In a recent email discussion revolving around the conceptual understanding of vernacular architecture, architect/urbanist/professor John Massengale of the blog Veritas y Venustas, brought the notion of nature and nurture to bear. An excerpt:
I’ve been to Bilbao, which is a good urban and architectural experience. It appeals to most people experientially. One can analyze its urban and architectural qualities and discuss why that is, but it’s not necessary to articulate those to experience them. One can also explain why one prefers Classical buildings, without insisting that Bilbao is poorly done.I could crit Bilbao about what would make the experience of it as an urban building, for example, better or worse.I’ve never been to a Zaha building that works on the same experiential level as Bilbao. I would find it impossible to be on a jury for a Zaha building and to make comments about what would make it better.They seem to me to function on two levels. An intellectual, esoteric one which ignores the senses. An experiential level like Libeskind’s designed to produce an uncomfortable and unhappy experience.Leon (Krier) believes there are modern buildings like this that we experience as bad — but then the New York Times tells us it is good, and we become reverse Pavlovian dogs. Something makes us feel bad and we say “that’s good.”This is not the same as wanting to feel bad – it’s confused signals.On top of that, when you spend your life in beautiful surroundings (if you live in Venice, for example), beauty becomes your norm – you see and make beauty more easily, and are turned off by ugliness.When you live in north Dallas amid the WalMarts, ugliness becomes your norm, and ugly eventually becomes good.
Oh snap! Wait. That was us that caught the stinging end of the whip.
I posted this picture on twitter yesterday as I wandered through uptown and the Arts District. FortWorthology responded:
Every time we criticize that Koolhaas…thing we’re written off as “anti-Dallas” or “anti-modern.” At least we’re not alone.
I expect to receive some of the same scorn, “ahhh, I’m insulting their heroez. Oh noez!” The thing is that the building isn’t about modernism or Dallas. In fact, it is an insult to both.
(Although I do have to make one correction. The building is more the work of my good buddy the Prince than it is Rem’s handiwork. In fact, they even sued each other and split firms.)
Those people are a clique. They want to feel like they are in some exclusive club. Unfortunately, it is one defined by the cult of personality, an insulated profession. One where critics fawn over. One where the professionals create their own imperceptible language to intentionally isolate and build a wall between themselves and their audience. Since buildings are part of a city and used by its citizenry, the audience is the entire City.
The wall is understanding and that is exactly how they want it.
Noooo, you just don’t get it, maaaaann.
No, broheim. You don’t get the way of the world. This building represents the worst of what the Architectural or City Building professions have become, utterly disconnected from their customers. Any profession that reviles its own audience is doomed to failure.
They no longer can defend their work so they pretend it is on some higher plane and speak in gibberish in order to selfishly experiment with whatever intellectual dead end they feel like wandering down and bringing us with them, littering the world with themselves.
Boston is contemplating destroying their City Hall. A building that won numerous awards and critical acclaim at the time. The problem? It’s bloody heinous.
Remind you of any other nearby Municipal Seats, looming ominously over a barren “plaza?” For a building housing representative government, the message here is loudly and clearly, “stay away.”
Of course, Boston is filled with wonderfully walkable urban neighborhoods adorned with buildings and places designed for the pedestrian, the human. As Massengale said, perhaps we are just too used used to the ugly.
I once again maintain that the Wyly has been designed as a very literal prison cell. one in which we are all trapped, as we worship the designer and designer, the designer, the nihilist, is laughing at the trap of a city we have built for ourselves.
And as long as starchitects and their combative sycophantic troop choose NOT to speak and work for the city-at-large, the profession is headed for exile along with the credibility of anyone devoted to city building. Once again, the experts are failing cities and it is time for the citizens to define their own future.
Life demands that only one thing matters, usefulness and beauty. But, what is useful is perpetually changing. The Wyly is a novelty act. Meaning we are likely to quickly discard it. I’m sure it is spectacular inside to see a show. However, that is not the point. It is as insular as the profession that birthed it. It is anti-urban, which given its location, means it is anti-Dallas. So let’s pick it up and move it to Grand Prairie, next to the Nokia and Horse Track in a drive-thru context where it belongs.