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Author Topic: The Decline of American architecture?  (Read 407 times)
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Dante Rising
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« on: June 03, 2016, 06:58:03 AM »

Two interesting things happened to me recently. First, For the first time in my life I had the opportunity to visit the Sears Tower in Chicago (It will ALWAYS be called the Sears Tower in my mind). Second, my friend returned from a two week trip to China, Singapore, and Hong Kong, and brought some amazing photos home.

It got me to thinking about American architecture, and how It seems to be on the decline. No great cathedrals are being built. Of the top 50 current skyscrapers under construction, only 3 are in the United States, and none of those are fighting for the title of the world's tallest. The most opulent and gorgeous buildings in the world are now under construction in Asia or the Middle East. In Dubai they are about to break ground on he the world's first rotating skyscraper. Look up bridges under construction, or recently completed, and none of the most amazing designs are in the United States.

Most of the NEW architecture I see in the Chicagoland look like...square boxes. Nothing has the majesty of Grand Central Station, or The Empire State Building, Library of Congress, etc. I don't think there is a skyline in America that has the dreamlike quality of those being built in other parts of the world.

I'm just curious if anyone else laments that most of the beautiful architecture is being built....everywhere else. Perhaps I'm living in the wrong part of the USA. Perhaps the great architecture is still here but diluted due to the enormity of our county's geography. I just feel that spark of greatness is being lost.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_future_tallest_buildings_in_the_world

http://twistedsifter.com/2011/01/picture-of-the-day-shanghai-1990-vs-2010/

I doubt you'll ever see something like this built in America again:
https://www.google.com/search?q=st+patrick's+cathedral&safe=active&client=safari&hl=en-us&prmd=minv&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi66Z7VrovNAhWJZCYKHa5WAv8Q_AUICCgC&biw=1024&bih=672&dpr=2

Or this:
https://www.google.com/search?q=library+of+congress&safe=active&client=safari&hl=en-us&prmd=minv&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjKvun0r4vNAhVISyYKHY1YBAEQ_AUICCgC&biw=1024&bih=672
« Last Edit: June 03, 2016, 08:03:26 AM by Dante Rising » Logged
Bullwinkle
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« Reply #1 on: June 03, 2016, 01:57:56 PM »

It's mostly about where the money is.  You used the word opulent, which sums it up. 

There's also a space issue, though.  It's easier to build big in the desert.

But, yeah, it does sometimes feel like just a little bit of effort could be made to not slap up a concrete box.  The problem is that hiring the people who design interesting buildings costs extra money.  I still see interesting buildings go up when I head into NYC because corporations want to show off, but those are often ostentatious instead of opulent.

It used to be not about flashing a wad of cash around as much as it was about achievement.  Skyscrapers used to be a thing of wonder, and we gave them the beauty to match the awesomeness.  I think this is what has been lost.

There's one spot I see anytime I drive on the east side of Manhattan.  It's just writing on a wall for a public work of some kind (I can't remember what now, unfortunately), but it's done with these raised, silver, art deco letters that are spaced out just a little bit further than you might do today, and it works.  It just looks classy but simple.  Often I think about how that time has passed, where we care enough to make something as simple as letters on a building look elegant.  Nowadays, we're lucky if the apostrophe is in the right place.
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EngineNo9
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« Reply #2 on: June 03, 2016, 03:00:21 PM »

As Bullwinkle said, the "to hell with it" money is all in those other countries.  To wit I think your comment on the Sears Tower says more than you think.  There aren't many corporations in America anymore that are necessarily flourishing and expect to be for such a long period to want to fund a crazy expensive unique building.  It takes years for those things to be designed and built, and the company needs to expect to be there for decades afterwards.

There are not many "institutions" when it comes to American finances and corporations anymore at all.  Big names like Sears have fallen and the ones that exist are more likely to put their name on a stadium or buy up an existing skyscraper than build a new, unique skyscraper.

