Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Flashy Architecture and Bad Urbanism at the Berkeley Art Museum

There have been many favorable reactions to a review of the proposed Berkeley Art Museum that I published in a local newspaper. The review begins:

"The architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro have unveiled their design for the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) on Oxford Street between Center and Addison. They were required to keep the old UC Printing Plant, and they have added a blob-shaped building coated with zinc.

"The new addition is in the avant-gardist style that has been typical of museums since Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum opened in Bilbao in 1997. The Guggenheim looks like abstract art of the 1920s and is coated with titanium. It does not work very well as a museum - some visitors say it gives them vertigo - but it was so new, so different, and so shiny that it drew large numbers of gaping tourists to Bilbao.

"Avant-garde architects are like teenagers who dye their hair purple to be different from everyone else, who consider themselves very original but obviously are just imitating the cool kids in their clique. Likewise, the designers of BAM/PFA consider its zinc facade very original but obviously are just imitating Gehry’s titanium.

"The inept urbanism of BAM/PFA is much worse than its flashy 'blobitecture.' Because the goal is to create a sculptural icon, this sort of design focuses on itself and ignores its urban context."

It goes on to show that they care so little about urbanism that they place a lawn in a dead zone north of the building, where it is bound to attract a homeless encampment.

It is a familiar story. The Federal Building in San Francisco was designed by Pritzker-prize-winning avant-gardist architect Thom Mayne and acclaimed by all the critics. I wrote a little blog post saying that, when you look beyond the sculptural design, you will see that it creates a bleak public space that no one would want to use. A couple of years later, the Chronicle reported that its public space had been taken over by the homeless: "What you see there all day, 24/7, is people drinking, you see people urinating on the walls, you see everything."

That is what you get when you design a building as a sculptural icon meant to attract attention rather than as a good place for people.

See my entire review in the Berkeley Daily Planet.
There are more pictures and some interesting comments on Berkeleyside.


Post a Comment

<< Home