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.

Jenga Box, Rising

Jenga Box

(Jenga Box, 56 Leonard Street, New York, NY. May, 2014. Photo by Greg Gordon Canaras)

The Urban Critic: Urban Morphology evolves at a continual pace and “The Image of The Tower” evolves along with it, lock step with the cultural affectations of its Time. The projection of a unique image is rising in the Tribeca neighborhood of New York. The silhouette of The Jenga Box, jagged and shifting to the observer, stands in stark contrast to the monolithic skyscrapers of the Manhattan skyline. It’s uniqueness in profile can be seen as a commentary on the traditional skyscrapers of the Past, as this building calls into question the qualities of proper Proportion and Mass; rules when traditionally executed, resulted in objects of Beauty. As a Nontraditional Tower, in an Unconventional City, The Jenga Box begs the question: Where will this object of Beauty, if the moniker of Beauty is bestowed upon it, gain credibility in its own Formal logic?

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(Fragmented Realism, New York, NY. May 2014)

The answer appears to be in Fragmentation. Fragmentation in the form of the Cantilevered Tower has become a trend in The City as architects develop methods of constructing buildings over adjacent parcels of land. These cantilevers become, in essence, an Architectural tool of expression; perhaps in the appearance of The Chaotic City? This suggestion feels a bit empty though.

Fragmentation has its roots in Deconstruction and Deconstructivist theories which pervaded Architecture in the 1980’s. Fragmentation was the basis of these theories, which were further broken down into investigations of Semiotics (meaning making) and language structures. When Deconstructivist theories were applied to the rule book of building making, they sought to break down and dislocate the Form, Appearance and Structure of a building into disparate parts. It was essentially a game of Linguistics applied to Rational Science.



This new form of “Fragmented Realism” in the image of this tower, appears to be a refinement of these theories from the past. Perhaps this reasoning is justified by the sophistication of todays Cultural Consumer? This building, in essence, is being purchased as a commodity, and Fragmentation, in this case, is a reflection of its inhabitants’ desire for self-expression in the ever-changing and Chaotic City. This rationale is a bit empty, but not as much.

Shifting at the base, the building climbs in a regular manner in its middle, then bursts apart at the top. The animation suggests that this structure is a composite of many parts of the universe uniting; A compilation of disparate fragments crashing together in magical alignment. An object of creation. This building, so it seems, is not like any of the others. It teeters on the edge of the intangible; and begs another question: Is it half full or half empty? One piece pulled out and the whole thing might come tumbling down.

Links of Relatable Note Can Be Found Here:

Map Locator to 56 Leonard St, New York, NY. (Jenga Box)

Link to Deconstruction and the Theories of Deconstructivism