Monday, February 9, 2015

Architecture In The Toilet

Behold the fruits of ad-hoc arbitrary form finding:
The Golden State Warriors are moving home. The "preliminary concept" for a new arena in San Francisco was released this week by design advisers Snøhetta. The plans have suffered some lampooning. Stuck on to the 135ft-tall circular arena is a squat, square terrace. Coloured a muddy cream in the architect's renders, some have pointed out its similarity to a toilet with the seat down.
Not the International Sanitation Museum
The toilet-shaped arena may not materialise. Though Manica Architecture, the lead architect on the project, would not comment, PJ Johnston, a spokesman for the Golden State Warriors team, explains that: "All images to the project to date are preliminary concepts, which are being vetted as part of the master planning for the site."
The toilet-like arena is not the first architectural misstep in sport. The Al Wakrah stadium, designed by Zaha Hadid for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, was widely said to resemble female genitalia. It's a claim Hadid strenuously denied. Her firm asserted that the Al Wakrah stadium was inspired by the design of the dhow, a traditional Arabian boat.

A small but committed section of fans - 75 in total - set up a Facebook group asserting that Ireland's Aviva rugby stadium "looks like a bed pan".

Sports stadiums pick up informal names from well-meaning fans based on their outward appearances. The low-slung circular sweep of the London Velopark, built for the London Olympics in 2012, is known locally as The Pringle because of its similarity to the potato snack. And while the Beijing National Stadium may not leap into most people's minds, the Bird's Nest, to give it its informal name, probably does.
Once you pop, you can't stop!
The toilet seat stadium and other unfortunate designs  (BBC)

If they wanted to make a building that looks like something, why not just go ahead and do it:

Or maybe:

China's strangest buildings, from pairs of pants to ping-pong bats (The Guardian). Apparently the authorities are starting to get a little upset about architects and their stunts:
He’s fed up of phallic towers, had enough of space-age blobs and is really rather cross about architects scattering novelty shapes across his great cities with reckless abandon. China’s president, Xi Jinping, has called for an end to the light-headed lunacy of weird buildings that have been spawned by the country’s construction boom over the last decade, crowding out skylines with enormous golden eggs and big pairs of pants.

In a two-hour speech at a literary symposium in Beijing last week, Xi said that art should serve the people, and called for morally-inspiring architecture that should “be like sunshine from the blue sky and the breeze in spring that will inspire minds, warm hearts, cultivate taste and clean up undesirable work styles.”

Over the last few years, China’s accelerated urban growth, paired with the emergence of a billionaire business class keen to make its mark, has created a fertile playground for western architects. Lured by the scale of ambition and sheer speed of building, they have been allowed to indulge in fantasies they could never get away with back home, egged on by cut-price construction costs and safely distanced from the cruel realities of migrant labour conditions. 
Lots more crazy stories at the link (rotating buildings! Pants buildings!)

Slate magazine reviews the 11 worst buildings of 2014. One is all 1,715 designs for the Guggenheim Helsinki contest:
Earlier this month, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation released its six finalist designs for the Guggenheim Helsinki, a project that Finns have been debating since 2009. For people who hate contemporary architecture, the Guggenheim’s design contest is a godsend: The website features hundreds and hundreds of lazy renderings that have no context in Helsinki’s South Harbor, each one more fantastical than the next in a bid for the design jury’s attention. As a whole, the contest is bad for architecture: Only firms that can afford to work pro bono bother entering contests, which rules out the scrappy designers that a big net is meant to catch.
Yes, design by Maya and Photoshop. But my favorite writeup is about Zaha Hadid, whose designs some people are literally dying to see built:
Technically, Zaha Hadid cannot be blamed for the deaths of slave-labor workers in the construction of the stadium she’s designed for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, because that work hasn’t begun in earnest yet. The architect sued Martin Filler for laying the responsibility for workers’ lives at her feet in the New York Review of Books, and he took back his words. Work on the site began only in August, and construction does not gear up in full until next year.

