Month: March 2016

On Urban Fragmentation

Noting recently, the trend in large building design toward a fragmentation (or deconstruction) of sorts, and wondering: What is at the heart of this uneasy feeling in the Architecture World? Looking up at new skyscrapers today, it seems that sky topping design falls into two broad categories, the Monolith, and its arch-rival, the Fragmented Monolith.

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(Fragmentation of The Urban Monolith. New York 2015. Image by Greg Gordon)

To understand The Fragment one must first turn toward The first, The Monolith; With respect to the history of skyscraper design; With building massing tending toward “a heavy base” with a logical taper to the top. Clean lines and simple form and fine details which intuitively make sense to the observer as logical rationale. Take for instance the grounded form of One World Trade Center, or the recently completed 30 Park Place, which is a historical reproduction of sorts, but in a sensible manner befitting of Robert Stern.

30 Park Place

(Urban Monolith, 30 Park Place, as a standard bearer of logical skyscraper design. 2016)

The second trend which bucks the first is the Fragmented Monolith, or building as an explosive & teetering art form. Exemplified by structures we have previously written about, most Notably The Jenga Box Rising, by Herzog and de Meuron and another uneasy structure in Jersey City rising dubbed Urban Ready Living. These structures, while true to form from the outset, defy logic by taking an attitude tending toward uneasiness to the observer, with building parts that are either pushed and pulled about, or outright missing. Sudden shifts or deletions of building mass create a feeling of discomfort. Why was the building designed this way?

Urban Ready

(Urban Ready Living, Jersey City, New Jersey. 2016. Image via Skyscraperpage)

A rational answer may be Vanity. A cultural conniesuership of The Object. Where buildings get reduced to what amounts to a recognizeable sound bite in the audio world. These visual bites are candy for the eye and create an instant feeling, unsatisfying to many; a trick which is likely to fall within the “passing trend” category of building design….or, “Those buildings from the 20-Teens which bob and shift about”…how passe’.

Not that this trend is undeserving of Its Time. Perhaps this is a reflection of the destabilizing forces at work in the socio-political arena, as Architecture, often is, a reflector of The Times. So perhaps the trend toward destabilization in our visual sphere is appropriately a marker of The Present.

A summary would attempt to reconcile the two disparate logics at play in an attempt to move forward. They can be rationaled into categories of Classicism and Modernism, or Fragmentationalism (this was made up), or whatever moniker the academic community projects onto the built world.

Or perhaps reconciliation is undeserved, and the Fragmented appearance of this new form of building is-what-it-is, and not much more: An arbitrary counterpoint to the known and familiar.

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A New Beast on Broad

Warning: An architecturally offensive rendering, lacking any sense of scale, proportion or rhythm has been released to Chinese investors in order to drum up capital for imminent construction. This wildly strange building, A New Beast on Broad, may soon rise in Manhattan’s Financial District.

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(A New Beast on Broad at 45 Broad Street, New York. Image by TRD & Cetra Ruddy. 2016)

Odd proportions; From its chunky base, to its narrow shaft, and then a protruding bulge back out again (a trick most likely played by transferring adjacent air rights) to its awkward and oddly un-New York crown; The skyscraper appears almost as a cutout from a children’s book illustrating the pieces of a Gothic cathedral, or skyscraper ornamentation from an earlier Century, hearkening back to Chicago.

Tribune Tower

(The winning design entry for the Chicago Tribune Tower. John Mead Howells. 1922)

A gnawing question circulates in the background: Where has skyscraper design gone in our second decade of the 21st Century? And, as evidence from the offense above, is anything translatable as a design concept, where grace and beauty are thrown out the door? If references from a prior era are used as design inspiration, then the inspiration should at least be applied with an attention to detail, such as the Tribune Tower, instead of plastered onto a clumsy form and marketed as luxury.

Then the gnawing feeling starts to sink in: When renderings like these pop up every once in a while, they make an egregious offense to the profession.