Monday, June 29, 2009
Baron Rogers: Let's not squabble about style (but New Urbanism is "tawdry pastiche").
AFTER THE PRESIDENT of the Royal Institute of British Architects promoted New Urbanism for England in 2004, Richard Rogers wrote to the Guardian,
Riba president George Ferguson is right to say we must put urban studies at the heart of the urban renaissance.... Since my Reith Lectures in 1995, I have maintained that the only sustainable urban form is the compact, multi-centred city, which mixes living, work and play, and benefits from well-connected, well-designed public spaces and buildings and environmental responsibility....
But these principles are not the sole preserve of "new urbanism". There is little new in this movement except for its blending of well-established urban design principles with a romantic neoclassical style that often tumbles into tawdry pastiche. This is no leap forward in the 21st century.
Instead of squabbling about style, [emphasis mine] we should focus on the need to restructure our professional education. Too many planners are still ignorant of how buildings and spaces interact in three dimensions, while many architects remain oblivious to communities, land values or land uses.
Architecture, landscape and planning should be studied together in a single undergraduate degree after which graduates would specialise. This approach works well in many other European countries and would create a holistic approach to the design of the urban environment and give us a common language.
Of course when he says there "is little new in this movement except for its blending of well-established urban design principles with a romantic neoclassical style that often tumbles into tawdry pastiche" he is squabbling about style.
In other words, cities may have any style they want, as long as it's modern, by which he means we may follow the precedents of 1920, if they express technology, but not the precedents of 1910, which express human values rather than technological ones. And somehow that will be a "leap forward into the 21st century."
On the other hand, show me a building by Rogers that is not a civic building that follows the "well-established" principles of urban design. I exclude the civic buildings, because they can be a object buildings that cry "look at me," like the popular Musée Beaubourg. But the Lloyd's tower, for example, should not. And Rogers's much-discussed Chelsea Barracks plan is a classic anti-urban Modernist scheme.
I'm sure that Rogers does know the difference between a good street and a bad one. He lives, after all, in a Georgian house on what I'm told is a beautiful street (which reminds me of this story about Rem Koolhaas*). But have any of his buildings made a street better?
SPIEGEL: Some people say that if architects had to live in their own buildings, cities would be more attractive today.
Koolhaas: Oh, come on now, that's really trivial.
SPIEGEL: Where do you live?
Koolhaas: That's unimportant. It's less a question of architecture than of finances.
SPIEGEL: You're avoiding the question. Where do you live?
Koolhaas: OK, I live in a Victorian apartment building in London.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Chelsea Barracks: The Truth Is Out There
After the Chelsea barracks banter, can we get back to the brief?
London Evening Standard, June 23, 2009
by Simon Jenkins
In truth... (t)here is some doubt over the real significance of the role played by the prince.
Rogers blamed him for "single-handedly" stopping his scheme, thus raising ghosts of republicanism and incurring the sympathy and outrage of fellow architect.
I am informed that the reality was rather different. Rogers had felt so confident of his influence in the corridors of London power that he produced a plan for the £1billion site which disregarded Westminster's planning brief so as to increase the profit for the luxury developers, the Candy brothers, then project partners of the Qataris.
The planning brief stipulated no more than six storeys, in conformity to building heights in the neighbourhood, and banned glass, steel and plastic exterior surfaces, in favour of brick, stone and slate.
The brief for one of the largest residential schemes in inner London was that it should reflect the scale and style of adjacent Chelsea and Pimlico.
Rogers put in a proposal for a nine-storey block in his familiar glass and steel cladding. He initially overawed Westminster's planning officers and won their tentative approval at a steering committee last September.
But by the time the design was approaching the full planning committee last Thursday, a torrent of local opposition alerted councillors to the variations from the brief and made rejection almost certain.
It was the variation and local opposition, rather the intervention of the Prince of Wales, that led the Qataris to decide that discretion was the better part of valour and withdraw their plan before last week's meeting.
The Qataris have now parted from the Candys and Rogers and put the site out, as they should have done at the start, to competition for a master plan.
They have announced a desire to see a variegated development "expressed through a variety of architectural styles".
I am again informed that the long list of architects is unlikely to include either Rogers or the prince's favoured Terry. In other words the site will not be submerged under one thundering "iconography", whether modernist or classicist.
This is good news. Westminster's brief could not have been clearer in this respect, indicating that people in this part of London wanted high density but low rise, in what should pass muster as variegated London vernacular.
There should be no more of the "20th-century revival" glass walls going up along the banks of the Thames.
In other words, architects here and elsewhere should be denied a claimed sovereignty over the design of the residential quarters of the capital.
They should rather mediate the views of groups local and metropolitan, residents present and future and those who take daily pleasure in the appearance of the city and feel entitled to be heard.
