The glass tower lacks context in both aesthetics and climate-- so is the danger homogeneity? Instead of maintaining a local identity, it becomes the same old, same old. On the other hand, are we more inclined to borrow good ideas from other cultures? Here was a culture combination in midtown Manhattan I saw recently.
Well, the International Style/Crystalline Architecture has its good points and bad points. Crystallines (the big glass buildings) had their purpose and their time in the 1970's, 80's and thereabouts. It was an incredible architectural achievement. If you read much architectural history, you will see that pretty much from the invention of windows up through modern times, mankind has been largely striving to achieve two things:
* building higher
* replacing more of the wall with glass
Since building higher means more weight, and more weight means more support, and more support used to mean thicker, stronger walls, which is less room that could be used for glass. They solved this problem with arches, eventually figuring out how to make them require less and less material and allow for more and more windows. This is why you see the arched styles widespread throughout the Old World. People borrowed what worked to get the highest ceilings and the most glass in the walls. Ultimately, though, what changed everything was the ability to produce large sheets of glass and figuring out how to use an interior superstructure to support the weight of the building, and just letting the glass hang off of it. The result, ultimately was that the entire wall, save for what little was needed to seal the panes in place, could be made of glass. What could come out of this would have been truly breathtaking to our architectural forefathers.
See how the building almost appears to be made of the very sky itself? See how graceful and elegant it is in its simplicity? See how, unadorned as it is, it somehow comes across as a magnificent, iconic structure? That would be because it was designed by I.M. Pei. It is The Fountain Place in Dallas, TX. Globalism in architecture need not be dull, nor repetitive, but not everyone can be a brilliantly creative genius either. Not every electrical engineer is going to be a Nikola Tesla, or invent something that changes the world. The vast majority will simply work at some job like a factory that produces radios, or work at a power plant. Not every architect is going to be able to invent. Most will only ever be able to copy. And that is fine, because if all the world were Starchitects, no one would ever be able to afford a new building.
But compare the parallels to Gothic Architecture. Every Old World country you look, you can see Gothic style from early to late, in Cathedrals, Mosques, Synagogues, Public Works, and even Mercantile buildings. You look at a structure and say "Ah, there's another Gothic building." They were the Old World equivalent of the International/Crystalline style, copied many, many, many times over because they got the job done, and did so really well. Occasionally the Gothic structures were improved upon by those architects capable of doing so, but most of the time what worked was merely copied, because it worked.
So... I understand the discontent and discomfort in watching more and more skyscrapers go up that look like every other skyscraper in every other city. But I don't think it's any different than what happened hundreds of years ago, and I certainly don't think it will have a negative impact on architecture in the present or future. The recent trend towards Green Buildings should be proof that we have already passed the Crystalline Age and are moving into the Sustainable Age, which has thrown open the doors to an incredibly diverse style of architecture, and may once again return "local flavor" to communities, as each individual building must address the specific environmental problems of its location.
And, in turn, you will know when the Sustainable Age is on the decline when someone invents a Sustainable building style that works in nearly any climate, and becomes readily adopted worldwide, at which point people will have finally figured out that hurdle, and the next great geniuses will lead the way into the next Age of Architecture. Because we will never stop needing structures, nor will we ever cease our endless demands placed upon them.
I'm just thinking out loud here. It may not directly relate to the topic but I think relevant to the big picture...
What are the global parameters of design? Context, budget, client/user needs and whims, architect's ego and so on (not essentially in this order). Remember I covered the influence of culture/ local building practices, materials and styles under 'context'.
A building could be a shelter, a commodity, a work of art, a landmark, provocative or just another structure (add more labels if you want). There is probably sufficient reason and thought behind every design by the stakeholders (investors, designers, users, public). Labels are generally subjective; like everything else.
We interact with the buildings we live in, work in, visit or walk by. Buildings interact with people both inside and outside. Buildings interact with other buildings and everything else around them. It's a complicated relationship.
Is a building defined by its enclosure? Do we design a house so that we can sit across the street and look at it?
