Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Beware Of Bunker Design

In Medieval Modern: Design Strikes a Defensive Posture, NYT architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussof discusses how the post 9/11 world has affected architecture and design:
Not so long ago, architects were obsessed with the notion that globalism, the Internet and sophisticated new building technologies were opening the way for a more fluid, transparent landscape in which walls would melt away.

Things didn’t turn out that way. After 9/11, a craving for the solidity of walls reasserted itself. And the wars on terror, and fractious peaces, enforced it. The Green Zone in Baghdad, Jerusalem’s separation barrier, the concrete bollards that line corporate headquarters on Park Avenue — all are emblems of a new mentality. Four years after the American invasion of Iraq, this state of siege is beginning to look more and more like a permanent reality, exhibited in an architectural style we might refer to as 21st-century medievalism.
Like their 13th- to 15th-century counterparts, contemporary architects are being enlisted to create not only major civic landmarks but lines of civic defense, with aesthetically pleasing features like elegantly sculpted barriers around public plazas or decorative cladding for bulky protective concrete walls. This vision may seem closer in spirit to da Vinci’s drawings of angular fortifications or Michelangelo’s designs for organically shaped bastions than to a post-cold-war-era of high-tech surveillance.
Welcome to the new architecture world. It is telling that the NYT editors chose Thom Mayne's new Caltrans HQs in Downtown L.A. [above] as an illustration for the article. So much as I heart Mayne's project in Paris, this building makes me cringe every time I drive by. (He is otherwise recognized as a brilliant architect.)

On the same subject, author Bruce Schneier recently argued in Wired that "architecture tends toward permanence, while security threats change much faster." Therefore, "it's dangerously shortsighted to make architectural decisions based on the threat of the moment without regard to the long-term consequences of those decisions."
Caltrans HQ photos & Roland Halbe/NYT