There is a story about a press conference with Minoru Yamasaki before construction on the World Trade Center began:
“Why did you scale down your design from 150 stories to 100, Mr. Yamasaki?”
“We wanted to keep the human scale.”
Uh, yeah, right!
What’s up with this building of the Chinese State TV headquarters now going up in Beijing? It’s designed by Rem Koolhaas, shown here in a presentation drawing. Is it a Moebius strip? I can’t decide whether it’s some kind of wonderful or a vision from the hell of 1984. I don’t like to pass judgments about buildings I’ve never seen, but this one does give me the creeps. I can imagine the minions of the state propaganda apparatus having a fine old time inside trying to control the minds of the nation. And they say it is the largest office building in the world next to the US Pentagon. Talk about human scale…which is something that Koolhaas does talk about.
Architects are a funny bunch. Creative, ego-centric, perhaps a bit megalomaniac when they turn their hands to urban planning and “urbanism” writ large. After all, don’t they want to see their drawing board visions brought to life? Not that they want to impose them…except for our own good…
Here’s a gallery of images of buildings that seem to lack that loving, human touch…starting with a photo of the CCTV in progress:
We’ve got the Chinese TV headquarters under construction, then two shots of the late, great twin towers. I know it’s heresy to say this, but I think that they destroyed the skyline of Manhattan. Quite honestly, I hated them and found them to be soulless, overpowering buildings set in a windy plaza above a depressing subterranean shopping mall. Now I look down from my window and watch their successors take form.
Next up, Le Corbusier’s vision for Paris – knock down the buildings and set up rows of cruciform skyscrapers. The street must die! It’s so noisy, chaotic, and…lacking in ORDER! (Jane Jacobs knew where he was coming from.) Corbu’s vision was realized in part in NYC in Cooper Village and Stuyvesant town, two mega developments that provided a lot of low-cost living space to WWII veterans coming home. The towers are dull, even ugly, and set in a rather boring and uninspired “park” setting which is, however, lovingly, even lushly tended. A saving grace…Now the subsidies are gone and the apartment rents and prices are through the roof.
Some visionary stuff a la Francaise. Claude Ledoux’s spherical house, pure geometry, but not overly large. Still, what’s the point of living in that other than to prove an artist’s point? And the Great Arch of La Defense, located on the edge of Paris. Another exercise in pure form – lovely isn’t it? Nearby, the National Library, in the shape of an open book. Nevermind that functionally it is a failure, i.e., it doesn’t store books very well.
Next up, two images of the Empire State Plaza in Albany, New York, the capital of New York state. “Empire State” is the nickname of New York (thus the Empire State Building…) but it seems a bit ironic here. A plaza in the capital of a state ruled by democracy, named “empire,” and in a style that would seem at home in an evil empire anywhere, cinematic, soviet, futuristic fascist, and the like. It was built by Nelson Rockefeller, a man not known for his humility. The huge reflecting pool on the left has a pavilion at the end that seems like an imperial Persian review stand on steroids. And that weird floating thing on the right in the middle picture? That’s a theater, not a cast-off from The Jetsons. The last picture on the row, a shot of Brasilia, carries on the theme with a little more elegance.
Closing out, we have some fantastic visions – never built, of course, but today..? – by Etienne Boullee. A pryamid a la modern, an enormous, cavernous, seemlingly infinite design for a national library, and a monument to Issac Newton. The latter at least makes a nice match of over the top design with the size Newton’s ego, his subject, and his accomplishments as well.