Friday, April 16, 2004
Duany Crits Koolhaas
(The article is not online. Some of Duany's notes are posted below.)
People forget that the famous New Urbanist was a founding partner of the architecture firm Arquitectonica, where he and Lizz Plater-Zyberk designed slick Miami buildings. He has a solid understanding of buildings like the IIT student center and its precedents. His explanation of why "scuff is the new patina" and "delamination the new rustication" is interesting.
Duany also writes
The scene is populated with kids who look, dress, move, have haircuts and talk just like the building looks. They are as integral as those extravagant little figures in Karl Schinkels architectural engravings. They are content to be there, and the building is easy on them, absorbing whatever they are doing. This is the generation that uses random as an ambiguous term or praise and opprobrium, and the building is an embodiment of the fundamental "whatever" sensibility. The plan is disorderly, except where it is rational. The details have a certain integrity, except where they are junky. It is laid-back, except for certain edgy moves. It is artless, except in those places where it is stunningly clever. It is impossible to dislike because it is not trying to be liked. Its like, whatever. The building is as appropriate to our nerds/tech jocks as Miess campus once was for the white-shirted engineers of the second industrial age.In Modernism, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Early Modernists wanted to overturn Traditional and Classical design, and to do that had to argue against the universal values of Classicism, which said Truth is Beauty (Veritas est Venustas). (Thomas Jefferson wrote that Classicism promotes virtue.)
At the same time, all the Modern Masters of architecture were trained in Classical and Traditional design, and the beauty of their building often rested on some familiar grounds, such as Classical proportion, light and shadow, the best natural materials and even harmony and repose. That's precisely one of the reasons why Mies, for example, was considered a Modern Master: his quiet, serene buildings are Classically proportioned and harmonious.
Koolhaas doesn't care about any of those traditional qualities. His IIT building probably has no natural material. Natural materials are pleasing, and synthetic materials usually aren't. But Koolhaas would rather have excitement than beauty, so he substitutes one for the other.
Inside, walls move in and out, floors and ceilings up and down. It's a little like watching MTV or drinking grande lattes with triple shots all day. As Duany says, the building fits its users.
Older university buildings like the IIT buildings by Mies were made for the university elders rather than the students. Late Modernism is more like MTV: give the kids what they want. (Sidebar: It would be interesting to know what Rem and Zaha listen to and watch is it anything like their work? Eisenman lives in a traditional house and explicitly says he doesn't want to live in his own work.)
Late Modernism is sometimes analogous to Late Adolescence, which, of course, is the age of some architecture students. The connection between Modernism and Adolescence is the development of the Ego. Modernism is sometimes like the gawky teenager dressed in black (Have you seen a New York architect lately?) who wants to stand under the orange lights in the 7/11 parking lot, feel bad about his parents, and express his originality by looking like every other teenager he knows. But that's for another post.
In the meantime, some thoughts about architecture and music. In music, we listen to Top 40, or Hip Hop, or Jazz or Classical. Or Top 40 and Jazz, and Hip Hop, and Classical. The breadth of Duany's Metropolis article is unusual for the architectural press, or the press in general -- the New York Times's architecture critic ruthlessly pushes the idea that the only contemporary architecture worth thinking about is from the Starchitects like Rem Koolhaas, and few of the major newspapers or magazines are broadminded on the subject.
In the real world, some people want to listen to Pink. Some want Outkast, some want Stevie Wonder or Miles Davis, and some want Mozart. The discussion about what to do in our buildings and cities would be a lot richer if we got over this idea that we're all supposed to be listening to All Starchitect, All The Time.
BTW, I liked Koolhaas's student center when I visited it.
Date: Wed, 26 Nov 2003 15:59:04 -0500
Reply-To: Traditional Architecture Listserv List
Sender: Traditional Architecture Listserv List
From: Andres Duany
Subject: FW: Notes on Rem's New Student Union at IIT
Notes on Rem's New Student Union at IIT (October 3, 2003)
By Andres Duany
By chance the building opens at the moment that I arrived. I am watching students as they use it for the first time. It is a big complex. They are wandering about, looking around and then simply getting down to inhabiting the espresso counter, computer terminals, billiard tables, cafeteria, sitting on the steps. They get comfortable quickly.
The scene is inhabited by kids who look, dress, move, sit, have haircuts and talk just like the building looks. They are as integral as those elegant little figures in the Schinkel plates.
The building is exactly designed for them. This is the generation that uses "random" as an ambiguous term of praise and opprobrium. They are content to be there, and the building is easy on them, and absorbs whatever they are doing.
It is a perfect embodiment of the fundamental "whatever" sensibility. The plan is random, except where it is very rational. The details have a certain integrity except where they are junky. It is laid back, except for certain edgy moves. It is artless except in those places where it is stunningly clever. It is impossible to dislike because it is not trying to be liked. It's, like, OK, cool. . . whatever.
The building is as appropriate to our nerd/tech jocks as Mies' campus once was for the neat, white-shirted engineers of the second industrial age.
