Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Anatomy of a Lousy Building

Okay, so here we have an example of a building that doesn't really strike me as ugly, but which sure as hell isn't aesthetically pleasing. In some ways, I find buildings like this even more offensive than the real god awful mistakes I've seen because it's as if they wanted to convey to the rest of us that they don't care about trivial things like what the building actually looks like. Also, it doesn't help the building that it is in Nantes, a town with plenty of nice-looking structures. And it is important that a building fit its surroundings.
So, if you look at the front of the building, it’s not particularly ugly; mostly just utilitarian. It’s flat and mirror-like. More than anything, it’s just not beautiful. Nothing seems to have been done for aesthetic effect. Of course, the look is trying to convey something, but it’s not beauty. In fact, it’s more like power: this is a huge, monolithic building, okay? And it denies any real aesthetic pleasure to the bystander. It’s trying to impress us, but not give us pleasure. If the building was a person, he would be an asshole with slicked-back hair.
The coldness extends to the side. Notice the two large stone frames around the windows. These could be interesting, if they were to follow some sort of pattern all the way around. I mean, they sort of remind me of a bunker, but at least they are similar to the black thing over the entrance.

But, they stop (after three) around this entrance to the side, which is itself bizarre. Note the precarious-looking windows over the entranceway. Inside is a weird courtyard with a similarly windowed-in circular tunnel. For whatever reason, they've built unnecessary tunnels and bridges. At this point, I’m starting to refer to this as the Tetris Building.

There’s the last window edging. And now we have... a semi-circular sunken door. Why? The problem with this building, if I can venture a guess, is that all of its parts are symmetrical, within themselves, but don’t really work together. The other end (which I didn’t photograph) has weird stone columns. So, none of it really makes sense. It just sort of combines elements in an overall shiny block scheme.

I tried to figure out why the Tetris Building offends me, and I think I have it: the building is soulless. I mean, sure it expresses some sort of creativity on the part of the architect (or maybe just neurosis), but it refuses to give you anything really nice to look at. It's just big and shiny and black. I think the color is actually called "Shiny Hegemony". It's a building that makes you feel guilty for slacking on the job. The companies corporate slogan should be: "Fuck You! Globocorp". Or whatever their name is.
The worst thing about buildings like this is that you can't avoid them if you live near them. At least you can avoid bad art. But bad buildings are inescapable.


narrator said...

buildings should, in some way, ennoble. really, they should. They need to "add to" the conversation in some way. But so many just "are" - they are, as you say, not a failed attempt (those are the "obviously" bad ones), but instead a series of non-decisions, non-thoughts, the "I'll just do this" attitude.

There are lots of books that do the same thing, and art, and even blogs. But buildings are bigger, and they tend to last longer, making them more objectionable.

Rufus said...

I'll tell you something that might sound crazy- I've studied at beautiful old gothic universities and at new, prison/industrial-looking universities, and the students do better at the old ivy-covered universities. I really think they do. I've had students tell me that they get depressed at Mall University because the building looks like a "reform school". I tend to think it looks more like an airport. But I've noticed my mood dropped like a rock during my first year there.

I've also noticed that the uglier the building, the more graffiti it has- at least in Toronto. Someone should do a study on that.

narrator said...

I think this is true at every level of education. If people go to school in a bunker or a warehouse, they get depressed. If it looks like a prison, they will act like prisoners. Architecture really does matter.

Rufus said...

Oh yeah, it's the same with housing. It's possible to make low-rent housing that is aesthetically pleasing- like in our town. And then you see low-rent housing that looks like Alcatraz. And having lived in a few places like that, I'll note that they've tended to have higher crime rates.

Holly said...

Can I just throw in here to say, I think the correlation between building aesthetic and graffiti suggests that graffiti is, in fact, and attempt at improvement. No matter what critics would have us believe.

rufus said...

I always thought that was the case- at least in Toronto where I noticed it. Admittedly, Toronto has some of the ugliest buildings I've ever seen in a city.

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