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Thread: Gehry in Brooklyn

  1. #1
          ablarc's avatar
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    Gehry in Brooklyn

    An Appraisal

    Seeking First to Reinvent the Sports Arena, and Then Brooklyn

    By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF

    Published: July 5, 2005

    Frank Gehry's new design for a 21-acre corridor of high-rise towers anchored by the 19,000-seat Nets arena in Brooklyn may be the most important urban development plan proposed in New York City in decades. If it is approved, it will radically alter the Brooklyn skyline, reaffirming the borough's emergence as a legitimate cultural rival to Manhattan.


    The massive building plan surrounding a new Nets arena east of Downtown Brooklyn will include a ridge of a half-dozen skyscrapers as high as 60 stories sweeping down Atlantic Avenue.

    More significant, however, Mr. Gehry's towering composition of clashing, undulating forms is an intriguing attempt to overturn a half-century's worth of failed urban planning ideas. What is unfolding is an urban model of remarkable richness and texture, one that could begin to inject energy into the bloodless formulas that are slowly draining our cities of their vitality. It is a stark contrast to the proposed development of the West Side of Manhattan, where the abandoned Jets stadium was only the most visible aspect of what seemed doomed to become another urban wasteland.

    From the dehumanizing Modernist superblocks of the 1960's to the cloying artificiality of postmodern visions like Battery Park City, architects have labored to come up with a formula for large-scale housing development that is not cold, sterile and lifeless. Mostly, they have failed.

    Mr. Gehry, for his part, has never worked on such a colossal scale. And the construction of an arena, in particular, is more apt to create a black hole in a city's fabric than to ignite a major urban revival.

    Mr. Gehry begins by reinventing the arena. To minimize the deadening effect of the obligatory rings of corporate seats, Mr. Gehry partly hides them under a cantilevered portion of the arena's upper tier. And a slight arch in the rows of seats on either side of the court adds to the impression that the entire room is being squeezed and is buckling under invisible pressure.


    The arena is planned to open for the 2008-2009 basketball season.

    Such touches reaffirm that Mr. Gehry, at 76, is an architect with a remarkably subtle hand. Yet what makes the design an original achievement is the cleverness with which he anchors the arena in the surrounding neighborhood. Located on a triangular lot at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, the arena's form is buried inside a cluster of soaring commercial and residential towers. At certain points the towers part to reveal the arena's bulging facade behind them. Pedestrians would be able to peer directly into the main concourse level, creating a surprising fishbowl effect.

    The tallest of the towers, roughly 60 stories, would echo the more somber Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower, now the borough's highest building. A cascading glass roof would envelop a vast public room at the tower's base, so that as you arrived by car along Flatbush Avenue, your eye would travel up a delirious pileup of forms, which become a visual counterpoint to the horizontal thrust of the avenue.

    The striking collision of urban forms is a well-worn Gehry theme, and it ripples through the entire complex. Extending east from the arena, the bulk of the residential buildings are organized in two uneven rows that frame a long internal courtyard. The buildings are broken down into smaller components, like building blocks stacked on top of one another. The blocks are then carefully arranged in response to various site conditions, pulling apart in places to frame passageways through the site; elsewhere, they are used to frame a series of more private gardens.


    With 17 buildings, many of them soaring roughly 40 to 50 stories, the project would forever transform Brooklyn and its often-intimate landscape, creating a dense urban skyline.

    Mr. Gehry is still fiddling with these forms. His earliest sketches have a palpable tension, as if he were ripping open the city to release its hidden energy. The towers in a more recent model seem clunkier and more brooding. This past weekend, a group of three undulating glass towers suddenly appeared. Anchored by lower brick buildings on both sides, they resemble great big billowing clouds.

    Anyone who has followed Mr. Gehry's thought process understands this back-and-forth. It is his struggle to gain an intuitive feel for the site, to find the ideal compositional balance between the forms. The idea is to create a skyline that is fraught with visual tension, where the spaces between the towers are as charged as the forms themselves. That tension, Mr. Gehry hopes, will carry down to the ground, imbuing the gardens with a distinct urban character. In this way, he is also seeking to break down and reassemble conventional social orthodoxies.

