Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

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Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby BostonorBerlin » Mon Dec 03, 2007 12:15 am

Have you ever wondered why the Guggenheim is always covered in scaffolding? Why the random slashes on the exterior of Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum, supposed to represent Berlin locations where pre-war Jews flourished, reappear, for no apparent reason, on his Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto? Or why Frank Gehry's Strata Center, designed for MIT's top-secret Cryptography Unit, has transparent glass walls? Not to mention why, for $442 per square foot, it doesn't keep out the rain? You're not alone.

In Architecture of the Absurd, John Silber dares to peek behind the curtain of "genius" architects and expose their willful disdain for their clients, their budgets, and the people who live or work inside their creations. Absurdism in a painting or sculpture is one thing—if it's not to your taste, you don't have to look—but absurdism in buildings represents a blatant disregard for the needs of the building, whether it be a student center, music hall, or corporate headquarters.

Silber admires the precise engineering of Calatrava, the imaginative shapes of Gaudi, and the sleek beauty of Mies van der Rohe. But he refuses to kowtow to the egos of those "geniuses" who lack such respect for the craft. Absurdist architects have been sheltered by the academy, encouraged by critics, and commissioned by CEOs and trustees. They stamp the world with meaningless monstrosities, justify them with fanciful theories, and command outrageous "genius fees" for their trouble.

Le Corbusier's megalomaniacal 1930s plan for Algiers, which called for the demolition of the entire city, was mercifully never built. But his blatant disregard for context and community lives on. In Boston, Jose Lluis Sert's unprotected northeast-facing entrance to the B.U. library flooded the first floor with snow and ice every New England winter. In Los Angeles, sunlight glinting off the sharply angled steel curves of Gehry's Walt Disney Music Hall raises the temperature of neighbors' houses by 15 degrees. And of course, Libeskind's World Trade Center plan, with its spindly 1776-foot tower and quarter-mile-high gardens, proved so impractical it had to be re-designed, in an exasperating negotiation hardly worthy of the complex tragedy of the site.

Dr. Silber, an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects, asks all the questions that critics dare not. He challenges architects to derive creative satisfaction from meeting their clients' practical needs. He appeals to the reasonable public to stop supporting overpriced architecture. And most of all, he calls for responsible clients to tell the emperors of our skylines that their pretensions cannot hide the naked absurdity of their designs.

read it and weep... Architecture is dead long live Architecture....
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby PTB » Mon Dec 03, 2007 2:20 pm

While I acknowlege that many top architects are egotistical and arrogant, its a bit extreme to say that they are idiots. Its probably not Gehrys fault that the roof leaks, I dont think that an architect of Gehrys stature would draw up the plans for the building on CAD.

From your desctiption of the book this seems like an attack rather than a balanced critique, much like Tom Wolfe's bok From Bauhaus to our House, which, I thought, was too bitter and biased to have any credence.
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby munsterman » Tue Dec 04, 2007 11:08 am

BostonorBerlin wrote:And of course, Libeskind's World Trade Center plan, with its spindly 1776-foot tower and quarter-mile-high gardens, proved so impractical it had to be re-designed, in an exasperating negotiation hardly worthy of the complex tragedy of the site.


Hmm........

Liebeskind produced a masterplan for the site, in which he included buildings (as all the other competitors did). I don't think David Childs was employed (or tried) to bring this to reality, he was employed to design the freedom tower - centrepiece of the masterplan. The resulting tower is muck. It's a little disingenuous to say that it was impractical to build Liebeskinds, so it had to be re-designed. Politics and commerce intervened to produce an ugly yoke - who would have thought the replacement for the WTC would be even worse than its predecessor? In fact, notwithstanding the shite Liebeskind wrapping paper buildings that are springing up all over the place (like in Grand Canal Square), he was actually a little hard done by - not getting to build anything on the site. The proposed Liebeskind scheme would have been "worthy of the complex tragedy of the site", but wasn't worthy of the greedy intensions of developers and their lust for floor area.
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby ctesiphon » Tue Dec 04, 2007 11:30 am

I'm not sure if BostonorBerlin is espousing those sentiments or just passing them on- the text comes from here: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbninquiry.asp?ean=9781593720278

So read them as publisher's spin rather than as poster's opinion, I'd say.
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby what? » Fri Dec 07, 2007 5:56 pm

Yes it read very much like a publisher’s blurb to me. But it kicks off the age-old debate in architecture in its almost unique position straddling practicalities and artistic endeavor.