Yet the internationally renowned architect might have responded to mounting criticism otherwise. In Qatar, some 1.4 million migrant workers are building the World Cup site from the ground up under miserable conditions. At the rate they are dying now, an estimated 4,000 workers will perish by the time the first match kicks off in 2022. Typically, it’s not plainly obvious in advance that hundreds of workers may die to fulfill an architect’s vision. She might have withdrawn her work from the project and suffered only a boost in her reputation as a human rights champion. Instead, she outlined a preemptive self-absolution of responsibility for the lives of the workers that will almost certainly be claimed in building the stadium.

After all, Qatar isn’t the only mega-stadium that Hadid has in play, as her firm is designing the Olympic stadium for the Tokyo Games in 2020. This stadium is controversial, too: Some of the greatest Japanese architects (Toyo Ito, Kengo Kuma, Fumihiko Maki, and Sou Fujimoto among them) say that her stadium is just too large for the scale of the neighborhood. These aren’t the simpletons reacting in shock to the vulva-shaped design of the stadium (and those critics are wrong: The world needs all the yonic architecture it can get). Professional courtesy might compel Hadid to revise her draft, but instead, earlier this month, she lashed out at her critics, calling a pantheon of Japanese designers “embarrassing” and “hypocrites.” In terms of design, neither of these stadiums is a hill worth dying on—either professionally or literally.
 There's no end in sight. Get ready for even stranger buildings for the 1 percent in the future:

Caller: ...So we have a couple of projects. There’s the new public library which is kind of this futuristic cubist disaster. It kind of looks like a cardboard box that’s been half torn apart, only instead of cardboard, it’s made out of reflective paneling and it doesn’t match any of the other buildings around it.

Then another disaster that we have in Seattle is what’s called the EMP, which is the Experience Music Project, right by the Space Needle in the Seattle Center. This looks like a bright colored amoeba. It’s just completely different shapes, it doesn’t match anything, of course, how could it?

I’m wondering — my question, I guess, is: when cities have the opportunity to create something new, it seems like they either make it a cartoon or some futuristic box that is kind of screaming for attention. I’m wondering, why is it that people are not interested in building classic buildings that blend in? So, if you could help me understand this a little better, I would really appreciate it. Thanks so much, guys.

Duncan Crary: Jim, have you seen these things? I’ve actually seen these buildings in person.

James Howard Kunstler: I’ve seen and been in the Seattle Public Library designed by Rem Koolhass.

It’s not that hard to understand what’s going on. The city officials are not that sophisticated. They’re probably not stupid, but, basically, what they’re hoodwinked into is a kind of fashion contest with other cities, a status fashion contest.

The big status symbol for the last 20 years has been to get a museum or a library designed by one of a certain roster of star architects or Starchitects as they’re called. It’s a revolving door of Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhass, Peter Eisenman and a bunch of other people.

The results have been disastrous for practically every place that’s done this. The case of the Seattle library is interesting. Yes, it is a building that is intimidating and the inside of it is an interesting thing because it completely disorients you. You go up these stairways that are designed to make you feel disoriented and to not really particularly lead to a place that you understand.

The ideology of academic architecture these days is based on the wish to confound our expectations about how buildings will work and about how cities will work and how the buildings will relate to the cities.