    There are those - especially acolytes of the urbanist Jane Jacobs - who will complain about the development's humongous size. But cities attain their beauty from their mix of scales; one could see the development's thrusting forms as a representation of Brooklyn's cultural flowering.


    The project would include substantially more housing than originally announced in 2003, growing to about 6,000 units from 4,500.

    What is more, Mr. Gehry has gone to great lengths to fuse his design with its surroundings. The tallest of the towers, for example, are mostly set along Atlantic Avenue, where they face a mix of retail malls and low-income housing. Along Dean Street, the buildings' low, stocky forms are more in keeping with the rows of brownstones that extend south into Park Slope.

    A more important issue, by contrast, is the site's current lack of permeability. Because the development would be built on top of the Atlantic Avenue railyards, the gardens are several feet above ground level, an arrangement that threatens to isolate them from the street grid. In the current version of the plan, shallow steps would lead up to the gardens from the sidewalk. Olin Partnership, the landscape architect, has suggested that the same effect could be accomplished with a more gradual slope - a significant improvement - but the key will be to create a balance in which the gardens feel like a smooth extension of the public realm.

    Even so, Mr. Gehry's intuitive approach to planning - his ability to pick up subtle cues from the existing context - virtually guarantees that the development will be better than what New Yorkers are used to. The last project here that was touted as a breakthrough in urban planning was Battery Park City. As it turns out, it was as isolated from urban reality as its Modernist predecessors. Conceived by a cadre of government bureaucrats and planners, it produced a suburban vision of deadening uniformity.

    By comparison, Forest City Ratner Companies, a relatively conventional developer known for building Brooklyn's unremarkable MetroTech complex, has seemingly undergone an architectural conversion, entrusting a 7.8-million-square-foot project to a single architectural talent who is known for creating unorthodox designs. It seems like a gutsy decision. But Bruce C. Ratner, the company's chief executive and the development partner of The New York Times in building the newspaper's new headquarters in Manhattan, has apparently realized that the tired old models are no longer a guarantee of cultural or financial success. He seems willing, within limits, to allow Mr. Gehry the freedom to play with new ideas.


    The preliminary designs, which the architect Frank Gehry refers to as "a sketch," show a new megalopolis rising over what is now mostly a collection of rail beds and three-to-six-story buildings.

    This is no small miracle. Even in this early stage of development, the design proves that Mr. Gehry can handle the challenge better than most. His approach is a blow against the formulaic ways of thinking that are evidence of the city's sagging level of cultural ambition. It suggests another development model: locate real talent, encourage it to break the rules, get out of the way.

  2. #2
    Cirrus's avatar
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    I just noticed this on PRO-URB and was going to post it at SSP when I get home.

    Anyway, it's a cartoon landscape with few redeeming features from an urbanist standpoint. If built, this will be quickly come to be regarded as negatively as modernist tower-in-the-park schemes of past generations. It shares many of their faults.

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    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    What is up with architecture critics and action words? Could somebody please tell them that buildings don't move?

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    The Gutter has a pretty funny snark about this debacle. http://gutter.curbed.com

  5. #5
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    How, exactly, is this reinventing anything? Towers... in a city. It looks like a decent development, but I'm not sure its ushering in change... The undulating forms scream Disneyland to me. *shrug*

    The idea to surround the stadium with towers (attached?) is a good idea, especially if the stadium occupies the centre of the block, with the towers positioned on the streets surrounding.

    The opaque, white-ish towers in the first photo please the eye, but the tilted towers in the 3rd photo are a bit hideous. Are they the same, viewed at different angles?

    edit: I DO like that it is in Brooklyn. That is superb. I wonder how the locals will react to, as cirrus said, this sort of cartoony look. I can't say I don't like it, but I can't really say it has grabbed me, either.
    Last edited by abrowne; 05 Jul 2005 at 6:02 PM.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally posted by Cirrus
    it's a cartoon landscape
    True enough, but that's no condemnation in itself. Some buildings are sculptural, some buildings are poetic, some are musical, some painterly, some technical or industrial, some are even literary, and of course, some are cartoony. It's just another thing a building can be.

    Downtown Brooklyn already looks like it stepped from the pages of R. Crumb. Call it a kind of wry contextualism.

