UPDATE: On being over…

Last June, I made note of a statement by Rem Koolhaas…

Famous Architect Rem Koolhaas is disappointed with American cities:

“Don’t tell anyone… but the 20th-century city is over. It has nothing new to teach us anymore. Our job is simply to maintain it.”

Today: Unfinished 40-story Beijing hotel designed by Koolhaas goes up in flames in a mere 20 minutes:

Yo, Rem! Maybe the 20th century city could teach you something about not designing perfect firetraps. (What the heck did they use for the framework, magnesium?)

(Rest of original post below the flip)

I live in Old America — the Northeast, the Rust Belt — and in decades to come, the rest of America will also become an old country. Many more of its people will embark on that twilight journey that is such a mystery (or a dead end) to Famous Architects — the one where you gain wisdom through maintenance, instead of knowledge through innovation. These are two different and possibly divergent paths of knowing. Not only will this play out in families that suddenly find themselves having to take care of aging Baby Boomer relatives, but yes, the establishment of a single new subway line will become a new kind of heroic struggle that they will not understand in Shenzhen or in Famous Architects’ Studios. (It’s not a job, it’s an adventure; but Koolhaas doesn’t sound convinced.)

Yet jarringly, the triumphalist American dance goes on during this current presidential election. We can win a war with three countries at once (i.e., Iran too); we are not in a recession; after eight years of Bush, we can not only feel good, but feel better than ever; and the world will love us and let us lead again…

By the way, has anyone noticed how more reports about daily life in China, and Chinese affairs, have been creeping into mainstream American news? We’re now learning what life’s been like for Europe and the rest of the world all these years, when they would open their papers in the morning and read America this, America that. Hey, the media is just going where the story is. And that story is not in Old America, where thousands of maintenance workers are even now disappearing from the narrative — yet mysteriously, live on.

4 Replies to “UPDATE: On being over…”

  1. Most famous architects of today I think more of as artists, graphic designers or exhibit curators than I do actual designers. Mostly aesthetic, virtual, and unconnected to the prosaic things such as the natural systems that support all life, or the toxins in building materials, etc…

    They ceded long ago to the engineers and builders. If only laws requiring an architect’s stamp could be undone, or probably better, if only architects would step up and assume responsibility along with builders for stewardship of the natural world. Farmers abdicated that role long ago, as the industrial system destroyed traditional/Jeffersonian agrarianism.

  2. I don’t know if this fits well to your observation about architects… but dang, I am truly exasperated of the tendency of architecture firms to play cutesy wutesy games with typography. I blurt this out because I see a lot of architecture related stuff at work… the names of the firms, the titles of speeches that architects give. They can never write anything out in plain English, it’s always got to be some gimmicky trick with plus signs where ampersands should be, funky capitalization, precious lowercase where uppercase should be, etc. (Just go to any architecture firm’s website you’ll see what I mean) I think your comment about architects being frustrated graphic designers may be more true than you know…


  3. Definitely…misplaced lowercase is precious for some reason to architects!

    What gets me is that, as you note, almost EVERY architect out there uses funky capitalization and precious lowercall, ALL OF THEM, in an effort to demonstrate visually their innovative nature! Same with modern design…take the School of Architecture’s three winning designs that are intended to “revolutionize the sustainable, affordable home from the ground up” by “creating innovative and new (i.e., never before seen) models”. Well, at least from the eye of this onlooker, the three designs sure look alot like the ubiquitous single/double wide trailer home.

    Nothing wrong with that, but I just love how some of the most “innovative” architects out there have thought themselves into a box. That’s their best, most revolutionary, and never before designed idea…a rectangle.

  4. I couldn’t quite understand those Near Westside designs either; particularly the all-glass walls on some of them, which seemed both chilly, and liable to vandalism breakage. I don’t know why modern architects are so in love with glass. The spiritual value of glass walls gets lost when you are roasting or freezing to death (as I have heard some complain about the new Newhouse and Whitman buildings on the SU campus).

    The original architecture innovation around here was the longhouse, which had no windows but must have gotten the job done. If you have an active inner life, especially during long cold winters, I would imagine that windows don’t really add much value.

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