STARCHITECTS vs. LOCATECTS

In a recent essay in The New York Times’ T Magazine called By Design: The Franchising of Architecture, critic Witold Rybczynski questioned whether globalization has been good for architecture. Has the result been cities populated with buildings designed by “imported architects just passing through town” with little knowledge of the history, climate, or how that particular town works? Do architects design better buildings on their own turf?

Accompanying the story is an interesting and fun quiz with a series of photos that pairs two buildings by the same architect – including Norman Foster, who designed Calgary’s Bow – and asks readers to guess the one built in the architect’s home city/country.  The following is a brief excerpt from the article…

“Is globalization good for architecture?
Decide for yourself in this quiz, which pairs two buildings by the same architect, one in his native country (or city) and one elsewhere. Can you tell which one is which? And more importantly, which one do you prefer?”

 

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(Refer back to the article for details on each pairing of photos including the architect’s name and the locations of each building)

It’s a conversation very relevant to Calgary right now, as lately we’ve been on a bit of a Starchitect binge.

It’s hard to dispute Rybczynski’s argument that to be able to design in a place, you have to know all the nooks and crannies, and experience the location instinctively. Utilizing new technology like google earth has nothing over experiencing a place first-hand and perhaps it is time for some cities to choose local talent over superstars who, like tourists, have only briefly visited. That said, there’s no denying that Calgary’s urban landscape has greatly benefited by the spate of new projects designed by renowned, international architects. Before Calatrava’s Peace Bridge and Foster’s Bow – to name just two – Calgary’s tired skyline needed help. These guys raised the bar and it was necessary.

Still, Rybczynski’s comments released a flood of opinions, so much so that a month later the Times put the question to four writers and critics to debate the matter further. Interested archiphiles can read that discussion here: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/07/28/are-the-star-architects-ruining-cities-9

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Blog Cover Photo:  A roster of celebrity architects: clockwise from center, Rem Koolhaas, Jean Nouvel, Santiago Calatrava and Frank Gehry.

Photo Credits: Illustration by Wes Duvall, clockwise, from center, photographs by Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times; Herbert P. Oczeret/European Pressphoto Agency; Suzanne Dechillo/The New York Times; Stephanie Diani for The New York Times

Categories: Architecture

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