    You want cartoony? Here by the chameleon-meister of styles is cartoony for another outpost of R. Crumb's world, TriBeCa (even has a cartoony name ):



    Quote Originally posted by Cirrus
    with few redeeming features from an urbanist standpoint.
    That I wouldn't be so sure about, Cirrus. He may not be too conventional about it, but Gehry has an extremely sound understanding of cities. Wait and see with this one, Cirrus; I think it has tremendous potential. It'll put Brooklyn on the map, just like Bilbao.

    Quote Originally posted by Cirrus
    If built, this will be quickly come to be regarded as negatively as modernist tower-in-the-park schemes of past generations. It shares many of their faults.
    Not so sure about this, either. This isn't a tower-in-the-park scheme; if any of that creeps in it'll be courtesy of the NIMBYs.

    This scheme has the requisite urban characteristics: streetwall, ground floor retail, fragmentation of form to break down scale, and visual interest. You won't be able to keep your eyes off it. You may persist in hating it for a while in the interest of consistency, but I daresay you'll come around.


    What's this?
    Last edited by ablarc; 05 Jul 2005 at 6:08 PM.

  7. #7
    Once they built skyscrapers with stone facades so that they would look solid and inspire confidence to pedestrians walking around them. Then modernism did away with the practice and glass skins became the norm, safe or not (the occasional piece of glass falls off and severs a pedestrian in half, but you can't make an omelette without breaking some skulls). Now "a slight arch in the rows of seats on either side of the court adds to the impression that the entire room is being squeezed and is buckling under invisible pressure." What's better than a gigantic building that looks like it could collapse on you AT ANY MOMENT. RUN!!! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!! BUT DON'T FORGET YOUR SEASON TICKETS!!

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    Cirrus's avatar
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    I don't think it will put Brooklyn on the map from an architecture standpoint. The concept of towers there is a good one and I agree that the added intensity will make it a local gathering place, but the world can only take so many repetitive Gehry buildings before it stops noticing, and these seem to lack the detail of some of his other works (yes, it's all preliminary, but those skyscraper facades are blank because he wanted them to be).

    What's this?
    A horribly ugly building. At the base, anyway. The tower isn't so bad.

    But that's the same problem here:



    Ignore the goofy geometry. I can get past that. That whole block is one solid 80 foot high sports logo... and I don't see any space for retail down there.

    One thing I will take back, however, is the tower-in-the-park comment. On looking at it a second time, the spaces between the buildings are not too large.

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    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    I think Mr Gehry needs to stick to low-rise, iconic, sculpturally beautiful but rather impractical buildings...

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    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    http://66.230.220.70/images/post/gehry/444.jpg

    That's a hotel, on 42nd street, I believe, smack in the middle of the theater district, where giant marquees and overscaled signage is the norm. Its a block off of Times Square, so it has that to compete with for attention. Its like the building itself is trying to be a sign. An ex-girlfriend of mine who had a job reporting on Midtown commercial real estate told me that there was initially a lot of opposition when it was first proposed but the community had since warmed up to it.

    I think Gehry's plan for Brooklyn does have the "messy vitality" that Jane Jacobs advocates. Gehry has a degree in Urban Design from Harvard. He does pay attention to context and has a sense of how to create drama in the urban cityscape. The Fred & Ginger building in Prague fits into its context beautifully while being a memorable landmark. Why is "cartoonish" used in a pejorative sense? Why do our citys need to be serious and somber?

    Are those trees on some of the buildings? Is Gehry trying to green up his rep?
    Last edited by boilerplater; 06 Jul 2005 at 9:11 AM. Reason: link to image, misspelling

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    boilerplater, I agree; when this project's finished everyone'll agree it's a grand slam.
    I've conversed with Gehry, and he has as good a grasp of urban design as anyone I've ever met; there's nothing left for him to learn from us on this forum. Rather, it's the other way around.

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    Cirrus's avatar
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    Why is "cartoonish" used in a pejorative sense? Why do our citys need to be serious and somber?
    Cartoons are fine. But Gehry has forgotten how to build anything except cartoons, and parodies are only worthwhile as long as the real thing is in ample supply. As cartoon parodies become more and more ubiquitous, they lose what value they have as interesting sculpture.