I would like to state my position that, if a building is really ground-breaking it is irrelevant if it has a few leaks, or one of the windows is difficult to clean. These buildings are working not on the level of service provision to the client but on the level of artistry. They are not to be judged on such banalities as a cold-bridging issue or inadequacy of storage but on their relevance in the progression of architecture as a method of expression of culture.

And before you think I am gone mad I am thinking of truly ground-breaking buildings like the Farnswoth House or Villa Savoye not some willful piece of shit done for MIT trying to buy “a Ghery” before he dies. That client deserves that building for being so blindly materialistic.
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby BostonorBerlin » Fri Dec 14, 2007 12:53 am

The appaling quality or lack there of of any counter-arguement by the architecture field in its defense to this item has re-affirmed my belief that there is a huge amount of truth in what the author has said.

what??
what? wrote:I would like to state my position that, if a building is really ground-breaking it is irrelevant if it has a few leaks, or one of the windows is difficult to clean. These buildings are working not on the level of service provision to the client but on the level of artistry. They are not to be judged on such banalities as a cold-bridging issue or inadequacy of storage but on their relevance in the progression of architecture as a method of expression of culture.

from the same man who once said
what? wrote:there is more to architecture than mindlessly chasing new forms for thier own sake. architecture should firstly involve itself with its own integrity and not be drawn into the fruitless pursuit of incessent novelty..


Just as one delights in the vacuous vanities of an some aging moribund model, Im looking forward to the erection of future "meaningless monstrosities" that will soon dot Dublins skyline as discussed elsewhere on this forum
And as for the 'genuis'es who identified this as a publishers blurb for a book... I thought that was obvious but never mind.
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby manifesta » Fri Dec 14, 2007 7:46 am

There has been plenty of interesting debate on this topic on this forum, BostonorBerlin, so I’m puzzled at your indignant complaint. Just because the architectural establishment has not stampeded this thread in the past week with responses to your hurling of this Molotov cocktail does not mean that we don’t care or haven’t noticed.

A more serious point would seem to be that you criticize the forum for its “appalling quality” of debate, yet you flippantly dismiss when someone points out the fact that you lifted a passage, word for word, for 5 entire paragraphs, from a publisher’s press release without stating the original source. If you want to hold us up to academic and intellectual scrutiny, you can’t be dismissive when someone else wants to hold you to the same high standard.

Sorry, but I’m a writer, and I really bristle when people dismiss this issue. If you didn’t write it yourself, don’t pass it off like you did. And if you did, no need to be coy. There are some excellent points raised, but it’s good practice to be honest and up front about the nature of your source. Now then. Back to your regularly scheduled snark.
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby KerryBog2 » Sun Dec 16, 2007 9:06 pm

When I read ctesiphon's response, it was, as RO'CK would say, roysh, game set and f@@@ match to ctesiphon. Smiled, didn't bother with more.
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby BostonorBerlin » Mon Dec 17, 2007 11:52 pm

neither of the last 2 comments address any of the substantive issues raised in the original post and are not worthy of any further response..
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby ctesiphon » Tue Dec 18, 2007 10:10 am

May I ask, BostonorBerlin, what do you think of the 'substantive issues raised (sic) in the original post'?
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby Blisterman » Tue Dec 18, 2007 11:56 am

I think he's slighly missing the point.
There are numerous architects who work under the radar, creating perfectly functional, pleasent buildings, quickly and efficiently.

The people who commission someone like Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid or Daniel Leibeskind, are hiring him, not to create an efficient, functional low cost building. They want a piece of architecture, that can stand out as a landmark, or something which will draw people to it, to admire its architecture. This is something which all of the buildings mentioned do, so in that regard, they can't really be considered a failure.
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby henno » Tue Dec 18, 2007 12:27 pm

Blisterman wrote:I think he's slighly missing the point.
There are numerous architects who work under the radar, creating perfectly functional, pleasent buildings, quickly and efficiently.

