Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Will Recession Create a Back-to-Basics Movement in Architecture?

Witold Rybczynski suggests it might. The renowned Montreal-born architect and thinker asserts that one casualty of the worldwide economic downturn might be what he terms architectural "instant icons".
He was the keynote speaker at the American Planning Association.
Once upon a not-so-long-ago, buildings were designed and built for the long haul. Think the Empire State Building, which at the time of construction was not considered a standout of skyscraper construction, according to Rybcynski. It gained that status over the decades, thanks to the people of New York.

"What makes icons isn't architects. It's really the public," Rybczynski said. "It's really the public deciding on its own, sometimes quickly and sometimes over a long period of time. ... It somehow captures the public's imagination."

That has shifted in recent decades as architects and their clients strove to create instant landmarks. Syndey's Opera House is an example of a signature building that instantly transformed the skyline. Frank Gehry's undulating Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain is another.
But for every success, there are a equal or greater number of failures. He pointed to his hometown's extravagantly unsuccessful Olympic Stadium, The Big Owe, as one example of a "instant icon" that failed and failed big time.
In this report from his speech, Rybczynski seems to fault the Big Owe on practical grounds - uh, the friggin' retractable roof has never once worked - rather than aesthetic - it's fugly - grounds.
Rybczynski says that with money scarce, the pendulum may be swinging back. People will worry more about how a building works and less on how it looks. If that happens, it will be up to the public to decide which buildings are icons.

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