Sunday, May 17, 2009
Live from New York - Starchitecture at Lincoln Center
This is an iPhone photo of one of the hottest things in architecture, taken a few minutes ago in the renovated main lobby at Alice Tully Hall. It helped put its designers in Time's Top 100 Poobah list of 2009. But the experience of the building is a big "So what?"
The interest of the building is primarily intellectual, according to the rules of "autonomous architecture" taught at places like Columbia and Princeton. I don't know the rules and don't care about them, because they fail to produce what I think we need now, namely good public spaces and places.
Visiting it, I don't find it beautiful, exciting, comfortable or even uncomfortable. The people sitting in the cafe seem simply bored, unlike the animated crowd in a Starbucks one block away. The experience makes me think of a Starbucks in a glass office building lobby, near my office at Broadway and John Street. That simpler, more ordinary Modernism makes a place that is more comfortable to be in. Part of the problem here is that the architects seem to have no interest or understanding of things like good proportion or human scale that are keys to the experience of place.
Most likely, that's not part of their autonomous architecture. But it is something that humans intuitively respond to.
In the post below, Nothing New Under the Sun, I quote the reactions of a great Beaux-Arts trained architect to Modernism in 1931. Glass was the fashion then, and glass is the fashion now — and somehow we're supposed to think that's new.
But what is new is the intellectualism of the autonomous architecture of today. Its rules, like "twist the building" or "lift up the corner of the building," appeal to the mind that has learned them, rather than to the senses and emotions of the passersby. The rules relate to the esoteric, elitist rules of contemporary Modernist art. But since architecture is a public art that we all participate in (unlike contemporary art, which one can easily ignore by not going in contemporary galleries), that is a problem.
Facing cataclysmic climate change, peak oil and an economy that is the worst since the Great Depression, we need to make sure that what we build does what we need. We need our cities, and we need to make them places where we want to be. If we don't do that, to quote Jane Jacobs, we are in for a Dark Age Ahead. The age of patrons and intellectual follies is over.
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I happened to see Charlie Rose with Charles Renfro, Ricardo Scofidio and Elizabeth Diller about this place. I mostly can't stand to listen to architects talk like they do but I can't stop listening either.
I couldn't tell: Do they like it? Does Charlie Rose like it? Do the clients like it? Do you need a few more visits to make a judgment?
Posted by: Terry Kearns at May 18, 2009 6:05:46 PM