The people who commission someone like Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid or Daniel Leibeskind, are hiring him, not to create an efficient, functional low cost building. They want a piece of architecture, that can stand out as a landmark, or something which will draw people to it, to admire its architecture. This is something which all of the buildings mentioned do, so in that regard, they can't really be considered a failure.


Great architecture should be about a lot more than just form and design. Great architecture should encompass both the conceptual aspect and the technological aspect; ie materials, systems, engineering etc. I think this is the point the OP is alluding to. A building should be considered a failure if its 'meat and bones' are substandard, inefficient or inadequate.
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby ctesiphon » Tue Dec 18, 2007 12:34 pm

henno wrote:Great architecture should be about a lot more than just form and design. Great architecture should encompass both the conceptual aspect and the technological aspect; ie materials, systems, engineering etc. I think this is the point the [author of the blurb quoted in the] OP is alluding to. A building should be considered a failure if its 'meat and bones' are substandard, inefficient or inadequate.


Fixed.
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby henno » Tue Dec 18, 2007 12:53 pm

:)

point taken....
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby wearnicehats » Tue Dec 18, 2007 2:14 pm

I blame the builders. cowboys, the lot of them.
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby what? » Tue Dec 18, 2007 2:36 pm

The Villa Savoye pissed rain from every corner. Is it a great piece of architecture?
The Farnsworth House is completely impractical to live in. Is it a great piece of architecture?

Both of these buildings were operating on a the level of, for want of a less tierd word, the artistic. They are not the end in themselves but pointers to new possibilities that spawned countless great and not so great buildings. They are expressions of culture both personal to the architect and common to the time.

In that way although on a personal level, I truly hate the work of Gehry, Libeskind and that crowd I guess their (pre-sell-out) buildings have a validity of sorts.

I think the premise of this book is purely negative, it sounds like some lecturer is pissed off at the current state of architecture and wants to have a bitch about it. Whenever I hear this narrow minded stuff I feel obliged to be contrary even if it means standing up for buildings I have hard spot in my heart for.That said I havnt read the book yet.
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby PTB » Wed Dec 19, 2007 6:05 pm

BostonorBerlin wrote:neither of the last 2 comments address any of the substantive issues raised in the original post and are not worthy of any further response..


Why did you respond to them then?

The subject strays all of the time. Does everything have to relate back to the original post? Don't be so sour.
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby wearnicehats » Thu Dec 20, 2007 11:10 am

[quote="what?"]The Villa Savoye pissed rain from every corner. Is it a great piece of architecture?
The Farnsworth House is completely impractical to live in. Is it a great piece of architecture?QUOTE]

Ah but you see Corb knew this would happen - that's why he put a sink in the entrance hall.

The Farnsworth house was a weekend retreat - one room designed for its owners to enjoy the surroundings - in that sense it was completely practical. it was - and is - a beautiful elegant tent if you like

There is a danger here that we confuse great, avante garde architecture that sits on the cutting edge of technology (and runs an inherent risk of leaks etc) and the kind of bland cheap mediocre crap that Silber presided over in BU. Silber was the kind of Client who expects all and pays nothing. Corners get cut both by designers and especially builders and detailing suffers.

Silber was in facility management. He was very clearly from the school of "I want it quick, I want it cheap and, by God, I want it ugly" unless you were gay when he wouldn't even acknowledge your existence.

This book is nothing more than lipstick on a pig
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby BostonorBerlin » Mon Jan 07, 2008 10:21 am

wearnicehats wrote:Silber was in facility management. He was very clearly from the school of "I want it quick, I want it cheap and, by God, I want it ugly" unless you were gay when he wouldn't even acknowledge your existence.


an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects, overseeing a building program of 13 million square feet during his 25 year tenure as President of Boston University 4th largest private Uni in the US, held the chair of philosophy position at Univ of Texas and an internationally recognised authority on ethics , philosophy of law and Kantian philosophy and you say he was in 'facilitiy management',

The other thread detailiing Irelands Best Modern Building on this forum isnt exactly blowng this arguement out of the water either in respect of the old green sod... so far the best buildings put forward are either dated photos of buildings not long for this world (Liberty Hall) , pre Celtic pussy-cat architecture (BOI,Busarus, Central Bank) or else minor form over fucntion extensions (Glucksmann being a case in point of a meaningless monstrosity that doesnt work as its intended funciton of art gallery space and if you visited it recently you would see how shabby its looking due to the irrational design and material chosen.

