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It Was Fun Till the Money Ran Out: NY Times

edited January 2009 in architecture
It Was Fun Till the Money Ran Out

Published: December 19, 2008
WHO knew a year ago that we were nearing the end of one of the most delirious eras in modern architectural history? What’s more, who would have predicted that this turnaround, brought about by the biggest economic crisis in a half-century, would be met in some corners with a guilty sense of relief?

Herzog & de Meuron’s 40 Bond Street, an exclusive residential building — one of many such projects new to Manhattan.

Before the financial cataclysm, the profession seemed to be in the midst of a major renaissance. Architects like Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, and Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, once deemed too radical for the mainstream, were celebrated as major cultural figures. And not just by high-minded cultural institutions; they were courted by developers who once scorned those talents as pretentious airheads.

Firms like Forest City Ratner and the Related Companies, which once worked exclusively with corporations that were more adept at handling big budgets than at architectural innovation, seized on these innovators as part of a shrewd business strategy. The architect’s prestige would not only win over discerning consumers but also persuade planning boards to accede to large-scale urban projects like, say, Mr. Gehry’s Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn.

But somewhere along the way that fantasy took a wrong turn. As commissions multiplied for luxury residential high-rises, high-end boutiques and corporate offices in cities like London, Tokyo and Dubai, more socially conscious projects rarely materialized. Public housing, a staple of 20th-century Modernism, was nowhere on the agenda. Nor were schools, hospitals or public infrastructure. Serious architecture was beginning to look like a service for the rich, like private jets and spa treatments.

Nowhere was that poisonous cocktail of vanity and self-delusion more visible than in Manhattan. Although some important cultural projects were commissioned, this era will probably be remembered as much for its vulgarity as its ambition.

Every major architect in the world, it seemed, was designing an exclusive residential building here. With its elaborate faux-graffiti barrier, Herzog & de Meuron’s 40 Bond Street was among the most indulgent, but it had plenty of rivals, including projects by Daniel Libeskind, UNStudio, Mr. Koolhaas and Norman Foster.

Together these projects threatened to transform the city’s skyline into a tapestry of individual greed.

Now that high-end bubble has popped, and it is unlikely to return anytime soon. Jean Nouvel’s 75-story residential tower adjoining the Museum of Modern Art has been delayed indefinitely. And developers now seem loath to undertake similar projects. Even if the economy turns around, the public’s tolerance for outsize architectural statements that serve the rich and self-absorbed has already been pretty much exhausted.

This is not all good news. A lot of wonderful architecture is being thrown out with the bad. Although most of Mr. Nouvel’s MoMA tower would have been devoted to luxury apartments, for instance, it would have allowed the museum next door to expand its gallery space significantly. It would also have been one of the most spectacular additions to the Manhattan skyline since the Chrysler Building.

And it would be a shame if the recession derailed promising cultural projects like Renzo Piano’s new Whitney Museum of American Art in the meatpacking district or Mr. Foster’s interior renovation of the Beaux-Arts New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.

Architecture firms, meanwhile, are suffering like everyone else. With so many projects postponed and so few new ones coming in, many are already laying off employees. Aspiring architects who are just emerging from graduate programs are likely to move on to more secure professions, which could spell a smaller talent pool in the future.

Still, if the recession doesn’t kill the profession, it may have some long-term positive effects for our architecture. President-elect Barack Obama has promised to invest heavily in infrastructure, including schools, parks, bridges and public housing. A major redirection of our creative resources may thus be at hand. If a lot of first-rate architectural talent promises to be at loose ends, why not enlist it in designing the projects that matter most? That’s my dream anyway.


  • edited 6:39AM
    crying over my scissors for em all.
  • sodsod
    edited 6:39AM
    gfc won't scorch enough practices - hope the goverment goes broke too
  • edited 6:39AM
    So Neville K, what is your position?
  • edited 6:39AM
    I believe this financial crisis coupled, as it is, with the environmental crisis, will see architecture forced to abandon all and any residue of the 'devil may care' unsustainable architecture of the look at me stylists. Functionalist environmentalism will make architecture a matter of principals, both first and moral, and no longer a stylistic playtime. These crisis show that playtime is over.

    Finally architecture will have to attain some level of earth conscious integrity alongside a structural and fabric integrity it has previously had the leisure to occasionally ignore.
    'Good' architecture will override both the mediocre and the phantasmagorias because finally, it's cost to the future will be in the accounting and that means its sustainability will be as fundamental to the design as its structure.
    Sorry guys, it's back to the drawing board, or it's walk away now and give the job to architects who care for more than just appearances.
  • b_nb_n
    edited 6:39AM
    I don't know stylistically, "green" architecture: It's so hot right now!
  • b_nb_n
    edited 6:39AM
    Venturi, ahead of his time?
  • edited 6:39AM
    Green architecture is 'hot'? . Stylism is cool, not!
  • b_nb_n
    edited 6:39AM
    You miss my point.
  • edited 6:39AM
    Philip Johnson has likewise already addressed this in built form that's pretty hot. Although quite a success, it did put an end to Philip's love of throwing stones.
    b_n, I think your idea of building green using natural materials like gingerbread is exceptional. Damn that Hansel!
  • edited January 2009

    green architecture - yesterday.
    caring corporates got it covered in case u hadn't noticed hague.
    u been left behind.
    put your head back in the straddy sand.

    and while u are at it why don't u mulch some more trees for your lame arse last century drawing board.

    brown is where its at.
  • edited 6:39AM
    Furthermore, at this particular cross roads, I wonder which sign one should take directions from?
  • edited 6:39AM
    Green style: twice as much glass as you needed?
  • edited January 2009
    in brisbane's case a glass half empty?