Not to mention most tech companies that are flourishing tend to be on the west coast and build "campuses" rather than skyscrapers.  There can be beautiful architecture without being a tallest in the world contender.
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Jimmy the Fish
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« Reply #3 on: June 03, 2016, 05:06:33 PM »

My brother is an architect/designer and he ended up moving to Hong Kong about 6 or 7 years ago because he could not find work in the U.S. He worked for a firm in LA for several years but got frustrated because of the politics and BS pecking order dynamic in the industry. It also didn't help that the U.S. economy was really down back then so there wasn't much investment in new building. Anyhow, he moved to Hong Kong because the Chinese economy was booming there and there were tons of projects available. The clients were also a lot more receptive to innovative design ideas too so my brother got to work on some really interesting projects.

However, he has decided to move to Vietnam because the Chinese economy has been slowing down in the last year or two and business has dried up. He keeps talking about the impending economic bubble, which is not a good thing for the world economy but a lot of people feel it will happen. Vietnam, of all places, seems to have a lot of design opportunities right now, so he's following the money.
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Ironrod
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« Reply #4 on: June 03, 2016, 10:18:38 PM »

Boston is undergoing an historic building boom, and most of it consists of nondescript glass-and-steel boxes. Real estate and construction are so expensive that there's not much of a budget for architectural flourishes, and the politics of permitting add hurdles that I won't go into.

One project that looks cool is the redevelopment of the Ropewalk building in the Charlestown Naval Yard. The 180-year-old granite building is a quarter-mile long and only 45 feet wide, and historic preservation precludes major alterations. A developer just got the go-ahead to convert it into 97 townhouse-style apartments. 

There are some cool pictures at the link, although not a good exterior view.
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Dante Rising
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« Reply #5 on: June 05, 2016, 12:32:46 AM »

Quote from: Ironrod on June 03, 2016, 10:18:38 PM

Boston is undergoing an historic building boom, and most of it consists of nondescript glass-and-steel boxes.

This is what I find so depressing, and it happens everywhere. I may be relocating with my job, so I've been out looking at homes. Most newer construction seem so "cookie cutter", unless you get ridiculously expensive. Even then much of the detail work is missing. Then I came to a restored area and found multiple homes like this:



Now that may not be your style of home, but I think everyone can appreciate the intricate design of the home. And the attention to detail in the house mirrors the outside. (currently under renovation).  Some of the other homes nearby are equally detailed but less flamboyant. I lament that these types of homes are a part of our history, and not a part of our current culture.

I don't think we take pride in our architecture anymore.
« Last Edit: June 05, 2016, 12:37:11 AM by Dante Rising » Logged
Ironrod
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« Reply #6 on: June 05, 2016, 02:31:21 AM »

That's a beauty.

In most of the country people look down on "used homes" and want new construction. Not as true here, where the housing stock is older. My town just marked its 375th anniversary and 100-year-old houses are so common that we don't consider them "historic;" in fact, we think of any house built after 1950 as "newer*." My modest 104-year-old house is thoroughly unremarkable. There are some real beauties in my neighborhood, though. This is one of my favorites:

 

Old houses do require a fair amount of upkeep, and since building codes were lax back in the day they have a lot of quirks -- for example, we really need to rewire our house for the 21st century, and nothing is quite level or square. Something always needs updating or replacing. Its bones are good and it will most likely stand for another 100 years, but sometimes I wish I had a modern home that's fully up to code. 
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heloder
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« Reply #7 on: June 05, 2016, 02:27:21 PM »

Hey we're making houses out of old shipping containers now. Isn't that avant-garde enough for ya?
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ravenvii
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« Reply #8 on: June 05, 2016, 05:00:17 PM »

Quote from: Ironrod on June 05, 2016, 02:31:21 AM

Old houses do require a fair amount of upkeep, and since building codes were lax back in the day they have a lot of quirks -- for example, we really need to rewire our house for the 21st century, and nothing is quite level or square. Something always needs updating or replacing. Its bones are good and it will most likely stand for another 100 years, but sometimes I wish I had a modern home that's fully up to code.  

This is exactly why people look down at older homes. A lot of hidden costs, etc.

What we should lament isn't the (lack of) preservation of those homes, but the seemingly lost capability of building homes like those. Imagine a house like that, built with modern materials and everything.

*shrug* but hey, USA USA USA! TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT! MAGA!