Madames et Monsieurs, Architecture has left the building.
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby gunter » Mon Jun 30, 2008 1:46 am

I encountered an interesting bit of 'Shape-ism' on my travels last week, got me thinking about this whole absurdist argument again.

Depending on your point of view, 'Shape-ism' is either the most egotistical episode in the history of architecture, or it is architecture's dormant artistic wing rousing itself from a long hibernation.

Either way, 'Shape-ism' is out there in the ether, tranmitting subliminal messages to architects everywhere telling them that they are just one good blob or angular 'F' frame away from iconic standing and loadsamoney.

When did 'Shape-ism' start? with Hans Scharoun's Berlin Philharmonic Hall,or Jorn Utzon's Sydney Opera House in the 1950s? or did it not really start until Gehry got bored with deconstructivism and Libeskind started cutting up his shapes and winning competitions in the late 1980s?

If I had to stick my neck out, I would say the Sydney Opera House started it all, even if it took a long time before something approaching it's signiture status was delivered again with the glittering voluptous Bilbao Guggenheim and the grey angular severity of the Berlin Jewish Museum. The SOH had it all, the wilful, yet elegant shapes, the relaxed, almost accidental, composition, the sublime setting, enduring public adulation from the start and, best of all, it was designed, as a competition entry, by a virtually unknown Danish architect, giving hope to us all.

The 'Shapist' building I encountered last week, is an oceanographic museum, the Deutsches Meeresmuseum in Stralsund, on the German Baltic coast. It was designed, also as a competition entry, by Behnisch Architekten of Stuttgart in 2001 and you can see in it a direct lineage through Bilbao to Sydney in the assemble of similar parts forming a casual composition above elements of a contrasting solid base or podium.

Image

Image

Image

Image

One of the most interesting aspects of the design is the wafer thin outer skin which happily swirls out over the adjacent cobbled streets and consists of huge steel plates moulded to the required shape and invisably fixed to the structure, as if held by magnetic force. The plates are perhaps 25mm thick and whereas there could have been a danger of the scheme ending up looking like a civil war iron clad, the whole thing is handled with a real lightness of touch that is smile, rather than anger, inducing. Oddly for German engineering, some of the steel plates do not perfectly line up, but I imagine that some sort of dental braces will be applied in due course to iron out these kinks.

Even in it's unfinished state, the museum looks to me to be, potentially, a very successful piece of 'Shape-ism' that proves again that the dynamic of a 'special' building and a wilfully 'expressionist' design is an irresistable combination that is anything but 'absurd'.

Where 'absurd' comes into the equation is where a wilful and horribly expensive 'Shape-ism' is employed on an 'ordinary' building, making simple things complex and contorting usable space into photgenic, but unusable, space and making faux opera houses out of office blocks until the logic is as twisted as the architecture.
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby gunter » Mon Jun 30, 2008 10:03 pm

No takers.

johnglas: give us your steely eyed, former Planning Officer's, Scottish value for money perspective on gunter's curvy holiday snaps
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby johnglas » Mon Jun 30, 2008 11:21 pm

gunter: got your request too late; my acidic response will have to wait till tomorrow!
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby gunter » Fri Jul 04, 2008 12:13 am

johnglas: You're giving this an awful lot of thought!
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby GregF » Fri Jul 04, 2008 12:46 am

"read it and weep... Architecture is dead long live Architecture...."

I've often thought that, in this postmodern age, where there are no particular sets of values or ideology!

Why be a slave?
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Re: Architecture Of The Absurd : How Genius Disfigured a Practical Art

Postby GregF » Fri Jul 04, 2008 12:48 am

BTW...

Shape = 2d

Form = 3d

True?
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