With September 11th, ten years later, quickly approaching, the discussion of the World Trade Center site is once again at the forefront of our collective consciousness â€“ and not just as architects, but as US citizens (note: stop saying â€œAmericans,â€ people â€“ you make us look ignorant). With that in mind, I thought Iâ€™d post today on what one architecture critic -Ada Louise Huxtable – was saying immediately after the attack (and some years later, in the case of the video). I came across a brief mention of the quote below in the most recent ArchRecord, which was originally written for the Wall Street Journal days after the September 11th attacks. It can also be found in Huxtableâ€™s book â€˜On Architectureâ€˜ (pages 378-379).
There will be, and should be, passionate disagreement about replacing them at all. Rebuilding on this site requires serious consideration. There will be, and should be, calls for a memorial park, a public open space to serve as a permanent reminder of one of the cityâ€™s, and historyâ€™s, worst catastrophes â€“ a detestable man-made, as opposed to natural, disaster â€“ and for a tribute to those who died needlessly and tragically in an act of unredeemed horror.
And yet, one can almost predict what the New York process will be. This city can show its compassion, and its resolve, as it is doing now, but it is also a city incapable of the large, appropriate gesture in the public interest if it costs too much. That, too, is something that can be debated. What are our values? How do we count the cost of those lives? Under these extraordinary circumstances, does â€œthe highest and best use of the land,â€ the gospel according to real estate, really hold? Traditionally, that has meant filling the land to the maximum permitted by law, for the greatest return, while ignoring every social or human factor.
If the usual scenario is followed, the debate will lead to a â€œsolutionâ€ in which principle is lost and an epic opportunity squandered. With the best intentions the Municipal Art Society, a conscientious watchdog of the cityâ€™s urban quality, will announce a competition to determine what should be done with the site. The results will make a nice little exhibition, and discussions and lectures will be held. All this will be ignored by the movers and shakers making big building plans under the expedient banner of physical and symbolic reconstruction. There will be a fuss in the press, with letters to the editor, pro and con. City Hall in a split political decision between greed and glory, will come out for the builders and a memorial â€“ a monument or a small park, something financially inoffensive in the larger scheme of things. This is the Compromise. Or the trade-off, to put it more bluntly. A properly pious, meaningless gesture that everyone can buy without loss of face or obvious shame.
There will be another call for a competition â€“ this time for the big building â€“ it will be specified that this is to be a â€œworld-classâ€ work of architecture. The most conservative design will be chosen by a consortium of potential investors. No one will pay much attention to the token park, which will be a blank spot on the plans, eventually done in a faux retro style for brown-bag lunchers. There will be world-class nothing.
It didnâ€™t exactly take a crystal ball or special powers to make these predictions, but I do think they warrant some thought now, as we mark 10 years having passed since the attacks. While the memorial park appears to be coming together as something more than Huxtableâ€™s â€œtoken parkâ€, it seems unfair to judge it until the site as a whole has been completed. The tower, on the other hand, is coming off as a big let-down â€“ but thatâ€™s another post.
While our monuments may justify the response of awe, generally architecture is something to be occupied and adopted, not to be held at a distance and puzzled over. The modern buildings to be admired are those where the physical, material and spatial potential of architecture has been coherently organised, leaving us with a quiet conviction that the way the building looks, and the experience of being within it, not only reassures us through its physical authenticity, but inspires us to consider what our built world could be.
The process of architectural composition must consider what society expects architecture to look like and be like. While it is not our role simply to fulfill these expectations, they must influence our approach. Architecture must engage innovation both at a formal and technical level. While we must search for new possibilities and ideas we must be suspicious of innovation for its own sake. This does not preclude the radical exceptions that we need as provocation.
We must consider innovation within the self-imposed limits of understanding and meaning. The generation of form that has no explanation beyond its own desire to be innovative must be measured against the imagined limits of precedents.
The pursuit of spectacular form erodes the idea of normality. We desire of our environment, buildings and spaces that aspire to their own sense of nature; spaces and buildings that both respond and describe the individual’s position within a civic society.
The rejection of such ambitions based on the fact that social patterns, political authority and commercial structures have changed and that our new situation need new forms and new types of spaces, succeeds in giving license to the erosion of urban structure and uncontrolled urban sprawl.
