Beyond the Big-Deal Building

| Arts Extra Special

In the wake of 9/11, architects are taking a new look at what it means to build.BY JULIE IOVINETHE 9/11 DISASTER RESONATED through the architectural world just as it did through every community. A casualty of the fall of the big towers has been the smug assumption that enormous works of landmark architecture are necessarily a good thing.The heroic phase of modernist architecture was already in decline on September 11, 2001. The phallic monsters of the '70s and '80s, such as Michael Graves' Humana Tower in Louisville and the pyramidal TransAmerica tower in San Francisco, had already given way to more complex and ironic buildings--but buildings that still enshrined economic power and machismo. The cutting-edge Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas created a rumored $35 million Prada boutique in downtown Manhattan, complete with a stage and auditorium-style bleachers where the latest $700 pumps are displayed. Frank Gehry took a more creative approach to design with his playful, sculptural Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Yet both architects were still party to the grandstanding approach to architecture: glitzy buildings seen by corporate interests as money in the bank. Today, however, the 16-acre hole in lower Manhattan gnaws at the architectural conscience and all architects are struggling to figure out how to create buildings that are more than another opportunity for branding. It's as if the most basic tenets of architecture--to shelter, to create community, and, if possible, to enlighten and delight--now need to be relearned. In September 2002, the eighth International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale in Italy opened under the banner 'Next,'' aiming to present every significant building to be built over the next decade anywhere in the world. The exhibition was glaringly free of grandstanding architecture; instead, the best designs showed a refreshing humility, sense of context, and rootedness in the earth. A museum in Cologne, Germany, that will enclose the ruins of a Gothic church bombed to smithereens during World War II will be built entirely of handmade bricks. The 'Museum Bridge,'' designed by LCM of Mexico City, is a transparent arc of steel and glass that leaps over the Rio Grande between Mexico and Texas; inside are displays that tell the history of border crossing. French architect Jean Nouvel's Agbar Tower in Barcelona is a glass-clad skyscraper--with no air-conditioning. Windows open to let in real air. And Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners of London created a thing of immense natural beauty in the Eden Project: eight interconnected geodesic domes bubbling up like a mysterious transparent foam in the rolling hills of Cornwall, England. The structure serves the local farming community as the world's largest growing enclosure for plants. In short, the architecture profession is realizing that the time has come to think more about the role of design in shaping the world we want to live in than about how architects can provide instant gratification for wealthy clients. Julie Iovine writes on architecture and design for the