|As a species we should not be proud of this. Source|
Homogeneity might be acceptable in the fast-changing consumer electronics industry, or arguably even in music, but in architecture, the built environment which surrounds us every waking minute of our lives, and which is such an important aspect of our identifiable culture, well, it's simply not acceptable. Not unless we want to entirely lose our culture, identity, and traditions, or if we want the entire world to look exactly the same. I certainly don't. The most disappointing has to be when starchitects take on urban design duties. The results are unsurprisingly just as inhuman, if not more so, than their buildings. If you’re still saying to yourself fine, good for them, they have every right to promote their business just as any other corporation... very well, but at the least let’s stop seeing them as some kind of oracles of wisdom, better qualified to speak on architecture than anyone else. Large developers may build the majority of junk architecture, but at least they don’t pretend to be something they're not.
I'm worried how apathetic many people have become about this. I don't just mean architects, who are among the greatest perpetrators of this global tragedy, but the general population has likewise been led to believe that place specific architecture is pastiche, old-fashioned, or not part of the zeitgeist. There's that German word again, the bane of beauty. It means the spirit of the age, but why glass, steel, and concrete represent the spirit of our age is a mystery to me. People may not be religious nowadays, but they sure do follow some of these guidelines as fervently as any religion. If anything, to me those industrially produced materials are the antithesis of the zeitgeist I live in, in which climate change is a serious concern and polluting industries should be shunned, not embraced. And for the sake of my mental well being, I want to live in an environment which promotes joy, beauty, and respect of nature. To continue to manufacture industrial materials in large quantities, conscious of the environmental consequences, and to promote them as part of the zeitgeist, that has to be some kind of perversion.
So I propose we stop promoting the BIG’s of the world (referring to both Bjarke Ingels Group and Koolhaas’ “Bigness” theories), and return architectural discourse to something of a grassroots level. We need to stop asking architect/businessmen what they foresee for the built environment, and instead start empathizing with our fellow citizens, and ask them how they would like to see their towns and cities develop. From studies we already know it veers more toward traditional walkable neighborhoods, not a megalopolis. And why not, when traditional city designs are the result of thousands of years of evolution and adapted to human needs. We want beautiful, walkable, place-specific neighborhoods, but we won't get that if we continue to hire a select group of architects to design all over the world. When mayors, planning officials, and developers turn to starchitects to develop buildings and master plans for their cities, it’s nothing more than totalitarianism which ignores the dreams of the people. Left to many architects, we’d still be in the throes of urban renewal and building towers in the park à la Le Corbusier.
The dialogue needs to stop focusing on individual buildings and focus on the streetscape, the simple layout of streets and sidewalks, storefronts, public parks, and public transit. Only then should individual buildings come into the equation and be judged by how well they integrate and enhance the whole. A massively overscaled disjointed building like the CCTV tower? No thank you. A museum or big box store surrounded by acres of parking? I'll pass. And for the sake of all mankind, a moratorium on razing any building built pre-WWII. We need to preserve examples built at a time when human scale still mattered, when beauty mattered, and before cars dictated our cities. As for those starchitects? Well, I think your neighbor can probably identify beauty more effectively than they can.