Monday, January 13, 2014

Calatrava's Falling Tiles, or, Buildings are Supposed to Stand Up

A post from the world of star architects who forget that buildings are not sculptures, but structures that have to fulfill certain purposes and stand up for a while:
In the latest development in the ongoing travails of Santiago Calatrava, the Spanish architect, construction workers are due to start removing the crumbling mosaic facade of Valencia’s opera house on Monday.
Calatrava also has problems with staying on budget and finishing on time. But then this is what patrons should expect when what they most want in a building is novelty. Any truly new form is an experiment, and the thing about experiments is that sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. On the other hand the particular problem with the Valencia opera house is that the tiles keep falling off, and that is a problem that other architects and builders have been solving for a few thousand years.

I suppose people like reading about Calatrava's cost overruns or Geary's leaky roofs because they enjoy seeing monumentally arrogant artistes laid low by ordinary facts of life -- come back down to earth with the rest of us, you pompous jerk. But there is also a serious critique here of the whole business of contemporary architecture. Long gone are the days when an architect might devote twenty years of his life to one building, as Sir Christopher Wren did with St. Paul's. Now we are in a big hurry to throw up one museum after another, a business dominated by a handful of international celebrities who jet around from project to project, sketching grand visions and leaving pesky details to overworked underlings. They work that way because they pretty much have to work that way; the committees that select the architects and designs for these projects insist on a celebrity designer with a newfangled design, but of course they wouldn't pay enough to keep such a person around for years at a time. It all makes me long for something like the log cabins built by Finnish immigrants in Michigan and Minnesota, things lovingly crafted by anonymous artisans that work the way they are supposed to, stand up forever, and have the beauty of natural materials treated with care.

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