Sunday, October 9, 2011

Zaha Hadid, Evelyn Grace Academy

The Royal Institute of British Architects just gave their annual Stirling Prize to another building by Zaha Hadid, the Evelyn Grace Academy. This is a private academy founded by a hedge fund millionaire to help poor kids in South London. Let me just nod to this piece of philanthropy -- great idea, guys -- before I start complaining about the building.

I find this building cold. In the right context -- say, a museum of modern art -- cold can come across as cool. But in a school it looks to me like institutional indifference. A school should be a warm and welcoming place. All this concrete and glass looks to me like a brush off. Plus, kids tend to be very conservative in their artistic tastes. I wrote a passage in my commonplace book once by a woman who returned to visit her old high school and said, "the school, so grim and gray in my memory, was a Corbusierian gem." I think almost all kids would agree with this author's teenage self, rather than the adult version, about stark modernism.

These interior views look dismal to me. Where are the maps, the student art, the time lines? Maybe that is all to come later; but what will these super clean lines look like, covered with the usual detritus of education? I think this is a grand mismatch between a geometric vision and the real needs of children. "Grow up fast," this building says to me, "because it's a cold, hard world out there."

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