Craft, beauty, materials, local — these are all words of the moment — but we rarely see them in media stories about architecture, which emphasize shiny glass curtain walls assembled from thousands of identical pieces as mechanically as possible. The walls, by the way, are manufactured in China and shipped to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Mumbai, Dubai, London, New York, and Houston.
That’s what I thought of when I saw these new bicycle stands in Charleston, South Carolina from the craftsman at the American College of Building Arts and the architects Bevan & Liberatos. There’s more information about that here.
After the jump, the opposite approach:
The photo below shows a bike rack and subway grate made during the Bloomberg administration. It has its virtues, including keeping water out of the subway. It’s not ugly, but it’s probably only beautiful for those who think design must be “innovative” (see “Innovative” — the most overused word in architecture today?). And it suffers from what some of the design the Bloomberg administration promoted suffers from: a lack of craft, ugly materials, placeless design, and a lack of human scale. It is clearly an object designed on a computer screen with CAD, in a process that can easily obliterate scale. That’s part of the reason why we see 90-story towers that look like origami miniatures, and part of the reason why there has been so little thought given to craft and construction in a lot of recent design. In a building like the Empire State Building or the Woolworth Building, craft and construction were part of what gave the tower human scale as you got close to them.
There are great CAD designs, of course. None of Frank Gehry’s recent buildings could have been built without CAD. But the way many architects use CAD today deemphasizes construction and scale in favor of parametric shapes that can be dialed up and down and used for a tea pot or a tower. It all looks the same on the computer screen.
And then the drawing is shipped off to China, which is the same as putting the design into a black box and waiting for it to come out the other end.