Everywhere this last year, we heard the call for a return to order, normalcy, the bland, and the fearful. Herewith are ten examples, in no particular order, of such disheartening events from 2014—and ten things that give me hope.
Reasons to Despair 1. The demolition of the American Folk Art Museum in New York, by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects. Idiosyncratic both in layout and facade--and absolutely breathtaking. The MoMA monolith keeps inflating its mediocre spaces; I despair and wonder if Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) will be able to rescue it from almost a century of bad and too-big boxes.
2. The defeat of Bjarke Ingels Group’s proposals for the Kimball Art Museum in Park City, Utah. The second proposal was already less exciting than the first, an award-winning, spiraling log cabin, but even the lifted-skirt box caused too many heart palpitations for the NIMBYists.
4. The Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition, leading to the selection of banal finalists
5. President Xi’s call for an end to “weird” architecture. What is truly weird is the amount of mass-produced boxes in which China is imprisoning its inhabitants and workers
6. Prince Charles’ recitation of the kind of architecture that makes him feel good. The ideas are very sensible, actually, but a beginning, not an end [Ed. note: The linked article may appear behind a paywall. Another reporting of Prince Charles' 10 design principles may be found here.]
7. Ground Zero. Actually, almost a farce since it was a tragedy that now has turned into just a dumb and numbing reality
8. The New York Times’ abandonment of serious criticism of architecture
9. The reduction of architecture to a catalog of building parts in the Venice Biennale’s Elements exhibition
10. A proposal from Peter Zumthor, Hon. FAIA, for a new LACMA building that looks as weird as all the other buildings proposed and built there, but is just a curved version of a pompous museum isolated from its site. It is a mark of our refusal to realize that sometimes reuse—of which LACMA’s recent history is an excellent example—is better than making monuments
Reasons for Hope
1. The addition to the Stedelijk Museum of Art in Amsterdam: a strangely beautiful and effective bathtub
2. The renovation of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam—though not its Louvre-wannabe entrance
3. The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s plan to go gloriously underground
4. The Smithsonian’s plan to do the same
5. The Belgian Pavilion exhibition at the Venice Biennale: looking reality in the eyes and making beauty out of it
6. Cliff Richards rollerskating through Milton Keynes in the same; ah, the joys of modernism
7. Ma Yansong’s proposal for the Lucas Museum in Chicago—especially after the horrible neo-classical proposal the same institution tried to foist on San Francisco; though this oozing octopus sure looks like it could use some refinement, or maybe a rock to hide part of it
8. The spread of bicycling sharing in cities like Barcelona and around the world, if for no other reason than that this way of movement gives us a completely different perspective on our urban environment
9. The spread of drones, ditto the above, plus they finally make real those helicopter fly-through videos architects have been devising for years
10. The emergence of tactical urbanism into the mainstream, as heralded by the MoMA exhibition Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities. I hope that shows the way for the next year
Aaron Betsky is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.