Saturday, June 07, 2008

Ugly Buildings

I'll admit to something a bit funy- I just discovered that the Centre Pompidou in Paris is actually finished. I've walked past the building any number of times now and always figured it was still under construction. But, alas, it is just a mindbendingly ugly building. What's incredible is that the architect who designed it, Richard Wright, also designed the Lloyd's Building in London, which also strikes me as unbelievably badly designed. His buildings are certainly more interesting than those mid-century filing cabinets of the soul that you find in most major cities, but interesting is not necessarily better. I will say that I love some of the more bizarre buildings that are getting constructed in the oil rich Middle Eastern countries; but there are some recent buildings that strike me as a blow against the people who live in the neighborhood with them. Someday I'll post a picture of a building in Toronto that Claire must have heard me curse as we drove past it. I hate it; the building physically hurts me to look at. There is a church in Buffalo that is the same way. I avoid them if I can.

Roger Scrunton has an interesting article detailing "New Urbanist" architects who are designing cities that one could actually live in. Scrunton is a well-known conservative, but this is another example of an aesthetic discussion that strikes me as not really conservative or liberal (not that he doesn't try to link the left and postmodern architects here). To argue that breaking up cities into hideous massive office buildings surrounded by slums and further out by suburban sprawl is not only unsustainable and god-awfully ugly, but antisocial, which is how I take Scrunton here, strikes me as an argument that we all have an interest in taking seriously.


Holly said...

Your comments here give me hope, in that I now know Greg and I aren't the only ones who go around cursing the crap architecture. Perhaps there is going to be a pendulum swing back in the direction of aesthetically pleasing, and away from essentially permanent eyesores... 'cause goddamn there are some ugly ass buildings getting put in. Some of the filing cabinets are preferable to these monstrosities.

Rufus said...

Oh no, I complain too. Claire might remember my contempt for her old apartment complex, which I call "the prison yard".

And it's just aesthetic either- there's a social aspect to it. It's almost hostile for developers to have so little regard for the people who live in these places. Again, it's a lack of regard for the context. But it's also a contempt for the people, because I'm sure you've noticed that some of the most ugly buildings put in are low-rent apartment complexes and condos. Nobody in suburbia would tolerate some of the mostrosities that I've seen in downtown Toronto.

But I will say that context is important. The new ROM building in Toronto is actually a fairly cool-looking building. It's just that it sucks to put it in that neighborhood where all the buildings are classic and beautiful-looking. It looks like a mistake. So, it is widely hated now.