Anti-Iconic architecture

Iconic architecture

At Slate, Witold Rybczynski has a nice slideshow In Praise of the Anti-Icon:

Painter Paul Klee once wrote that while painters could make wheels square, architects had to make them round. Not any more. In the past, public and institutional buildings were expected to convey a sense of solidity and order; today they can just as easily suggest collapse and disharmony. In his forthcoming book, Architecture of the Absurd, John Silber takes aim at architects such as Frank Gehry, Steven Holl, and Daniel Libeskind, who, in a desire to create iconic architecture, frequently make their wheels square.

No article that has this gem from Robert Venturi (with whom I interned in Philadelphia a long time ago) could be uninteresting:

“It is all right to decorate construction but never construct decoration.”

This is exactly why I never take on a design project if I’m not in charge of the architecture as well. Because, in the end, design doesn’t add value, it creates it. Architecture is what frames the problem space for design.

Sometimes I’m ambivalent about what frames Frank Gehry‘s architecture.

6 thoughts on “Anti-Iconic architecture

  1. I love takinging visitors to Boston over to look at the Stata building. Its like looking at a fun house at the fair. Wouldn’t want to work there though.

    See http://www.cityofsound.com/blog/2004/06/designing_adapt.html,
    or read Stuart Brand’s book “How Buildings Learn” to get a good appreciation of what MIT lost when they knocked down the unbeleivably ugly “Building 20” for the Stata “fun house”.

    When “ubiquitous wireless and a fiber-optic switching fabric that puts a 10-Gbps network within easy reach of every floor” is touted you know the place is doomed. That kind of tech is out-dated months after installation is complete. Building 20 was built out of wood, early Radar work was done there, state of the art then would have been pneumatic tubes to cary mail from one office to the next. Somehow the tenants got along without the pneumatic tubes for the next 50 years.

    Can you imagine someone being allowed to put some equipment on the roof the of the Stata without getting 25 signatures?

    The last time I walked by the Stata, I noticed a little ‘functional’ 3-4 foot crevice running up the side of the building. Needed to make it look good, but of no purpose. Its already got green (mold/mildew maybe?) growing in it, because the sun can not get in there, it probably stays wet in there all the time. This is street-side, just feet from the sidewalk at ground level. Ugly? Yes. Functional? NO!

  2. Fran Taylor Says:
    “Gehry’s building at MIT is primarily a triumph of function.”
    I work across the street from it – I was grad school and often had to attempt – unsuccessfully – to find friends in it.

    Has Fran ever been in the Gehry building? Ever a CSAIL grad student? Ever try to navigate through it? To say that it is labyrinthine is to overstate the complexity of labyrinth. Not only is it barely functional, there is no concept of flow, everything is disjointed on the inside – and the damn thing leaks. It is a triumph of artistic ego over architecture, conceit over aesthetics.

  3. I didn’t go in, but I appreciated the outside of this work this August. It’s beautiful. I hope it also functions well.

  4. Fran: “MIT’s main buildings are a prototype of how to design for function”

    How would rate Gehry’s building against the Media Lab on that scale then?

  5. Gehry’s building at MIT is primarily a triumph of function. Its form is perhaps a bit too dazzling and people forget that it’s a building for research. MIT’s main buildings are a prototype of how to design for function; they discovered that people really do not like to climb stairs to collaborate with co-workers, so their buildings are sprawling and functionally oriented by floor. The design of the Pentagon was heavily influenced by this idea, and it’s incorporated thoroughly into Gehry’s design.

    And it’s just beyond obvious that this building is a tremendous improvement over the previous one that occupied this site.

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