    If it only works when itís unique, the more you do it the worse it gets.

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    maudit anglais
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    Quote Originally posted by ablarc
    I've conversed with Gehry, and he has as good a grasp of urban design as anyone I've ever met; there's nothing left for him to learn from us on this forum. Rather, it's the other way around.
    That has to be one of the most pompous and arrogant statements I've ever read on this forum. It only re-inforces my opinions of star-chitecture.

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    I can't believe I am reading this thread. Are you parodying yourself, ablarc? In almost all your other posts, you've been dismissive of sculptural silliness, blank walls, and the like???

    I sorta agree with cirrus. This is cartoon architecture. I'm tired of blobs already. Heck, give me the thrusting shards and planes of the decons over marshmallow buildings.

    At least the iconic modernists had a crispness of form and detailing. What do these amorphous blobs do forn the city? How does one mega-building owned by one mega corporation contribute in a real sense to messy vitality and diversity?

    I agree that we should wait and see. But how do large cartoon billboards and logos advertising the exact same products you can buy at The Mall of America or Times Square really reflect modern Brooklyn?

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    Quote Originally posted by Cirrus
    Cartoons are fine.
    Glad you think that. I agree.

    Quote Originally posted by Cirrus
    But Gehry has forgotten how to build anything except cartoons
    If he ever did show any interest in doing anything but cartoons, it was before the start of his professional career. His published work is cartoony from Day One. Remember his binocular building? Claes Oldenburg:



    Quote Originally posted by Cirrus
    and parodies are only worthwhile as long as the real thing is in ample supply.
    I can see your point; no use doing parody if no one knows what youíre sending up.

    But a caricature doesnít have to be a send-up; it can be a celebration and a distillation of somethingís essence; often a cartoonistís depiction looks more like its subject than a straight photo. A building like the Stata Center may be representational art, and it may represent the city, and that representation may be cartoony, but I think itís pretty clearly sympathetic to its subject matter.

    Weíre used to finding caricature in political cartoons, where the purpose is usually malicious, but caricatures can just as often be sympathetic; think of the superb and benign theatre caricatures ground out for decades for the Times by Al Hirschfeld (ďNINAĒ), or daily on the streets of New York by sidewalk cartoonists; no one would sit and pay for an unsympathetic caricature.

    So Iím not really sure all cartoons are parodies, in the sense of having negative intent. Sometimes a caricature is actually more a Platonic form of something than a send-up;

    Thatís what I see in Gehryís project for Brooklyn.

    This guy loves cities.

    And his projectís a celebration of urbanity. (And it might even look more like the city than a straight photo.)

    Quote Originally posted by Cirrus
    As cartoon parodies become more and more ubiquitous, they lose what value they have as interesting sculpture.
    Thatís the familiar argument for endless novelty: repeat yourself often enough and it gets boring. Thatís the theory that motivated Eero Saarinen to make all his buildings look different from each other and be based on different first principles; it also motivates Norman Foster. But really I think itís just an unexamined dogma of modernism; H.H. Richardson repeated himself often enough, and no one thinks worse of him for it.

    Quote Originally posted by Cirrus
    If it only works when itís unique, the more you do it the worse it gets.
    As you say: ďIfĒ. But actually some things can work repeatedly; Disney Hallís no worse for being preceded by Bilbao, and I could easily shed a tear or two that New Yorkís downtown Guggenheim will never see the light of day:

    Last edited by ablarc; 06 Jul 2005 at 2:10 PM.

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    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ablarc
    This guy loves cities.

    And his projectís a celebration of urbanity. (And it might even look more like the city than a straight photo.)
    Ablarc: Forgive me for not being impressed, but the fact that Gehry is an enigmatic guy in person doesn't nullify the fact that his buildings are as much empty hyperbole as those of Koolhaas or Hadid. And I love cities too but I wouldn't entrust myself with manufacturing urbanity on such a scale. I'm sorry, wavy buildings does not a city make (I would argue that they detract -- buildings are boxes that hold people, there's no reason for them to wave).

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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    I can't believe I am reading this thread. Are you parodying yourself, ablarc? In almost all your other posts, you've been dismissive of sculptural silliness,
    Some ďsculpturalĒ contortions are as you say, mere silliness. Gehryís a genius and an artist; Koolhas hasn't even mastered elementary composition.