/s
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Rumpy
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« Reply #9 on: June 05, 2016, 06:46:49 PM »

Actually, good architecture doesn't always have to mean building the tallest thing. There are perfectly good works of architecture that are lower to the ground. The Canadian museum of History (formerly the Canadian museum of Civilization is a beautiful example, a building that has the look of flowing organically, designed by Douglas Cardinal who went on to design the National  Museum of the American Indian in Washington, among other places.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Canadian_museum_of_civilization_02.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Cardinal
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TheEgoWhip
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« Reply #10 on: June 05, 2016, 07:54:18 PM »

There wont be as much new construction in major cities, since most major cities are already built up.  There are smaller opportunities to make interesting buildings, but I bet they are harder to get approved with the way corporations are run now.  Too much emphasis on quick turnaround, stocks price management, and squeezing profits out of anything they can to build anything more than a functional building.

You need to look for vanity projects and big egos. 

http://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20160427/NEWS/160429858/detroit-greenlights-gilbert-plans-for-hudsons-site
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Dante Rising
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« Reply #11 on: June 06, 2016, 01:46:15 AM »

Quote from: ravenvii on June 05, 2016, 05:00:17 PM

Quote from: Ironrod on June 05, 2016, 02:31:21 AM

Old houses do require a fair amount of upkeep, and since building codes were lax back in the day they have a lot of quirks -- for example, we really need to rewire our house for the 21st century, and nothing is quite level or square. Something always needs updating or replacing. Its bones are good and it will most likely stand for another 100 years, but sometimes I wish I had a modern home that's fully up to code.  

What we should lament isn't the (lack of) preservation of those homes, but the seemingly lost capability of building homes like those. Imagine a house like that, built with modern materials and everything.

/s

I agree. It would be incredible to see homes like the ones pictured above built with today's materials and technologies. It would be nice to see construction companies push the aesthetics and details of their designs, instead of building 3000 square foot boxes with a deck attached. There is a huge subdivision near me that has only 4 house designs. The differentiation comes from deck/porch size and house color. 350 identical rectangular homes. 5 colors. White. Tan. Darker Tan. Gray. Light Yellow.

I must be getting old. But I look at the way Americans write, and read, and build...and it feels like we are in a meandering decline to the lowest common denominator.

I shouldn't paint with such a broad brush. It has already been pointed out that there are interesting homes and buildings being created. But from what I read and see, we are falling behind the curve.
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ravenvii
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« Reply #12 on: June 06, 2016, 04:03:18 AM »

Quote from: Rumpy on June 05, 2016, 06:46:49 PM

[...] The Canadian museum of History (formerly the Canadian museum of Civilization [...]

Why was it renamed? The Canadian Museum of Civilization is a bad ass name.
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Rumpy
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« Reply #13 on: June 06, 2016, 04:13:31 AM »

No idea, really. I agree that the previous name was better too. It evoked more a sense of culture. This one doesn't quite seem inspired. It actually sounds more run-of-the-mill, as if every history museum has to have the word history attached to it. As such, I'll still always remember it that way.

That was actually its second name though, this more recent one being the 3rd. The first being the Museum of Man and shared a building with the Canadian Museum of Nature, housed in an old castle originally built in 1870. In 1986, it moved out to its new building, the one I pointed up above, and got its second name.

Btw, it seems like architects are increasingly making their mark by designing buildings that have unique profiles that can be easily spotted from the air. Things like Google Maps have certainly helped in assuring that people would recognize them in this manner. Our local science center, built in the 80's, was built with areal photos in mind, to look like two snowflakes when seen from above.

« Last Edit: June 06, 2016, 07:40:04 PM by Rumpy » Logged
ravenvii
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« Reply #14 on: June 09, 2016, 04:42:44 PM »

Quote from: Rumpy on June 06, 2016, 04:13:31 AM

That was actually its second name though, this more recent one being the 3rd. The first being the Museum of Man[/img]

Wow, that's also bad ass in a classical sense. I'd agree/argue that Civilization is a better, more modern, name though.
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Rumpy
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« Reply #15 on: June 09, 2016, 08:15:26 PM »

Yeah, to me it invokes a sense of adventure and ancient culture, whereas "history" seems way too broadly defined in the sense of a museum name, not to mention too common.
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