    scratch a green architect and find the apron underneath.
    catholic church outsources to the poodle turd recyclers?,23739,24897289-3102,00.html
  • b_nb_n
    edited January 2009
    I’m on to you w_y_e and hd.
    Seemingly vindicated by the KFC, the eco warriors retire to the country they left to take up some half baked cottage industry. Others, erstwhile looking at the stars, ditching the lederhosen and rhetoric, sporting, perhaps, something a little more formal, look to the future and prepare for the charge. (Don’t spare the horses?)   
  • b_nb_n
    edited 6:39AM
    of course I could have completely misinterpreted: I do sometimes, when I hear a dog bark, think it's a sign...
  • b_nb_n
    edited January 2009
    As for brisbane's half empty glass, couldn't agree more: a clear case of an economic and environmental rationalists with their Vicars in a twist.
  • edited 6:39AM
    I think given the general choice of materials, it would be wise to ditch the vicars and bust out the Victas...
    Damn, had better find a park, I just heard the bell for glass.
  • edited 6:39AM
    About as interesting as a car park...
    Fire up the Prius and see the Golden Age of Courture show in Bendigo. Thankfully none of the designers were on the level, unlike certain new plastic lawns.
  • edited January 2009
    u r right b n - dogs bark but the caravan has moved on.

    - garden state ARM water (not the place to be?) will keep the duco fresh on the electric hummer - ready for a last blast hoon style as the 60 is the new 40 set steel themselves for the doors of the carbon offset crematorium.

    the hairdresser sees the future and its hedge clippers for him.

    heard the news.
    don't come mondays are floating publicly.
    not enough $ in the shop to fund retirement?
  • edited 6:39AM it just me or does this forum no longer provide any kind of meaningful discourse? from here it just seems like everyone is trying to out-clever themsleves...i'll leave for another 3months and see if it's come good then.
  • edited 6:39AM
    dav.....when has architecture ever provided meaningful discourse.....?
    i have to drive them around all day....can't you contribute something good ?
    don't leave.....i need the fares at the moment
  • edited 6:39AM
    hope your retirement from draughting is a happy one dav.
  • edited January 2009
    Providing meaningful discourse is not up to a forum. That's up to the contributors and so long as these xxxxxxxx's keep dominating the discourse with flammable put downs and irrelevant wannabee stylist fan clubbing then you're all out of luck, DAV. Three months will probably find them still here, as they seem to enjoy the blitzkriegers life-style. See you elsewhere.
    By the bye. Anyone interested in Japanese structural joinery? In this economic down turn I have a project up for Sept Oct 09 to build a small pavilion (4.5 x 9 meters) in huge recycled timbers with all hand-cut Japanese temple joinery. I am looking for an architect/student with time suddenly on their hands (2-4 weeks) interested in hands on learning of the craft. I have others but we're all carpenters and joiners and perhaps an architect or student would love to join in (pun intended). If your seriously into the art, your welcome and will be well looked after.
    Whisper me if you're interested
    ( following is reduntant; You can leave a message in my private messages link at simon seasons in the 'pagan alliance' site. And don't worry about all the kooks, they wont bite I am just using it as a temporary mailbox so that i don't have to have an avalanche of vitriol from certain members of this forum. Butterpaper's private messages link seems to have dissappeared.)
    Please don't bother answering this if your just going to waste my time and yours with smart-arse crap.
  • edited January 2009
    thanks for the offer hague.
    but i'm not seriously into art.
    b n and w y e got me thinking of branching out into topiary.
  • edited 6:39AM
    Regarding Simon's sadness at dear departed private messaging. There's a private whisper feature on the posting form that will send a post just to one person. Well that's what it's meant to do.
  • b_nb_n
    edited 6:39AM
    Apologies for the apparently dire discourse dav.

    Some sage words from old Ken Nordine spring to mind:

    "An Ageing Young Rebel

    Called What's His Name

    Wanted to be different

    while he stayed the same

    The he couldn't

    he just couldn't

    No matter what he would try

    Told be his mother

    An aging old thing

    You better go see clever

    You give clever a ring

    Which he did

    Called him up

    Just so Mommy wouldn't cry

    Clever hear his story

    About different and the same

    You crazy

    This some silly game

    Oh no

    Like Mommy said

    I gotta straiten up my head

    Clever is so clever

    Is cleverness enough

    Can you help this ageing rebel

    Do you really have the stuff

    Bet you don't have

    Bet the bread that you'll pass the buck instead..."

    The rest is a good read and a better listen.

    Discourse? as Simon pointed out, it's up to the contributers (their good, it seems, for learning some new words as well). Meaningful? Aside, perhaps, from sharing some of cabbie’s doubts; in summary, and/or, perhaps, by way of invitation…

    In these days of economic and environmental upheaval, when being ‘green’ (which most of us are striving to be) or at least so it seems, appearing to be green (clients, EOI requests, competitions etc) is deemed so important, ie the strategic placement of a water tank - in your face rather than underground, when what clients really need is a services engineer not an architect, what is the role of architecture, better yet the architect?
  • b_nb_n
    edited January 2009
    Thanks for the invite SS
    Have done my time behind a Japanese chisel, know my bird beaks from my goose necks, which side of the hill my wood's cut from. Can recommend the sport.
    Incidentally, they employ an apprenticeship you might want to remind your shop girls and boys of every now and again HD: two years sweeping the floor, don't touch the tools.
    Below are a bit rusty, the real deal are a pleasure to (be)hold.
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