Friday, September 18, 2009

The State of Architecture Elitism in 2009

The NY Times architecture critic released a story on the new Dallas Cowboys stadium in Arlington, Texas. Nicolai Ouroussoff is your typical high-brow avant-garde architect who pooh-poohs any attempt at traditional design, but I was happy to see his criticism of the location of the new stadium in the middle of Dallas-Fort Worth's endless urban sprawl. He pines for an earlier proposal that had the stadium located in a "more contained urban setting." This location would have spurred the revitalization of older historic landmarks in need of new life.

I give Nicolai kudos for actually caring about the city, and I think it shows how far the mindset of the architecture establishment has changed in the past few decades. Even the pure-bred modernists, the ones who give absolutely no creedence to using a brick or a cornice anywhere on a building, no longer dream about skyscrapers in the park or a fractured urban fabric.

I decided a long time ago that strict traditional architectural style was the least important feature of New Urbanism, and that if we could arrive at a human-scaled, traditional city and fabric, the architectural details could be in any style and work as long as they kept to the idea of a form-based code. When I visited Stapleton and Belmar in Denver, I was pleased to see that the designers had been more daring in their style, allowing large openings and new materials, including metal balconies, columns, etc. The places both worked because the architecture was consistent (in Stapleton, consistent by neighborhood) among the buildings as, reflecting a respect for placemaking and consistency of form.

For me the most unfortunate part of Nicolai's article comes at the end, where he makes a remark about the jumbovision screens that loom over the field. Noting that the screens are so huge that they have already gotten in the way of a punter's kick, he states "It’s a nice irony that for all the space, there may not be enough room at Cowboys Stadium to play a game." This remark signifies a major problem with (Post)Modernist thinking (as opposed to its style). If a building is anything, it absolutely must be useful. We can argue venustas and perhaps firmitas (maybe temporary buildings are more practical?), but if a building doesn't even make the cut of utilitas on day one of its life, we have a real problem. And rather than decry an astonishing functional fault in the building, Nicolai makes light of it, like a playful little architectural joke. I just finished reading From Bauhaus to Our House by Tom Wolfe, and while it is over-the-top in its romance novel-y journalistic flair, it points to the notion of 'irony in architectre' as one of many scholastic constructs that have made the profession so out-of-touch with reality. Twenty-eight years after writing, Wolfe would be sad to see that our avant-garde still thinks this way and is still trying to impose its will on the public.

1 comment:

  1. Ouroussoff's maturation (jump from lasciviousness for all things starchitectural bandwagon) followed a similar arc as that of the economy:

    Goodbye to Generation Me