least several blocks of the City, such as the Menomonee Valley or the Park East freeway. There is not necessarily any actual construction involved. Alhtough once they are here, someone may give them the oppportunity to build something. Having their influence on a budding generation of architects (and heck, the rest of us here can use some new energy at times also) will be salutory and help develop designers that are open to a wider range of design responses. As with any discussion, it benefits from having a broader range of voices involved.

As a practitioner with an admitted predilection for architecture reflecting our times, I respect the work while also saying I probably would not reproduce it. I do find it frustrating on a constant basis that in general, Americans are ignorant of aesthetics (especially in the built environment) and most times we are forced by clients to work in a range of faux-reproductions of construction types and styles of a hundred years past. At the least, we strive to do GOOD work in that idiom; however, there are times that it would be beneficial to work in something more updated.

The cities of Europe are all the richer for having buildings of this type coexisting with buildings from 50 years ago, or 100 years ago, or 400 years ago. It all contributes to the life of the urban environment, and that's good.

Finally, Nick, you know, you need to work on that sensitivity: He's right when he says that the Midwest has had almost no voice to other parts of the world. I don't think there's anything wrong with an architect from Amsterdam admitting to a lack of knowledge about the area and still profeessing eagerness to visit and add it to his range of experiences. It's better than the typical American's default xenophobia.
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