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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

How to ruin places with architecture

I'm fed up of architects ruining perfectly good places with their architecture.

Let's try not to think, for the moment, about the Sixties monstrosities that were erected on the ruins of beautiful old Georgian and Victorian buildings across the cities of Ireland and Britain.

The Sixties really have quite a lot to answer for in retrospect. For more on this argument, feel free to track down BBC 4's splendid documentary on why the Sixties were actually total shit.

No, I'm more animated about contemporary architecture, which despite knowing almost nothing about it I tend to quite like, largely because it so often is used to replace dreadful concrete Stalin-baroque Sixties architecture which I loathe.

However, plonking some cleverly shaped, interestingly lit building on the site of a half-derelict tower block or concrete wall of council flats is one thing.

But erecting preposterous constructions in scenic environments where they totally destroy all of the existing ambience is another entirely.

Examples? It's probably easier to say what's good than what isn't sometimes. The London Gherkin is good - eye-catching yet functional and fits into its environment (the financial city) while still being quirky enough to attract attention.

What else is good? Much of the Dublin docklands, actually. Wandering around that end of town a decade ago was to take your life in your hands.

And when the Flugeltent is in operation, or in the middle of Octoberfest, it probably still is a bit hairy down there.

But few could claim with a straight face that the buildings of the docklands and IFSC area haven't improved immensely what was a rundown and decrepit area.

And what's shit? There's a lot of shit actually. Most of the ghost estates and apartment blocks are empty for more than the simple reason that they were built in the middle of nowhere in a ponzi boom. They're also empty because they look shit and no one sane would want to live in buildings looking like that.

Of course architects will smugly claim that those estates and blocks were actually designed without reference to their stellar professional abilities, and were lashed together by builders with no sense of design.

And they'd be right. But in response, I generally just show them this picture of a winery built by superstar architect Frank Gehry in Spain, and then they go very quiet indeed.

Here is how to ruin places with architecture:

Fucking horrible thing to do to a beautiful landscape, isn't it?

Architects - they've a lot of crimes to answer for, you know.


Twenty Major said...

Worst building in Dublin?

At the top of the canal at Inchicore, I think it's Davitt Road. A skinny apartment building ... truly awful. Beyond redemption. I think it's still empty.

attic luddite said...

See: all of Ashtown. Ugly and 100% soul-free.

JC Skinner said...

If you travel on the Longford line out of Dublin, it goes along the Royal Canal past Ashtown (there's even a train stop there.)
If you look past the canal towards Ashtown, you can actually see the point where the Celtic Tiger ran out of puff.
On the country or Kildare side of Ashtown, there is a series of apartment blocks fronting the railway line and canal.
As you pass the station heading to the city, there is one last half-finished block of apartments, then another which has HUGE for sale signs everywhere, then it's green fields till you hit the industrial estates of Finglas.
Had the property boom continued to boom for another few months, that gap probably wouldn't exist now, but would prop up yet another empty ugly block.
For myself, though, I've never seen anywhere as horrible as Ongar.

truthisfree said...

I kinda like the one in your pic, bit like a contemporary Gaudi, but I do agree about the terrible quality of architecture in Dublin and outlying towns, really painful on the eye. Will make great slums in years to come, about 5 or 6 as things are going!

David said...

Not only did they inflict monstrosities on us in the 1960s, they are now listing them so we can't knock them down. I'm thinking of Centre Point in London, for example.

ikonic said...

Ruining places is what Ghery set out
to do in the first place. An architecture that will challenge our
traditional sensibility and modify our aesthetic readings just like Dali's paintings. Ever thought about
capturing moods emotions and musings on canvas or crystallization like in architecture. Contemporary architecture is burdened with "ruining places" otherwise how would our inner depths and aspirations be expressed. ikpe

JC Skinner said...

Maybe architecture shouldn't be seeking to express our 'inner depths'?