This startling proposal of a supertallsuperthin residential tower showed up on TradArch the other day, sent by David Rau, who objects to the machined element of its ornament. His email set off a long debate about natural and unnatural materials in architecture. A deeply interesting question, but some might be wondering what I, as dedicated as anyone on this planet to the sheer idea of ornament, think of the eagle-bedecked edifice. I have been biding my time, but at last I think I’ll dare to posit a reaction:
Ich schmeck dreck. Ridiculous, yes. But no, not boring.
At least the architect, Mark Foster Gage, is thinking along lines other than the usual glass box or goofball whirly-swirlygig highrise. Gage, a professor and dean at Yale’s school of architecture, is supposedly both a protégé of Robert A.M. Stern and a former drudge of Frank Gehry.
Talk about burning a candle at both ends!
The website 6sqft.com posted “Could This Otherworldly 102-Story Tower Covered in Ornaments be Coming to 57th Street?” by Ondel Hylton, with a profusion of illustrations – necessary because it seems Gage has tried to attach a bit of everything, not just eagles but gears, propellers, all but the kitchen sink, to the façade of his supposedly proposed tower in Manhattan. Ornament can be, as they say, overdone. Hylton writes:
Gage says constructing entire surfaces of ornament is entirely possible since by making things robotically you can create forms with an unlimited amount of detail at the same price as doing something flat.
Nice thought, perhaps, but this might push me even further toward what Andrés Duany – who considers the design’s mere existence a rebuke to “doctrinaire” classicism – calls the camp of the Palladiophiles. Palladio, the Renaissance architect, was not besotted by ornamentation. His palazzos do not swim in embellishment. He knew proportion. He knew propriety. Gage does not pretend to be Palladio, but he knows neither.
I have yet to see a set of rules of propriety that does not beg to be violated – Palladio himself violated his own rules regularly – or at least to be toyed with. Despite appearances, Gage’s tower is not toying with the rules, he is aiming a bazooka at them. Maybe there’s a bazooka somewhere in his design. More likely his design is a bazooka, aimed at the very idea of ornament, whether orthodox or heterodox. His proposal does not seem to have actually been officially proposed. It is merely out there in the blogosphere. Maybe Gage is modernism’s Saul Alinsky.
Below is a building with what some (not I) might call excessive ornament that does not come close to the sins committed by the Gage tower.