Friday, June 10, 2011

Architect Fail

Thanks to Boing Boing for posting what may be the quintessential symbol of the arrogance and cluelessness of today's architects:

A 105 million dollar courthouse that just opened in Ohio has a glass staircase, making it, um, a potentially revealing exercise for a woman in a dress to walk down the stairs:

Attorney Lori Johnson was startled by the transparent stairs. She worries not only about stares, but also how many cell phones have cameras attached.

"The next thing you know, you're on the internet," Johnson said, according to 10TV. "It sounds like a lawsuit in the making."

While security guards warn women about taking the stairs, it seems most are just hoping people will be mature about the situation.

"They hope people will be mature? That's not a solution," Lynch said to 10TV. "If we had mature people that didn't violate the law, we wouldn't have this building."

Now, such a staircase is only possible with some of the new recent developments in highly-tempered and laminated glass. This stair must have been exceedingly expensive to construct, and almost certainly had to go through some very thorough inspection by a code official to be permitted even as a non-egress stair (which it must be). So not only did such a stair cost a great deal of money for no real reason, but it is a liability to boot! Later the same day, Boing Boing posted this quote from famed industrial designer Dieter Rams:

Indifference towards people and the reality in which they live is actually the one and only cardinal sin in design.

Now, you would think this would be drilled into the heads of aspiring architects in school, but you'd be dead wrong. In architecture school, you would be suitably feted for coming up with such a "bold" idea. In architecture school, the stair would be rendered with the latest software and proudly displayed with a blurb explaining how the the stair "embodies the transparency of the legal system," or some such nonsense. Despite what you think, architecture school is nothing more than a complex hazing ritual where students try and outdo one another for the most outrageous conceptual scheme that will never be built in real life, even if were constructable. Given what I know about elite design schools, this does not surprise me in the least. It's just another sign of the decaying of competence all across our society.

And if the glass staircase isn't outrageous enough for you, why not a whole friggin' glass museum!:

Opened on the 18th May this year, the Shanghai Museum of Glass in the Baoshan District is the result of a collaborative effort between architecture experts logon and exhibition interior designer Coordination Asia. Sprawling over a former glass manufacturing site totalling 29,612 sq m, the 5,785 sq m Shanghai Museum of Glass is the first stage in a four-phase plan to complete G+ Glass Theme Park (Glass, Art, Research and Technology Park). The 20 year strategic plan drawn up by logon incorporates a sculpture yard, science park, and business park, with supporting commercial facilities to be completed by 2018.

You can't make this stuff up folks. Just a few posts ago I was contemplating when China would announce a Museum Musuem. It seems nothing is too outrageous to put up in China's pursuit of "growth".

Although the facility has been marketed as a museum, it is in fact a ‘Type Two Museum’. As such, its remote location dictates that the activities and entertainment on offer must be gripping enough to encourage visitors to make the long trip to the site. In response to this, the Shanghai Museum of Glass offers a themed exhibition, hot glass shows, DIY workshops, educational lectures, libraries and interactive activities. logon explains: “It’s sustainable adaptive reuse design and modern feel incorporate old and new ideas making it the first of its kind in China.” (emphasis mine)

Ah, a "Type Two Museum," eh? It all makes sense now! I'm sure it's remote location will have millions of Chinese workers traipsing out after their sixteen-hour days in the factory and paying half a week's salary to watch movies about glass making at the Shanghai Glass Museum. It's all a part of China's glorious new future! And people thought the Cultural Revolution was crazy!

Oh, but that's only the beginning! Check out one of the world's largest retail developments in Zhuhai, China:

This mixed use development in Zhuhai, China contains 360,000 sq m of leasable retail space together with commercial, hotel serviced apartment and residential units totalling 510,000 sq m of accommodation. Shoring of the site is already complete and it is anticipated that the piling of the development will commence later in 2011.

I doubt even the architects are taking this seriously at this point. Hopefully 10 Design cashed their checks after carefully filling in the amount. It seems China is the place where all the ridiculous nonsense dreamed up in architecture schools is finally given free reign. At least they're doing the dignity of not even pretending that this white elephant is 'green'.

The site of the development is unique in this growing city, as it is the meeting point between the grid of the city and the natural topography of the surrounding hill range. The design of the development takes inspiration from this with a dynamic ‘urban super wall’ defining the site’s edge with the urban grid. The super wall is made up of series of giant, stone, steel and LED blocks that are stacked to open and cantilever out across the street.

The LED blocks acts as media and light entry gateways and break out points. These breaks gates within the wall reveal the softer organic, planted terrace building and street forms within like a giant secret garden. The terraces within the heart of the site are sculpted to reflect the flow of pedestrian movement through the site along undulating terraced valleys that open to create external plazas and close to create intimate shaded courtyards.

A 'super wall' of LED lights cantilevered over the street, eh? That should provide a beautiful backdrop for the deserted streets and empty stores. Even average malls in China are already deserted. Countless millions lack inadequate shelter. But hey, growth is growth, right? I'm seriously contemplating starting a side blog just to chronicle all of these Chinese boondoggles. It should be a great archive of folly after the bubble bursts.

In case you forgot, here is where I posted about the China Comics and Animation museum:

Hangzhou urban planning bureau has announced MVRDV winner of the international design competition for the China Comic and Animation Museum (CCAM) in Hangzhou, China. MVRDV won with a design referring to the speech balloon: a series of eight speech balloon shaped volumes create an internally complex museum experience of 32,000 sq m in total. Part of the project is also a series of parks on islands, a public plaza and a 13,000 sq m expo centre. Construction start is envisioned for 2012, the total budget is €92m.

There is a pretty glaring innacuracy in the renderings here, however. The architects are showing people in their renderings. Obviously the actual museum is not intended to be ever used by people, and most likely will never host a single person. It's just a way to ensure jobs and economic growth. The mall rendering above with five or so people walking around is more accurate, as is the empty glass museum. Hopefully the architects will correct this.

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