    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    blank walls, and the like???
    Doubt youíll find many of these in this project in the end (or now).

    Gehry's assemblages make better cities than they do sandwiches: Frank Gehry no longer allowed to make sandwiches for his grandkids
    Last edited by ablarc; 06 Jul 2005 at 2:54 PM.

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    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    What makes this proposal difficult to assess is the limited amount of information provided in this thread. I have no doubt that an architect like Gehry will be able to transform this neighborhood and reinforce an urban lifestyle. However, what lacks here are the details. What are the existing site conditions? How are the proposed building footprints arranged within the urban infrastructure? What is the mix of residential, commercial, office, and parking?

    I don't see any reason to have such a negative reaction to the conceptual ideas already presented here. I just need to know more. The planner in me wants to analyze, to be neutral until I can assess the impacts of the proposal.

    But that's not the point of this thread, is it? The moral of this story is consistent with Ablarc's prior stances about the negative impacts planners and zoning codes have on the urban landscape. Apparently, planners should locate real talent, encourage the talent to break the rules, and get out of the way. This indictment should be crystal clear to all planners on this board.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Greenescapist's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Luca
    I think Mr Gehry needs to stick to low-rise, iconic, sculpturally beautiful but rather impractical buildings...
    I don't think that's true at all. Gehry designed a wonderful center at MIT near where I live. From what I can tell it is practical, has an exciting look and gives students, faculty and visitiors nice spaces to meet, study, share information, etc. It does not overwhelm its street, but is noticeable and interesting at the same time. I went to a lecture there a few weeks ago and was very impressed... much more so than by Gehry's museum in Seattle which is sort of silly looking.

  20. #20
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    If he ever did show any interest in doing anything but cartoons, it was before the start of his professional career. His published work is cartoony from Day One. Remember his binocular building?
    Fair enough. The architecture profession has forgotten how to build anything except parodies.

    really I think itís just an unexamined dogma of modernism; H.H. Richardson repeated himself often enough, and no one thinks worse of him for it.
    Thatís the point! Modernism is based on being different from all that came before. Always be different. Always be unique. Thatís what modernism stands for. Thatís how it defines itself. If a modernist building is not different then it is nothing. Thatís why all modernist architecture is by definition a parody. The international style was nothing but a parody of traditional architecture based on an attempt to be unique and different from traditional architecture. Likewise, deconstructivism is nothing but a parody of the international style, based on an attempt to be unique and different from the international style.

    The ironic thing about modernist architecture is that since the initial attempt to be unique from traditional architecture jettisoned everything except geometric sculpturalism from the bag of tricks architects are allowed to use, the paradigm has a low tolerance for creativity. Only one kind of new idea is allowed. What will happen when architects run out of new shapes to sculpt?

    Traditional architecture, OTOH, does not need to be different. It merely tries to be good. Thatís why it didnít matter that Richardsonís buildings looked alike.

    But a caricature doesnít have to be a send-up; it can be a celebration and a distillation of somethingís essence;
    Perhaps so, but regardless of whether it is an insulting parody or an homage, architecture that exists solely to make a statement about other architecture is by definition not capable of taking on a life of its own as anything but a parody/homage. In a hypothetical future where traditional architecture is no longer the rule but the exception, buildings that are nothing but satirical distortions of traditional architecture will have no value.

    BTW, since the Stata Center has now been mentioned twice, I'll direct readers to this brief critique of it, which nicely illustrates some of the problems with Gehry buildings and modernism in general.
    Last edited by Tranplanner; 07 Jul 2005 at 9:07 AM.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally posted by Wanigas?
    What makes this proposal difficult to assess is the limited amount of information provided in this thread. I have no doubt that an architect like Gehry will be able to transform this neighborhood and reinforce an urban lifestyle. However, what lacks here are the details. What are the existing site conditions?
    Most, but not all, is presently a rail yard. Those who were displaced and resisted moving were bought off with extravagantly generous offers, all of them accepted (I wish someone would do that to me). The city has offered to use eminent domain if anyone refused to sell out, but the offers have been so magnanimous that it hasnít been necessary. There is bitter opposition from tenants (leases not renewed), but who says you ever have the right to a lease renewal? Personally, I don't like paying taxes, so...