There is a reason why the London town house set in a terrace street remains the most desired urban property anywhere, rich and poor, East End and West End.
Now that's what I really call good humor (with apologies to Bullwinkle)
My latest response to the architecture critic of the London Times
THE ARCHITECTURE CRITIC OF THE LONDON TIMES commented on the Battle of Chelsea Barracks in the Wall Street Journal, and in response I've written three (count them, 3) posts in the comments section. The article is here, and the comments here. My first comment is also here.
Photograph © Robert A.M. Stern Architects
"The market deciding what it preferred"? Being American I don't know all the nuances of the British situation, but I do know there was much more involved than just the market.
Let's start with the architects. Architecture schools aggressively promote ideological pedagogies. There are over 30 architecture schools in Britain, but when Prince Charles said there should be one in the country that taught traditional architecture and urbanism, the architectural establishment successfully campaigned to put his school out of business. Part of the campaign included personal smears in the newspapers (Mr. Pearman, you still haven't commented on why it's appropriate to include Camillagate transcripts in your blog post on Chelsea Barracks).
When I was in architecture school in America in the late 1970s, the atmosphere was more open-minded. My teachers included Michael Graves, Kenneth Frampton, Robert Stern, Leon Krier, a number of Lou Kahn proteges and Norman Foster, who taught one of the most popular studios in the school (he was known as "the architect's architect"). But there was a backlash among young Modernists like Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid and Bernard Tschumi (all graduates of the AA, I think), who successfully set out to banish diversity of thought and promote an esoteric, elitist program that we see today at places like Harvard, Columbia and Princeton. The "autonomous architecture" and "culture of architecture" enforced at these schools has no place for traditional architecture and urbanism, which are systematically and aggressively opposed.
Combine that with the fact that Modernism did indeed express Western culture for a few decades in the second half of the 20th century, and you have a combination of old paradigms, inertia and active promotion of ideology within the architectural establishment producing the situation of the last few decades.
When Charles spoke up for traditional design, the majority of people other than architects and architecture critics agreed with him. But we have to remember that Modernist buildings made a great deal of money for developers, who tend to operate by fomula, and that modern corporations wanted buildings with very large "floorplates." And that governments, even the governments of people like Red Ken, listen to business leaders and their professional advisors like Barons Rogers and Foster. In these circles, the now-outdated ideas that Modernism is "progressive" and "creative" are particularly popular. That all adds up to more going on than just "the market."
Here in New York, developers made a great deal of money with glass towers, both residential and office towers. Apartments above the 10th floor cost significantly more than lower apartments (and therefore make more money for the builder). But these glass towers often diminished the character and quality of the streets they stood on, and there was a strong public backlash against them. In other words, yes there was a strong market for residential towers built by Starchitects, but the larger market, the citizenry, often opposed these buildings, even in Manhattan (see Foster's current design for Madison Avenue). In the current market, traditional buildings have held their value much better. According to the New Yorker magazine, Bob Stern's traditional luxury building at 15 Central Park West is "the most financially successful building in the history of New York," raising doubts about the financial wisdom of the developers who built towers by Charlie Gwathmey and Richard Meier (the latter's building facing the Hudson River also leaked like a sieve).
A story in the Property section of today's Times says, "Modernism - it's so last year." http://tinyurl.com/mde9hb Despite what you say about the market, I know that doesn't mean that cosmopolitan architecture critics will suddenly praise traditionalism. You, Rogers and Riba will continue to promote Modernism, but the public is less ideological. It will be eclectic, sometimes liking tradition and sometimes liking Modernism. It even likes some of the godawful towers that I think have changed London for the worse. But on the whole, it will reject the ideological attitude that the architectural establishment has successfully promoted the last few decades, an attitude that says Modernism is the only way to build and that tradition is antiquated and conservative.
Friday, June 26, 2009
THIS is London?
WHEN I WAS A STUDENT IN LONDON, it had three towers: the 28 story Hilton (from which you could look at the Queen in her garden); a Charing Cross office tower which was kept empty for some sort of tax deal; and the Post Office tower, a slender, mainly unoccupied tower that doesn't really count — it's a modern Tour Eiffel more than a tower. With the exception of things like church steeples, the rest of London was probably entirely under 120 feet tall, with most of it much lower than that.
Viewed from afar, it was a much more beautiful place. And up close, the new tower streets range from boring to downright oppressive. As Leon Krier says, architects have done more damage to London since World War II than the Luftwaffe did during it.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Walking by the new Thom Mayne Cooper Union building @ night this thought comes to mind -
"LET'S BE PSYCHOTIC!"
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Fair & Balanced, My A**
"We just paid $3 billion for these television stations. We'll tell you what the news is."