Thursday, March 03, 2005

Architecture is not (just) art 

photos by Brian Vander Brug / LA Times

An article in yesterday's LA Times reported on the proposed fix to glare and heat problems caused by architect Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall:

Construction crews are set to take hand sanders to some of the shimmering stainless-steel panels that have wowed tourists and architecture lovers but have baked neighbors in condominiums across the street.

Beams of sunlight reflected from portions of the hall have roasted the sidewalk to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, enough to make plastic sag, cause serious sunburn to people standing on the street and create a hazard to passing motorists, according to a report from a consultant hired by the county to investigate the problem.

This is one of my favorite of Frank Gehry's buildings (would that I could swap it with that monstrosity at the base of the Space Needle), and I'm sorry that these modifications are needed to make this building a better neighbor in its setting. The article continued:

The effort is already setting off a debate about whether it is right to alter one of Los Angeles' architectural landmarks, especially less than 1 1/2 years after the $274-million complex opened.

"It's like putting a little more hair on the Mona Lisa or making her smile a little bigger," said Denise Crouse, who takes in the spectacular view of the hall each morning on her way to work at the downtown offices of PricewaterhouseCoopers. "An artist's work should stay an artist's work."

Whoa... wait a minute here, Ms. Crouse. You've just pushed one of my hot buttons as an architect. While (some) architecture is art - glorious, breathtaking, uplifting art - architecture can not be seen and judged only as art. Architecture is about the creation of space, both inside and outside the buildings that are its end result. Architects, and the buildings they create, have an obligation to be good neighbors... not necessarily pretty, proper neighbors, but certainly not dangerous, thoughtless neighbors.

If this sort of comment came only from non-architects, I'd be happier in this profession. I was glad to read that Gehry's firm did not argue with the changes.

Read the entire LA Times article here.

(Were I these guys, I might have called Ms. Crouse a name. OK, a psychotherapist worth his/her salt might say that I have just called Ms. Crouse an (unspecified) name, but couched it in such a way as to protect my image of myself as someone who does not go in for name-calling. Fine, fine, you've got me there.)