    The other source of opposition: NIMBYs from the areas around the site, plus their community activists and opportunistic politicians playing to their votes. These people, being off-site, arenít lucky enough to be recipients of Ratnerís bounty. Iím sure that causes them grief now; their reward will come later when their property appreciates.

    Quote Originally posted by Wanigas?
    How are the proposed building footprints arranged within the urban infrastructure? What is the mix of residential, commercial, office, and parking?
    37 forum pages chock-a-block with information, chronologically arranged and excitingly told: http://www.wirednewyork.com/forum/sh...2&page=1&pp=15

    Quote Originally posted by Wanigas?
    I don't see any reason to have such a negative reaction to the conceptual ideas already presented here. I just need to know more. The planner in me wants to analyze, to be neutral until I can assess the impacts of the proposal.
    Await your conclusions with interest, after you examine the voluminous documentation.

    Quote Originally posted by Wanigas?
    The moral of this story is consistent with Ablarc's prior stances about the negative impacts planners and zoning codes have on the urban landscape. Apparently, planners should locate real talent, encourage the talent to break the rules, and get out of the way.
    Succinctly put.

    .
    Last edited by ablarc; 06 Jul 2005 at 7:43 PM.

  22. #22

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    Quote Originally posted by Wanigas?

    But that's not the point of this thread, is it? The moral of this story is consistent with Ablarc's prior stances about the negative impacts planners and zoning codes have on the urban landscape. Apparently, planners should locate real talent, encourage the talent to break the rules, and get out of the way. This indictment should be crystal clear to all planners on this board.
    But, who defines "the real talent"? Typically, its self-defined, by journals, university faculty. architectural magazines, etc. This is a culture based on a romatic 19th century vision of architecture as art designed primarily to shock the bourgeoisie. Thus, you get, as cirrus notes, parodies, cartoons, always slyly winking inside jokes. That's fine as a folly in the countryside (like Lucca implies). As a big part of a downtown renaiisance? Once the gloss wears off the (poor-wearing) space age materials and the weird forms and signs begin to get a little "tired"? Or, are we assuming that, as with guru Peter Eisenman's "masterpieces" that we will have to redo everything in ten years? Maybe this is just make-work for the profession?

    You may dismiss the neighbors of Disney Hall as "NIMBYs," but the fact remains they have to live with blinding sun reflections off yet another blob-miracle by THE GENIUS. And, so many of these buildings still have the same problems: blank walls, intimidating angles and forms, glaring surfaces, uncomfortable pedestrian environments. Nobody walks in downtown LA< so maybe that's OK there. Can you imagine being a pedestrian next to Gehry cacaphony in Brooklyn?

    I'm just bored with Gehry and irrational blob architecture in general, so I react strongly to more paens to his genius.

    I've been to his starting point, the source so to speak. (Santa Monica). Admittedly, those are his older projects, but they hardly show any interest in urbanism. They are cold, confusing, not very successful (the mall was completely revamped recently).

    (I do like the pictures of "Fred and Ginger" in Prague. THERE is an example of urban Gehry)

  23. #23
          ablarc's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cirrus
    BTW, since the Stata Center has now been mentioned twice, I'll direct readers to this brief critique of it, which nicely illustrates some of the problems with Gehry buildings and modernism in general.
    Lol, those are my photographs, except the first one. Posted them here over a year ago: http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showt...ighlight=stata

    There's a bit of a critique in there too; I've shifted my position a little since the building opened (but not of MIT and its new dorm).

  24. #24

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    Quote Originally posted by ablarc
    Lol, those are my photographs, except the first one. Posted them here over a year ago: http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showt...ighlight=stata

    There's a bit of a critique in there too; I've shifted my position a little since the building opened (but not of MIT and its new dorm).
    I sorta liked Stata Center as a building. The dorm is awful, though.

  25. #25
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    Slowly coming into focus...



    I know this process; I work like this myself.

    Chances are pretty good he doesn't know yet what the billowy white amorphous clouds are that so offended you, BKM. Give it time; those will come into focus too. You don't have to be finished while you're in mid-process.

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