29 June 2009

I Told You Architects Don't Care About Beauty

At least the most respected ones don't. Come to think of it, does anyone seriously discuss or make beauty today? Painters? Urban designers?: Interview with Rem Koolhaas:

SPIEGEL: ...Shouldn't architects be the prophets of beauty?
Koolhaas: Beauty isn't what I'm primarily interested in. I think appropriateness is more important.
SPIEGEL: What do you think is the world's most beautiful building?
Koolhaas: Very conventionally, the Pantheon in Rome, for example. Isn't it remarkable? Talk about beauty and you get boring answers, but talk about ugliness and things get interesting.
SPIEGEL: Some people say that if architects had to live in their own buildings, cities would be more attractive today.
Koolhaas: Oh, come on now, that's really trivial.
SPIEGEL: Where do you live?
Koolhaas: That's unimportant. It's less a question of architecture than of finances.
SPIEGEL: You're avoiding the question. Where do you live?
Koolhaas: OK, I live in a Victorian apartment building in London.
SPIEGEL: ... What will cities look like in the future? Do we even need such downtown areas?
Koolhaas: The old contrast between downtown and suburban areas is outdated.
SPIEGEL: Wait a minute, isn't the current trend moving away from suburbia and back to the city?
Koolhaas: Yes, for now. And do you know what's so ironic about that? The people from the suburbs are bringing along their suburban values: cleanliness, orderliness, safety -- dullness, in other words. As a result, urban areas are being hollowed out. Just look at Times Square in New York. No more sex shops, no drugs, no homeless people. The area is clinically clean and incredibly dull.
Thus if an urban area does not have drugs, prostitution and poverty then it is not interesting to Mr Koolhaas. And while designing painful buildings for others, he chooses to live in Victorian comfort and beauty.

I've been reading some other stuff recently about Delirious New York, in which Koolhaas heaps praise upon leftover spaces in American cities; places like highway entrance ramps, and drainage swales. Think about it. This guy is a leading academic with rabid followers in all the architecture schools. This kind of thinking has permeated our culture.


Anonymous said...

painful...? have you been in one of his buildings?

they're a sensory explosion, that moves the user from one space of the program to another without the user ever noticing. and that's beautiful in itself.

i think what he's trying to say, is that as more and more suburbanites flock back into the cities...the irf raff is being pushed out. and the suburbanites are taking their place. and nothing is more boring than suburbia. bc nothing EVER changes. bc it's 'safe'. and people like safe.

Paul Wilham said...

One of the "drawbacks" , not the word I am looking for but the best I can think of is that Urban neighborhoods lose the sense of 'exhuberance' they have when under restoration. There is a 'collective' drive, an ambition, of those bringing about the turn around that is lost when it is done and the suburbanites move it and the big concern is "I have to park my BMW on the street?" I decided on Cincinnati after my own , now restored, neighborhood in Indy, looks more like a 'stepford wives' suburbia than a real urban neighborhood.

BUT, there are no homeless people, there is no crime, but it is boring. I guess I am just a "serial restorationist", I will always be looking for a neighborhood to help.

Architects: Design things, they are not personally involved in community issues so I don't think many of them care or "get" Urban neighborhoods.

CityKin said...

^Paul, how do you feel about your "help" having a result you yourself do not like? Maybe your help is misguided. I too crave the vibrancy, continual renewal that is found in many cities. I do not want OTR to be staid or boring. But it is not the crime or poverty that inherently makes a place exiting, rather it is the sense of freedom, the chance encounters, the constant construction, the sounds of street life coming in the windows etc...

CityKin said...

I admit that I have never been in a Koolhaas building, and maybe when I do my eyes will be opened.
But, nothing says painful public space like this photo of his library in Seattle.

Unknown said...

Another great post, I love following this blog.

I have to agree it feels like the trend is for everyone to have 'controversial' buildings that spur conversation... and then they never age well, because most weren't beautiful to begin with. I'm glad still they maintained some semblance of restraint with the new SCPA.

It's amazing that Koolhaas is glorifying poverty and crime! If that's what he thinks is exciting, I wonder what he does on his weekends off.

It's interesting he mentions the Pantheon, because it reminds me of the Nazi concept of "Ruin Value" which I'd been reading about recently. Supposedly Hitler wanted beautiful buildings that would even look good once they had fallen into Roman- or Greek-like ruin.

Anonymous said...

I don't really get dudes work, but he can romanticize and not glorify.

Poverty, homelessness, and prostitution are not beautiful, but are part of the aesthetics of an urban environment. When they are planned out they aren't resolved.

These may not be the things that make a place exiting, but they make it real. Whats wrong with appreciating the real? What can be more appropriate than reality?

I agree. Beauty is boring, ugliness is interesting.


CityKin said...

^but of course beauty (with depth) is "real".

Is an eroding, polluted hillside more "real" and interesting than a terraced thriving orchard, with thousands of growing and interracting organisms?

And talking about real. Yes there can be beauty in all life experiences from tragic births to transcendent deaths.

I admit, that on a certain level I can understand the fascination. For example vacant deteriorating buildings interest me, as do industrial waste spaces. But to take this fascination and to hold it high as an ideal is cynical and warped.

Paul Wilham said...

Mytake on things is often I am restoring an architects "vision' a hundred years later and in some cases I have to be "very authentic" to the architects original design, as I did when I restored a 1906 Mission style mansion built and designed by the architectural firm of Rubush and Hunter. The last house I did in Indy was a 1915 Craftman bungalow that was a "builder house" and I put myself in the frame of what would he do if he were restoring it today and it has modern amenities but its keeping with the original style.

Unfortunately, and this is the drawback for every restoration I do, some misguided rehabber comes along and does this HGTV "open loft' concept carved out of a nearby historic house,because that's what "suburbanites" want and my investment in a neighborhood makes it economically viable.

So do I stop restoring and let History deteriorate and fall down? No. But I know that my efforts bring the unintended consequece of those moving in and 'remuddling'. Those who do not appreciate the beauty of a 1880's Italianate and turn it into something it was never meant to be.

Now I am doing a 1871 Second Empire with a full restoration. Something NEVER done in this neighborhood which is mostly patched together low income rentals . But it won't be long before the "yuppies come' to buy in my hood with visions of skylights and granite dancing in their head and some poor undeserving house will be remuddled.

People forget we are just caretakers of history and it not ours to ruin.

Architects often lose site of their impact on an area

5chw4r7z said...

I agree Mike,
Its the dynamics and collisions of people that make the city so interesting and creative. On one block I run into a friend who is a journalist, on the next a lawyer and on the next a guy who owns his own landscaping business.
Each person challenges me to look at the world and my own beliefs in a new way.

Cincinnati NAMjA said...

Don't tell this to the achitects who reside in Pendleton...lol.