Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Needing an expert opinion

An excellent post on Greater Greater Washington about architect Joshua Prince-Ramus and how he sees the role of the architect. I'm going to quote GGW quoting Joshua Prince-Ramus in Esquire magazine:
All the great architects—every one of them—says 'It represents...' I say to students, 'Don't you think it would be great if architecture started doing again? Why are we representing? Do—it's much more powerful. I've never seen a client give a s**t about my personal vision. I had to figure out how to piggyback what my vision was on their issues.
I like architect with language as bad as mine. What I like even more is an architect who understands the role of architecture in its proper proportion to the rest of the things a building has to accomplish.

I have to admit I'm pretty surprised that this architect sees himself as or is portrayed as standing against starchitects. Most of his buildings seem to me to have the sort of grandiose designs I rail against. I mean, I can certainly appreciate these buildings aesthetically, but I'm not sure what differentiates them from most 'starchitect' works:
I should be fair and point out that some buildings and some sites can get away with these sorts of designs. The original Guggenheim comes to mind. I guess I shouldn't pretend to know enough to pass judgment on which situations get a pass. All I really do is try to take some basic ideas about what seems to work for creating cities that people want to live in, and combine it with my own aesthetic filter. In the end, I write about how I feel.

I've been to some great cities - Paris, New York, Chicago, Dublin, London - and they all share some fundamental principles regarding urban design and building architecture. The same basic building blocks seem to hold true for the small towns that I like, such as Ann Arbor. I also have strong opinions on aesthetics, and truth be told I'm probably not always successful at differentiating the two when I pass judgment.

So are there any architects who read this blog who can illuminate me on why Prince-Ramus' designs don't qualify him as a starchitect?

1 comment:

  1. Alright here's my two cents. I don't know the other two projects, but I saw Joshua Prince-Ramus present the Seattle Public Library a couple of years ago, so I know a little about that one.

    To design the building, they analyzed the desired program and broke it into separate programmatic pieces, each with its own size dictated by its requirements. So, at this point, you have what looks like a bar graph (http://www.spl.org/lfa/central/oma/OMAbook1299/page22.htm). Then, each piece of the bar graph is pulled horizontally to meet some functional requirements (i.e. views, daylight, urban context). Conceptually, the glass and steel facade is just draped over the programmatic pieces, which leaves in-between spaces that can act as more public, busier areas.

    OMA presents the project as computational: The objective requirements of the library dictated certain things and essentially designed the building for them. The thing is, there's kind of a sleight of hand there, where in reality there's a whole slew of design decisions that were made (how to express the diagram), and somewhere behind them is an architectural intention that they never present. Their data processing did not produce the final form of the building, although it proves that the form has some merit. But that kind of adjustment to objective data is what any good architect would do--whatever you can do analytically, some things still have to be intuitive. So, to me, it's still an intentionally grandiose design. But I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

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