So, the program with Rem Koolhass — and he states this explicitly in his own writings — is to confuse the person using the building and create as much anxiety as possible in the users and to mystify them. The whole object of this whole exercise is to make the architect seem more supernaturally brilliant for having created all these mystification. The more mystification they create, the more it supposedly means that they know things that you don’t....
Let me perhaps put it this way: One way of understanding the urban principles involved is to know that there’s a difference between background buildings and monumental buildings.
Monumental buildings have a certain obligation to help us feel oriented, to know what they are, to be typologically consistent with our expectations, and also to present a sort of sense of decorum to the city.
The city can be an intimidating place for the person who lives there. It’s a place where you’re meeting a lot of strangers constantly, you’re around people you don’t know. There are a lot of exciting, stimulating, but also kind of intimidating things that happen to you in the city.
So one of the purposes of architecture for a few thousand years has been to reassure us that when we’re in the city, we’re in a place that is safe, in which transactions occur that we can understand. We’re in surroundings that are coherent, that the outsides of the buildings embellish the public realm and honor the public realm.
It honors our presence in the public realm by speaking to us in languages, and vocabularies, and syntaxes, and grammars, and rhythms, and patterns that we understand from our own culture.
So, when you bring into that setting this effort to mystify and confuse everybody and create, deliberately, more anxiety, you’re doing a real disservice not only to the individual people who inhabit the place, but to the idea of civic life as a general proposition.
Duncan Crary: All right, Jim, but what I don’t understand is: not only have these guys like Koolhass conned all the mayors of these cities around the world, but the American Institute of Architects is giving this guy awards. He got an award for this public library which looks like a Droid transport carrier out of a George Lucas film.

James Howard Kunstler: All the big architecture prizes are going to these horrendous despotic high tech buildings that look like they’re constructed out of Gillette Blue Blades or some other really frightening material.

It is a con game and it’s also a game of the “Emperor’s new clothes.” These guys are all trying to support an ideology which says, in essence, “The more we can mystify the public, the more brilliant we will appear to be.”

Duncan Crary: Yeah, it’s almost like how Rudy Giuliani once was talking about art, there was some art show in Brooklyn that was controversial and he goes: “Art is something I don’t understand. If I don’t understand it, it’s art.” I feel like, that’s the level of this con. These buildings look like crap!... I want to get back to this “Emperor has no clothes” idea. I think you nailed it.

James Howard Kunstler: That’s not an original thought on my part, by the way, Duncan. I mean, there are a lot of people who are on to the “Emperor’s new clothes” element to this racket. 

Duncan Crary: So have you talked to these architects? What the hell are they learning in school? Do they apologize to you when they hear you? Or do they argue with you?

James Howard Kunstler: Oh, no. They argue with me strenuously, especially at the more elite universities. I’ve been to Harvard, I don’t know, three or four times and they think that this is a joke that I’m complaining about it. They think that mystification is wonderful. It makes them feel more superior.

They’re totally along with that program and they’re certainly prompted and supported in it by their professors who also get a huge lift out of feeling like superior supernatural beings from another planet. They’ve succeeded in mystifying people and making them feel uncomfortable in the buildings that they have to go to everyday.

Another interesting case, by the way, is MIT, which is down the street from Harvard. They were gifted with the famous Frank Gehry building known as the Status Center, which is kind of a classroom complex. It was supposed to be the centerpiece of their “new” main street which is called “Vassar Street” off of Mass Avenue.

The building’s only been open for about two years and they’ve already incurred something like $100 million lawsuit. Because the roof doesn’t work and the way that the entrances were designed, they were perfectly designed to direct large pieces of ice to fall on the heads of people on the sidewalk. [Duncan laughs] As if they couldn’t have predicted that from these steel shed channelized roofs that they have over the entrances. So they’re in a lot of trouble with that. They’re going to probably have to do a lot of costly retrofitting.

The inside of the building, by the way, doesn’t work very well for the people who work there. There are all these glass walls where people wanted to have private offices, so they could sit in there and drink their coffee and be alone and not be bothered. Instead, they got glass walls for all their offices, and they would be taking corrugated cardboard cartons that their computers came in and taping them to the glass walls of their office so that they could have some privacy.

So the whole thing is sort of a fiasco in spite of the fact that it’s a playful building and looks cute on the outside on one side...
KunstlerCast #5: Starchitects (transcript) Previously: Architects Behaving Badly


  1. I'm surprised that you didn't include this -- the Newark, Ohio headquarters of the Longaberger Basket Company.


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