Tag Archive for ‘Urban Design’
The other day I installed new brake rotors on my mountain bike . They are beautiful; every scrap of stainless steel not required to withstand structural stress and the build up of heat has been removed. A laciness which could be mistaken for decoration is no more or no less than the result of form following function. As a chain is a chain and a tire inexorably a tire, so the rotors would cease to be themselves were they square or triangular, made of concrete or glass.
Architecture is not like this.
Writing about parks is more fun than writing about buildings. Parks are unpredictable, not so harnessed to the auteur system as buildings. The designer of a park is never so powerful as nature, who always has her say at the drawing board. Many building are most beautiful on the day they are finished but a brand new park, as Ronald Reagan said of the USA, has its best days ahead of it. Depending on how well they are built, buildings deteriorate or age while parks grow like living creatures from one day to the next and across the seasons. I would bet that many city-dwellers’ happiest memories take place in parks. They seem to be the most, and perhaps the last, mirthful places left in today’s cities. Rather than the ritualized coffee-drinking and passeggiate of the piazza, parks encourage an amplitude of movement and feeling. Down at the park a runner might push himself to exhaustion, a picnicker might scrub time watching an ant abscond with a crumb. Beyond their ecological benefits, parks are essential to our own well-being, our dignity even. In a park, as in a library, everyone is rich.
Les parcs m’intéressent plus que les bâtiments. Les parcs sont imprévisibles, ils évitent la politique des auteurs qui entravent l’architecture. L’auteur d’un parc n’est jamais plus puissant que la nature qui a toujours son mot à dire à travers les ans et les saisons. Les parcs viellissent un peu comme les êtres vivants. Un bâtiment est souvent plus beau le jour de son achèvement alors que un parc flambant neuf a ses meilleures années à venir, comme Ronald Reagan a dit à propos des États-Unis. Je ne seriais pas surpris si la plupart des meilleurs souvenirs des citoyens se passent dans les parcs. Ils semblent quelquefois les plus joyeux endroits de nos villes—et peut-être les derniers. Les parcs encouragent une ampleur de sentiment qu’on ne retrouve que rarement dans les rues. Dans le parc un coureur peut pousser son corps au maximum lorsque un pique-niqueur passe la journée en regardant les fourmis volant les miettes de pain. Dans le parc, tout le monde est riche.
What does it matter what you say about buildings? Is it possible to be fascinated by a building without thinking it very good, or even without knowing whether it is good or not? I’m not talking about the architectural equivalent of a guilty pleasure, a treat which would have to be triple-Z grade lousy indeed to cause genuine shame in a time in which you can watch Plan 9 from Outer Space at the Cinemathèque Française. I’m talking of course about the Opéra Bastille, a building which this sentence will not even attempt to sum up.
What does it matter what you say about buildings? Est-ce qu’il existent des bâtiments mauvais ou médiocres qui nous fascinent quand-même? Je ne parle pas des “guilty pleasures,” une tendance devenue si quotidienne qu’on peut voir Plan 9 from Outer Space à la Cinémathèque Française. Je parle, bien sûr, de l’Opéra Bastille, une édifice qui résiste à chaque tentative de la décrire ainsi.
“I call this project “soft traces and unstable vectors.” It is situated at Alewife, in what one might call the ‘wild west’ of Cambridge, a place where one encounters a series of relentlessly traced layerings of the urban condition, more like concrete brushstrokes rather than a congealed city. There is a sense of theatrical passage, even when standing still. A highway. Some trace of savage swampland. The forlornness of parking. Squirrels.
Imagine a peacock at the Paris Opéra. Having taken the Métro eastwards from his digs in the heavenly Parc de Bagatelle, he passes the intermission munching an eight euro canapé. As we stare at the cultured bird, we find his feathers blurring into the architecture. Does the peacock, we wonder, prove that ornament is hard-wired into nature? This is not a “modernist” bird, a bird with clean lines and sharp edges like an Australian King Parrot. Like the Garnier, the patterns of the peacock’s plumage are subtle and layered, they seem to curl in on themselves until, through modern eyes, it is difficult to read in the ornament anything but beauty itself. This is a particular kind of beauty, one which provokes émerveillement rather than analysis.