Cultures (and architecture) interact and clash and evolve. That is to be expected. When something works it's adopted and adapted by different people. I think the harsh effects of globalization are more apparent in the corporate world where a building is essentially a commodity or an opulent statement of self worth. A friend who works for a big multinational IT company in the US once travelled abroad to work in the local office for a project. He later commented that this building was identical to his workplace in the US and he sometimes forgot where he was. It works for them - same standards all over the world, easier for employees who move about for different projects and it is cheaper- both in terms of design and maintenance. I once went to the IKEA store in Switzerland and I could spot it from a distance because of the signature blue box style. Once inside, I was able to navigate without any problems because the layout was identical to the US stores. As I mentioned before, there is a reason and thought behind every design. We may judge it based on a particular standard that's important to us but that's probably not the standard that shaped this design. What designers can debate is whether an engineered approach for efficiency is what we really want. On a lighter note, that’s probably why architects (and artists) are paid less than engineers and we’ll always need equally crazy clients with deep pockets to build something really inefficient and awesome :-)
Quite complex responses, and as for myself, I can't put my thoughts on the issue into a neat little bundle with a bow.
I appreciate architecture which suits its context, but wouldn't want to see it limited by its context.
I also love when a structure transforms its context, but transforming it suggests it is in some way interacting with it. Even in that circumstance design should makes sense for a location. All too often I see houses which could be Anywhere USA, which suit neither the climate nor the family living within. Instead, it suited the builder. The architect's goal should be to sneak in as much design as possible, in both interior and exterior, and then hope the client values it enough to pay a bit extra for its construction. In the end, doing so could distinguish one structure as more desirable than another down the road. Could those designs borrow good ideas from other areas of the world? Why not, if it makes sense for that location. I think back to an exchange about a picture I posted and whether or not the wall of windows would work in Greece with the intense sunlight. It gave me a new perspective on implementing design choices in different locations. On one block in Manhattan, there were at least three distinct design eras represented in a row. Individually I'm not sure any of them are of any aesthetic interest, but it is the combination which makes the street unique.
In terms of the Gothic cathedrals, people spent years crafting them, so even if the overall aesthetic was similar to others around Europe, the handcraft made each resonate differently. They took so long to make that they didn't pop up along every spare patch of earth, nor did they make themselves into every neighborhood around the globe, basically limited to one geographical region. Joseph Campbell says you can tell what a culture values based on the largest building it creates for it. As we look around the world and at different eras, it might give us pause to think about what we value and how long it will last.
I should probably mention that I'm not a huge fan of Crystalline Architecture, I more admire the historical pinnacle of what it achieved, leaving us free to pursue other architectural interests at last. In my last post, I merely played the advocate for the sake of balance.
I pretty much agree with most everything both of you said, so I won't reiterate those particular points. Rather, I'll skip to the points I differ on. Keep in mind, though, I am only a student at this point, not a professional, so both my education and experience in the subject won't be nearly as comprehensive as either of you. I have some knowledge of engineering though, and it seems that's the approach I'm taking with me into the field at the moment.
As regards artistic=inefficient and efficient=bland, I disagree.
I also disagree that the architect's goal should be to sneak in as much design as possible.
But here is my case for disagreement:
Antoine de Saint-Exuper declared that "Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." Louis Sullivan insisted that "form follows function." Ultimately the job of the architect is to separate space. The Taoist concept of "de" teaches us that it is the empty space itself that has power and usefulness, not the container itself. For example, it is the hollow of a bowl that gives a bowl its use, meaning, and power, not the bowl itself. Lastly, Wright gave the revalation that architecture should be organic in that it should emulate nature, and work to be harmonious with the environment.
An architect who lives by these precepts need not add undue adornment or inexplicable inefficiency to make his or her creation unique and beloved. The very act of separating space in a way that is most useful to anyone who would ever occupy it, and keeping it in harmony with the surroundings, should in and of itself be the reward.
Take for instance, Rocas Rojas (Red Rocks), by one of my favorite architects, Deigo Villaseñor.
Here is a house that achieves all of the above, has no excess adornment, is efficient, and yet no one could call it bland, unimaginative, or lacking in local character. Rather than bending the will of the client to the architect's wishes, instead the will of the client is realized in a way they might never have thought to wish for. At the same time, it leaves the occupant of the space the ability to realize their own style and decor without the limitation of overly specific facades and interior accoutrement. The power of this building, thus, comes from the space it creates, not from the building itself.
This is an interesting discussion. Only thing missing is cold beer :)
Coming back to the original question - There is a hidden aspect of globalization that impacts architecture - outsourcing.
I will talk specifically about outsourcing in architecture. And again - I’m not judging.
I have seen it done in two ways -
One - a large architecture firm opens a satellite office in another country to handle CD production where labor cost is cheaper. Over time this office starts going after local projects thereby impacting the local architecture directly.
