‘Tis the season to wax mirthful about the architecture of the previous year. Here are the favorites of ArchDaily.com, “The Best Architecture of the Year: Most Viewed Projects,” summarized and presumably selected according to popularity among its readership, and then deployed according to the months of the calendar. The one above, by Herzog & de Meuron (though it might equally be the work of Jeanne Gang), is No. 5 (May) on the list. But whether that represents the building the most frequently viewed in the fifth month, or the one placed in the May spot because it was viewed fifth most frequently during the year, is unclear. More clear is its superiority to the even more tedious modernist buildings in this Beirut scene.
Called “Beirut Terraces,” its conceit is that its floors have been stacked with feigned ineptitude. Perhaps it is supposed to represent the stability of Lebanese politics. In any event, this sets it apart from its plain vanilla envelope neighbors. O, sad, sad Beirut! Once queen of the eastern Mediterranean, it remains still the playground of Araby, but with the meaning of play transfigured. It used to be a fun place where the latter-day sheiks went to consume the liquor, cards and dames forbidden by their home societies. Now it is merely a silly place, except for the violence of its modern culture and politics.
In fact, towers are modern architecture at its best, which is none too good but if the cityscape is already marred beyond repair, a skyline of modernist skyscrapers can be interesting. The “wow factor” of Beirut Terraces and its ilk fades pretty fast, of course, and most observers experience towers from street level anyway, where they not only kick up a high wind-tunnel effect that chills the feels-like temperature (not much of a problem in Beirut) but generates a psychic coldness that suits its depressing physical allure – where it probably makes achieving the compromise so elusive in Lebanon even more dodgy.
Of course, what specifically generates the popularity of this building as distinguished from the buildings representing the other months of the year is anyone’s guess. Modern architecture has no real architectural language. It is arguably over a century old, so it has no excuse for this lapse. How would a jury of designers select a winner from among the dozen pieces of architecture on the ArchDaily calendar? Again, hard to say, which is probably why the choice is reduced to a popularity contest.
When you’re done smirking at this purposely wobbly confection, scroll back two months to the March favorite, also my favorite. It is called Colonial House Recovery on 64th Street, by Nauzet Rodriguez, on the Yucatan in Mexico. It seems as if they’ve turned a roofless, about to be demolished house into a restaurant, leaving the walls standing and generally farting up only those parts of the ruin where they decided to put a roof back on after all. Bless them, the architects, for they have sinned against modernist practice by refusing to junk up the streetscape itself. How did this building ever get on this list of “best” buildings?
Between these two is the April favorite, Lascaux IV, by Snøhetta, which seems to be a parody of work by the late Zaha Hadid, a flash of lightening on siesta in Montignac, on the Dordognes region of France. The best I can say of it, beyond the tickle to one’s ribs, is that it does not appear to trash any already existing townscape; instead it seems to lie along the edge of the village.
To inflict on yourself the other ArchDaily selections, click the link above.
As is true of all modern architecture, high quality or low, no imagination whatsoever is required to conjure up a traditional building that would suit the situation better than any modernist “solution.” A traditional or classical building would do a better job of fitting the location, matching the massing, reaching the height, fulfilling the purpose, utilizing the climate, assuring the sustainability, minimizing the cost and outstripping the beauty of any modernist proposal. That’s because traditional and classical architecture benefit from a language built up by experience in design and construction over centuries of practice. Because of this, it can be judged by a jury more carefully, with actual standards, than the 52-card-pickup methodology forced upon a jury in a contest among modernist structures.
I will try, tomorrow or the day after, to make up for depressing the reader’s spirits with this post by posting a more uplifting collection of best traditional buildings of 2017.