Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Hide The Children! American Architecture Increasingly More Brash And Experimental Than Ever Before!

"Since there's no way to put this politely, I'll be blunt: The destruction of the World Trade Center is part of the reason American architecture is more brash and experimental than ever before.

The void left by the collapse of the world's most recognizable pair of towers showed us with grim clarity that buildings matter -- as icons, as memories, as something we all share. And the need to rebuild in a fitting way expanded the definition of what "fitting" can be.

Now, though hopes for ground zero were eroded by politics and greed, the public has been prepared for an approaching wave of high-rise buildings unlike any America has ever seen. They twist and turn. They bob and weave. They do everything except look like what we've been taught to accept: shoe boxes on end, or polite nods to the past.

That's what makes this moment in architecture so compelling, despite the searing horror that helped bring it about.

The future is now: After a generation where conformity was the norm, we'll soon learn if provocative drama has a place in America's urban landscape. Cities across the country are opening the door to imaginative designs that exult in the unexpected -- and at skyline scale.

Before you discount this as hyperbole, consider some examples of what awaits.
In Chicago, an 80-story residential tower about to begin construction will come wrapped in a blur of contoured balconies that undulate across the surface and ripple out as far as 12 feet. Architect Jeanne Gang says she took design cues in part from the layers of weathered limestone that one can find along the Great Lakes. ...

Even in San Francisco, which can be the most architecturally conservative address this side of colonial Williamsburg, the high-rise is evolving.

The most obvious example involves Treasure Island, where the still-tentative development plans include a quartet of willowy towers ranging from 20 to 60 stories.

"Treasure Island is a unique site," says architect Craig Hartman of Skidmore Owings and Merrill. "The towers should have organic forms that have a sense of affinity with nature, that are a response to wind and ocean and light ...

Then there's computer technology, which lets architects turn doodles into construction diagrams. This makes it possible to craft buildings with fluid shapes that, a decade ago, simply couldn't be done. By 2001 that technology was making its mark in America on cultural buildings, such as Frank Gehry's Disney Hall in Los Angeles, but it barely left a trace on our skylines. Across the oceans, though, skyscrapers were starting to be massaged in every conceivable way by such architects as Norman Foster, the English master who led one of the ground zero design teams (he also was the architect for the recently completed Hearst Tower in New York, which looks like an abstract obelisk).

"Before the attack on the towers, there had already been an explosion of interest in wanting to build high," Sudjic says. "It started in the Far East and spread to Europe."

The United States was bound to catch up."

John King " The sky is hardly the limit -- high-rise architecture in America is entering a bold, imaginative era. Everything's different after 9/11" San Francisco Chronicle September 12, 2006


The new Swiss Residence in Washington, D.C., which is open for public viewing (with reservation) this Saturday.

Steven Holl Architects, in collaboration with the Swiss firm Rüssli Architects, designed the new Swiss Residence. (Do Not Click this Link Until Saturday, September 16)

The architects constructed the residence according to Swiss "Minergie Standards", a higher level than the U.S. Council for Green Building's LEED standards, in order to keep overall energy consumption low.

Europe -- Western, Central, and Eastern -- is largely shunning high-rise narcissism.


On October 5 at 6:30 PM, Swiss architect Valerio Olgiati talks about his firm's approach to design at the National Building Museum.

Photo credit: Embassy of Switzerland to the U.S. With thanks.


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