Wednesday, February 14, 2007


What's wrong with modern architecture?
A friend of mine, Steve Murray of Minneapolis, likes to visit James Howard Kunstler's Eyesore of the Month online. Kunstler, the author of "Geography of Nowhere," takes suggestions from readers on supposed eyesores. The site features boxy buildings (like the one pictured above) and edgy new work by modernists like Daniel Libeskind. His addition to the Denver Art Museum was feature in November. So, here is Steve's question to modern architects and those who love them:

"I'm troubled and put-off -- even offended -- by looming, forbidding buildings that seem to be assembled from space junk. To me, the picture of Libeskind's Denver Art Museum looks exactly like the Star Wars-esque space fighter-ships that my son Ian made from Legos when he was 8 years old.

So I'll ask you: why do so many modern structures look deliberately forbidding? Why do they seem to be designed to give the uneasy impression that they're on the verge of toppling over and crushing anyone unlucky enough to be standing too closely? Why are the exteriors made of materials that look like they were salvaged from a plane crash, or a demolished quonset hut?

I'm not mocking here ... as I said, I don't get it and I admit as much. Are these buildings meant to be a comment on the horrific nature of an over-industrialized modern existence?"

Any takers on Steve's questions?

4 comments:

Andrew said...

One problem is the constant leveling of all new architecture into the same bag. There's good and bad stuff. It seems unfair to compare a delapidated box to the Denver Art Museum, and silly. Modern architecture tries to be an expression of what it means to be living now with today's materials, technologies, aesthetics, and construction methods. The reason I dislike psuedo-historical architecture is that it pretends to be in a time and place that no longer is and probably never really was. It is nostalgic and tragically false.

Anonymous said...

Although I agree with Steve Murray's remarks (What's Wrong with Modern Architecture?" I believe much of modern buildings are OK and some of those are pretty good (oops - maybe 'pretty' isn't the adjective to use here). But his essay shouldn't carpet bomb the entirety of new building design, no more than not all abstract art looks like monkey work.

Nonetheless, flipping through modern architecture magazines such as Dwell give me the deja view that many of today's architect-modernists
are taking the same mistakes Modern Architecture Part One made and repeating them with today's Modern Architecture Revisited - This Time With Viagra. That is - the same propensity to create "Look at Me!" buildings that try to accrue aesthetics just by standing out with faux eccentricism.

I gotta find a bumper sticker that says, "Jesus - Protect me from your followers," and paste in Frank Lloyd Wright's name.

Bob Roscoe
designforpreservation.com

steve said...

In reply to Andrew,

I wasn't comparing a dilapidated box to the Denver Art Museum. I was saying that the Denver Art Museum is forbidding, aggressive and unwelcoming.

I agree that pseudo-historical architecture is dreck. My point is that the very best architecture is designed to a human scale and 'honors the public realm' (to borrow Kunstler's words).

Great architecture generates a sense of community and celebrates the human spirit.

You're right: some modern architecture embodies all of these good things — thereby proving that it's not necessary to be narcissistic or self-indulgent in order to achieve modernity.

Michael Lewis said...

Look. Architecture is in it's absolute infancy. Each generation builds from the last. The current pedestal narcissism tries to leap out and deny it's surroundings and/or the past. A spoiled and wasteful child.
Architecture that endures will come from a continuem that isn't afraid to use strong elements from the past. That continuem is now strongly driven by environmentally responsible, sustainable, healthy buildings. I stand in the Walker's icey fogged-up vestibule to nowhere and just shake my head. Are the Art community and Starchitects clueless? Or are they just so vain that they can't be bothered with functionality?