~ David Chipperfield, Form Matters
“You employ stone, wood, and concrete, and with these materials you build houses and palaces; that is construction. Ingenuity is at work.
But suddenly you touch my heart, you do me good, I am happy and I say, “This is beautiful.” That is Architecture. Art enters in.
My house is practical. I thank you, as I might thank Railway engineers, or the Telephone service. You have not touched my heart.
But suppose that walls rise toward heaven in such a way that I am moved. I perceive your intentions. Your mood has been gentle, brutal, charming or noble. The stones you have erected tell me so. You fix me to the place and my eyes regard it. They behold something which expresses a thought. A thought which reveals itself without word or sound, but solely by means of shapes which stand in a certain relationship to one another. These shapes are such that they are clearly revealed in light. The relationships between them have not necessarily any reference to what is practical or descriptive. They are a mathematical creation of your mind. They are the language of Architecture. By the use of inert materials and starting from conditions more or less utilitarian, you have established certain relationships which have aroused my emotions. This is Architecture.”
~ Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture
[image: BBC Scotland interior, David Chipperfield Architects]
“Simple. Britain gets the architecture it deserves. We don’t value architecture, we don’t take it seriously, we don’t want to pay for it and the architect isn’t trusted… We are a country that values money and individualism. Architecture becomes glorified property development, not valued culture. Ten storeys? Try for 20. Squeeze in more bedrooms. That’s British architecture.”
~ David Chipperfield, in response to the Times of London asking “So why was the ‘building that has made the greatest contribution to British architecture in the past year’ not British? For the second year running, too. Four of the six buildings on the Stirling shortlist were foreign, while the two that actually were on British soil were really rather tokenistic in comparison.”
Sushi is a good metaphor for my architecture. The importance in sushi is to choose the best material from the place, in season.
If the journey of the ingredients is too long, the taste of the sushi is compromised. That is a problem that can’t be solved by modern technology, and that programme of using local material in season is the secret of good taste, and the secret of my style.
There are two important things to make sushi. One is the material and the other is the skill… For sushi, both the power of the material and skill is important and their balance is very important.
I believe that this balance is what people want. People and society are seeking the thing like sushi for the architecture and their city. A variety of people are interested in Japanese architecture and traditions and this is parallel to why sushi is popular in Western country.
~ Kengo Kuma, first quote from 2008, second from 2009
“Each material has its specific characteristics which we must understand if we want to use it… This is no less true of steel and concrete [than of wood, brick, and stone]. We must remember that everything depends on how we use a material, not on the material itself… New Materials are not necessarily superior. Each material is only what we make of it… We must be as familiar with the functions of our buildings as with our materials. We must learn what a building can be, what it should be, and also what it must not be… And just as we acquaint ourselves with materials, just as we must understand functions, so we must become familiar with the psychological and spiritual factors of our day. No cultural activity is possible otherwise; for we are dependent on the spirit of our time.”
~ Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, from inaugural address at Illinois Institute of Technology, 1938
[Image: Shulman photographing Case Study House no. 22, California 1960, via]
“Don’t have to. Everyone’s willing to wait”
~ Julius Shulman [October 10, 1910 – July 15, 2009], when asked if he ever had to turn down assignments [via].
[I realize this isn’t a ‘deep’ quote that gives any insight into Shulman’s work, but I thought it was representative of the impact he had – and made him sound like the man.]
â€œArchitecture has to be greater than just architecture. It has to address social values, as well as technical and aesthetic values. On top of that, the one true gift that an architect has is his or her imagination. We take something ordinary and elevate it to something extraordinary.â€
~ Samuel Mockbee
I’ve been kind of ‘on record’ as being deeply unhappy, and deeply uncomfortable about that kind of situation [‘starchitect’ title]… because I think every name describes a content, and the content of ‘star architect’ – compared to the content of ‘architect’ – is limited. Nobody thinks the star has good intentions. A star walks over you – a star is indifferent to what people think. My hope is that also, through the current complexity, that the title will exit discreetly and disappear.
~ Rem Koolhaas in CNN interview, which can be seen here.