BIG copies the future!

BIG's design for 2 World Trade Center. (wired.com)

BIG’s design for 2 World Trade Center. (wired.com)

Proposed judicial tower for Paris. (Renzo Piano)

Proposed judicial tower for Paris. (Renzo Piano)

It is alleged that Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), the architect selected to design 2 World Trade Center, has engaged in copying the future. Mary Campbell Gallagher, the redoubtable defender of Paris against skyscrapers via SOS Paris, observes that Ingels’s 2 WTC design may have been cribbed from Renzo Piano’s design for a skyscraper in Paris where courtrooms and judges are to be housed – a sort of stacking up of the French judiciary. Gallagher sent me and TradArch a brief description of how the two designs resemble each other:

You recently discussed BIG in comparison with Renzo Piano [“BIG kicks Foster off 2 WTC?”], who you said might be kookier than the reigning Brits. In fact, the shape of BIG’s proposed design for 2 World Trade Center is an almost exact copy of Piano’s national courthouse (TGI) for Paris. I doubt the courthouse in Paris will have a basketball court like the one shown in the 2WTC video. But BIG’s design has exactly the same stepped boxes as Piano’s. It has the same garden terraces. It just plain looks the same. BIG is kooky and original? BIG is uniting Tribeca and the financial district? Hooey.

Soon after depositing her comparison, architectural historian John Massengale wrote on TradArch: “I’d call Piano’s tower different than BIG’s, because it’s much lower and it doesn’t lean.” To which Gallagher replied: “BIG’s building is banal and imitative. Is leaning enough of a difference to make a difference? Certainly to the engineers, but not to me.”

Hanging Gardens of Babylon. (Wikipedia)

Hanging Gardens of Babylon. (Wikipedia)

The buildings are not identical but modern architecture prides itself on the novelty of its designs, and by that standard Ingels may be said to have cheesed Piano’s conception – in a word, copied the future. Of course, Piano may himself have cheesed some predecessor’s conception. Both the Piano and Ingels designs are of the stackbox style, and while Piano’s design lacks the key “leaning tower” effect that Ingels has captured (without proper credit to Pisa, of course), both have proudly copied the pleasant but indubitably clichéd feature of garden balconies rising into the sky on outstepped blocks, each several stories in height. I’ve seen renderings of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon that pick up that theme, and to far greater effect. O Progress, thou deludeth thyself!

SANAA design for New Museum of Contemporary Art, in New York. (archdaily.com)

SANAA design for New Museum of Contemporary Art, in the Bowery district of New York. (archdaily.com)

For that matter, Judith Dupré, author of the marvelous book Skyscrapers (which is almost as tall as one), informs me that SANAA, a recent Pritzker winner, designed a New Museum of Contemporary Art in the Bowery, completed in 2007, that stacks its boxes as well, though it boasts a dandified hip-thrust the others lack, and lacks the others’ balcony gardens. But as Tim Kelly archly points out on TradArch, “If BIG looked to other buildings as precedent, then great!  It’s a step toward the cure.”

Just so! For a disquisition on copying, emulation and invention, see David Mayernik’s new book, The Challenge of Emulation in Art and Architecture, to be reviewed by Philadelphia classicist Alvin Holm in the upcoming edition of Traditional Building.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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