Misss buildings are now trashed, of course. But not as a matter of maintenance--it is that these students by their very presence trash them. So long as Western culture continues its dismal run, Rem's building is immune. It will absorb decline with the dignity of Rome ruined by Visigoths. This building will never be trashed because its technos is already trashy. The aluminum floor is MADE to be scuffed. It is a scuff magnet. Its fatalism is stunning. Rem describes it as junk space. Scuff is the new patina; delamination is the new rustication. It is one of the most resilient buildings that I have ever seen.
At the opening there was a display describing the design intentions. The building fulfills them perfectly. Rem is one of the very, very few architects who builds what he says. The bullshit quotient is zero. The execution is absolutely honest. It may salvage modernism yet--even if that is achieved by lowering the bar so.
This is a building of parts, with only cursory gestures at integrating them. An actual denial of integration is too much of a commitment. Those who fragment seem rather histrionic. The parts of this building are just what they are. There are no semantics. There is nothing in its "natural"condition, like wood or stone. The materials are all rigorously processed: sleazy polymers, sheetrock unpainted. They look cheap but anyone who knows, knows that they are expensive. It is what Muggeridge called proletarian fancy dress. This is a cool, distant assimilation of American hip hop culture. It is arguable that is the only way to make it tolerable: without irony. That Neue Sachlichkeit sensibility that died of desiccation in the thirties is now a useful shock absorber for our current surfeit of stimulus.
There are here, as in many of Rems large buildings, references to Le Corbusiers Palais de Congress in Brussels. But the references are so assimilated, so a-formalist, and so processed that one might as well say that there is reference to gravity. This building just is what is. There are no referential distractions--meeting an important credential to the New Inquisitors of avant-garde.
Not even Rem is a distraction. As an auteur he is elusive. I cannot see him working directly on this design. It looks like he let loose a swarm of designer-kids as savvy, fast and cool as fighter jocks in front of their screens. It may be that O.M.A. has figured out the elusive ideal of The Architect's Collaborative; harnessing individuals to the impersonal. Gropius succeeded only in leaching the creativity out of his collaborators. O.M.A. gets vitality to spare out of them. This is a milestone achievement for modernist architecture.
Modernism--which is a history of failure--must evolve at a tremendous rate in order to evade the taint--the stink--of failed expectations. That was then. . . look at this now! It will work this time. Trust us... Society continues to grant modernist architects one more chance again and again. Well, Rem's epicenters approach success. They may yet save the reputation of modernismperhaps they will even justify three-quarters of a century of cities destroyed and landscapes consumed. But, then again, they may also exhaust modernism, because what is being proposed is so conventional.
Why does it take such talent and effort to create the kind of place that is commonly available in our American vernacular? The functional banality of a high school cafeteriathe formal moves of a shopping mallthe cut-rate tech of a glass-walled office building. If Rem has achieved a credible place for modernist architecture, he may have simultaneously condemned it, by claiming so little for it. It is so unambitious such a perfect fit with our reality: the reality of the depressing site, the reality of the vague students, the reality of the pandering professors.
This is to be expected. Rems analyses never claim other than to reflect reality as it is. His critical studies are riveting--not because of the stunt performed--but because he pulls back the green curtain to show us what is behind it.
He is the most useful of our researchers. He is correct. It is just that some of us do not agree to tolerate the situation described. Of the engaged intellectuals, Rem is one of those who is critical by revealing the reality. But then there are also those who are critical by attempting to change that reality. The IIT building reflects reality--the buildings of say, Yale, reform it.
Yes, the students at Yale dress down and slouch like those at IIT, but their buildings engage them differently. While the IIT building makes them comfortable in all their slovenly goofiness, the buildings at Yale make them look out of place--somewhat ridiculous--as if amiable but clueless barbarians were inhabiting the constructions of a great vanished civilization. At Yale the students and the architecture are at odds. But there is the chance that the architecture will prevail; that some of the students, over time, will sit straighter, dress more fittingly, converse and socialize in a more sophisticated manner. These buildings engage in a civilizing mission, and the young learn to respect the mastery of their predecessors.
In this war for western culture, there are those who consider the Yale campus a famous victory, won against astounding odds. For them Rem's IIT building must be a great defeat. We should salute Rem for a brilliantly conceived and executed 30-year campaign. We will not soon recover from the impact of this building.
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Tracked on Jul 8, 2004 1:27:42 PM
» The Truth Is Out There from Veritas et Venustas
You expect the architecture critics to rave about Rem Koolhaas's new Seattle Library. I'm interested in what others think too. I liked Koolhaas's IIT Building (and hated the Congrexpo in Eurolille*), so I was interested to see that both David [Read More]
Tracked on Jul 9, 2004 4:06:05 PM
If this is saviorism, I'll join lots with unworthy. The building is a hulking piece of trash, with a wink. It's an insult, and if I'm going to be insulted, I'll take it on the cheap, thanks.
Posted by: Justin Henderson at Apr 17, 2004 4:38:29 PM
I'll take a look at Koolhaas new Seattle library and give you a report.
Posted by: David Sucher at Apr 18, 2004 3:01:04 PM
We cannot blame people to forget other famous persona before especially if that person is not existing today anymore. There are many new faces today who are far better than the artists before.
Posted by: Daniel Rasmussen at Jan 4, 2013 1:51:37 PM