Wednesday, December 28, 2005
What They Want, What They'll Get
And A Rendering Of A Condo Approved By Variance Yesterday
ONE OF THE THINGS the academics and starchitects criticizing the New Urban plans for the Gulf Coast of Mississippi don't realize is the difference between architectural design and urban design. When making emergency plans for towns devastated by a hurricane, the starchitects can't sit down and design 8,000 new buildings. But instead of trying to custom design entire towns, the urbanist designs blocks, streets and squares — the public realm — and then uses codes and urban building typologies to produce predictable and desirable results.
At Ground Zero, most of the starchitects competing in the final round designed unusual custom buildings and then fit the streets around them. The winner, Daniel Liebeskind, designed normal New York blocks and streets, and that's one of the main reasons he won — New York developers recognized they could work with his blocks. But instead of coding the buildings on the blocks, Liebeskind drew his own quirky designs, which the same developers simply ignored. The results are miserable.
The designs shown above are for Biloxi, Mississippi, where most of the Gulf Coast casinos are. As a result, while most of the Gulf towns have no money for rebuilding, Biloxi is under heavy pressure from casino owners and other developers, who are offering relatively high prices for small houses. These they'll tear down and replace with the tallest buildings they can persuade the city to build. Since most of the owners of the ruined houses still haven't seen any insurance money (four months after the hurricane) and know the FEMA regulations will be a mess that may not be straightened out for another year, many are happy to sell.
Thus Biloxi may end up the only one of the eleven towns and cities in the charrette that doesn't adopt the New Urban codes, and it may get a lot of mediocre buildings like the one pictured above (approved under the old zoning with a variance for size). But if the academics and starchitects had their way and got to plan the Gulf, the majority of the towns and cities would get equally mediocre results. The architectural establishment simply isn't set up to produce towns and cities full of buildings, and they have no idea how to do it. The biggest problem with their criticism of the New Urban charrette is that they offer no alternative.
BTW, there is no reason why the New Urban blocks and streets can't contain simple Modernist versions of the building typologies, like the ones in the charrette by Allison Anderson, John Anderson and Tony Sease. Or more complex ones by starchitects like Frank Gehry, who already has a new museum in Biloxi (of course after Katrina threw a casino barge as big as the mueum at it, it wasn't always easy to tell what Gehry designed and what Katrina deconstructed).
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference What They Want, What They'll Get:
Regarding your closing paragraph, I wonder if we say such things to avoid appearing anti-progressive or so as to project a spirit of openness. Frankly, I think this cooperative spirit was the primary (and misguided) reason for the CNU offering an award to Gehry’s Disney Hall.
The Anderson building you reference is fairly innocuous, but as for the so-called Starchitects, I see no reason to include their overt Modernism – in New Orleans or anywhere else – until the most accomplished practitioners are prepared to reflect regional architectural influences and support established/developing urban patterns. Unfortunately, these ideas seem to run counter to the very idea of Modern architecture.
If you haven’t already done so, take a look through the latest issues of Architecture and Architectural Record, which feature their Homes of the Year and Design Vanguard, respectively. These exhibits ostensibly represent the best that Modernism has to offer. Which do you think would best fit in an urban setting?
Posted by: Daniel at Dec 29, 2005 12:55:05 PM