Monday, May 15, 2006
You Can't Go Home Again?
IS MY OLD BOSS Robert A.M. Stern going to be coding a big development in his native Brooklyn? The Brooklyn Papers reports that a press release from the Empire State Development Corp. says Bob will “prepare design guidelines … for the uplands of Pier 1, Pier 6, and the John Street site,” but the inimitable Curbed says "the Empire State Development Corp. told the Brooklyn Paper it wouldn't talk about Stern's role in the project." Also, "Stern's urban planning work on Disney's master-planned town Celebration in Florida got decidedly mixed reviews." Et tu, Curbed?
Curbed, my favorite blog, can we talk? Celebration got "mixed reviews" from architects because a) it had urban design and architectural codes (i.e., architects can't do whatever notion comes into their head that day), b) the style was predominantly traditional, and c) Celebration is a market-rate development, not a work of architectural patronage. But drive from Celebration to Miami, and for every 100 towns you pass, Celebration will be better than 95 of them. Or more.
So let's give credit where credit is due. Celebration is a mass-market development that has raised the contemporary standard of development in Florida. Its traditional houses are the only houses that will sell in great numbers in central Florida. And urbanistically, they perform very well.
Last but not least, architects forget when they criticize Celebration that most of them wouldn't work for the very low fees paid for the traditional houses and other "background" buildings in the development. But Celebration also has uncoded civic buildings designed by the Starchitects of the day: Philip Johnson, Michael Graves, Aldo Rossi, Cesar Pelli, Charles Moore and Robert Venturi.
These were works of patronage, which avant garde architecture always needs to survive. And because they are foreground, civic buildings, their architects didn't have to deal with the differences between urban design and architectural design that so many contemporary architects don't understand.
Expect Bob's codes for Brooklyn Bridge Park to allow room for Starchitecture. If he hands out the commissions, they'll most likely go to his friends like Peter Eisenman and whoever is hot that month in the New York "avant garde."
But even if that's out of his control, Robert A.M. Stern Architects' coding for the new Times Square shows that RAMSA uses many different tools, depending on the context.
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