Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Globalism and Architecture

Once upon a time, the great architecture of the world was strictly local. Travelers seeking the wonders of London, Paris and Florence saw buildings designed by Londoners, Parisians and Florentines. Or at least the English, the French and the Italians. Though architects were not necessarily tied to one city — Raphael was born in Urbino but built in Florence and Rome — most stayed close to home. Take Bernini’s attempt to spread his wings: Louis XIV invited the artist and architect to finish the east front of the Louvre but eventually turned the work over to a Frenchman, finding Bernini’s facade to be too Italian. And so it was, and so was he. 
Today, European architects regularly work in the United States, Americans work in Europe and everybody works in Asia. This globalization of architecture would seem like a good thing for us, and it’s obviously good for (many) architects. If you are a city hoping to ping the world’s cultural radar, an institution looking to attract donors, or a condominium developer trying to lure deep-pocketed tenants, your architect better have a recognizable name. 
At minimum, imported talents just passing through town — however talented they may be — don’t intimately know the place they are working in. Sometimes it’s as simple as not understanding the climate. When New York-based Philip Johnson and John Burgee designed the IDS Center in Minneapolis, they included a glass-roofed atrium, which has on occasion been cordoned off during the winter because of leaks and glass breakage as fragments of ice fall from the adjacent tower. Gehry’s Stata Center at M.I.T. experienced similar problems. 
More to the point, a true sense of place is an abstract and rather elusive concept. Cities have their own patterns of building, influenced by the pace of life, the quality of light, historic traditions or simply the materials available. Buildings that acknowledge these patterns reinforce the sense of a particular place — they belong. Sparkly, effervescent Venetian Gothic belongs to La Serenissima, just as severe stone Georgian belongs to Edinburgh. And when we are in these cities, they make us feel that we belong, too. To invert Gertrude Stein, there is a there there.
The Franchising of Architecture (NYTimes)

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