Beyond the Big-Deal Building

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

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