Two – A large architecture firm outsource production of CDs to a third party that gets it done in a place where labor is cheaper. Some of the talented employees who get trained well in new detailing methods, materials, design approach will eventually move on and start their own local practice impacting local architecture indirectly.
And then there is direct intervention, when architects go to other countries to design like what’s happening now in China and Dubai. Le Corbusier’s design for the city of Chandigarh in India irrespective of whether you are a critic or an admirer affected an entire generation of local architects and their work.
Some clarification on what I said about sneaking in design. Good design need not be about adding flourish or unnecessary adornment-- our firm prefers athletic expression of materials, but it is functional in the process--so we absolutely offer it as a possibility to the client-- something better than they imagine-- so I think Brandon and I are in agreement on this point.
However it can be more costly to use high quality materials (which are often the key detail in a simple design) and to engineer a more unique roofline. Some builders (and clients) may be intimidated in trying to build something unknown to them, something innovative, so they tack on extra cost for that alone. Not all, but some.
While in the car today I wondered about this topic-- which in itself suggests its merit-- and if Ronchamp would be the same in another location-- or Bilbao-- or Philip Johnson's glass house-- or my own house... plunk my house in another part of the globe-- would it function in the same way?
And then I was thinking about anthropologists who inadvertently alter the lifestyle of the society they are studying. Obviously an foreign body influences the overall organism, like sand in an oyster becoming a pearl-- the organism reacts to the outside influence.
So I was glad Vishal mentioned Le Corbusier. I confess to not knowing enough about his urban design, but suffice to say it is so much more involved than a single structure-- it really drives the lives of many people. I'd like to know more about the impact it had on the future local architects. I remember when Robert Graves first planned Disney's town-- Celebration, right? People couldn't have red curtains in the window-- there was that much control over the space.
I also love living in an area that has a lot of diversity. I teach students who are from all over the world-- first generation, second generation and each student brings a piece of his or her culture into the discussion. Their customs, their language-- it all adds a dimension to our overall experience. And would New York City be what it is if it wasn't for globalization? Isn't that precisely the discourse archisage offers with people from all over? But conversely, isn't it also interesting to go to a place whose culture is cohesive and intact? It gives it a sense of place.
As for outsourcing, we are a small firm so I can't speak much to the issue. I've read The World Is Flat, so I know it's a reality for many industries and architectural firms-- and there is an argument that outsourcing allows firms to focus more on the design end of things, but clearly this is oversimplifying the issue.
As long as we're placing drink orders, I'll have an Irish Whiskey, LOL.
Sorry it took me so long to respond. Literally every time I sat down to write out a response, something IRL would happen. My favorite was when the machine crashed on me halfway through. Let's see if I can make it all the way through to a proper conclusion this time.
Globalization as you both describe it, has the potential for both good and bad effects, depending on whether one has done an ethnography to take local customs into account. And it need not even be around the world, it could be the difference between two states, or even two cities, so long as the culture is sufficiently different.
I'm not even certain if this is a real term, but I think the best results of non-local architecture can only come from something I call "anthropological architecture". I wish I could remember the name of the Native American tribe, it might have been Navajo, but I remember the story quite clearly.
In essence, this tribe found itself in the same predicament a lot of tribes do these days, their ways were dying off, the houses they lived in were largely unsatisfying, and depression and alcoholism were a growing epidemic. The tribe voted to develop some of the land on the reservation for new homes and hired an architect who was sympathetic to the problems they were experiencing. Rather than just designing homes based off book knowledge, she underwent an ethnography. She lived among various tribal members for a while, tried to find out all the customs she could, and educate herself as to the where other architecture had failed to provide a satisfying home. If she'd simply asked "what kind of home would make you happy," they would not have been able to answer.
It was only through constant exposure to modern tribal customs, manners, taboos, and so forth, that she was able to discover why current housing had been so unsatisfying. In this tribe, visiting each other's homes is a constant. It is an ingrained method of reinforcement for social relationships. Further, tribal members do not wait for the door to be answered before entering a home during certain hours. Rather, they know if the person is home (because most of the locals know each other's hours), then they knock, open up the door, and look around. If there is another resident within eyesight, they enter and converse. If no one is in sight, they leave, even if they know the person is home. So the first consideration for the new houses was to make sure that most areas of the house were in view of the inside part of the front door.
Also in the tribe, one is expected to always have food ready for guests if one is expecting them. Further, the guest and the homemaker must be in eyesight of each other the entire time. So not only did the kitchen itself need to be within view of the front door, but it needed to be arranged so that one could continue cooking while still facing the guest.
As inconsequential as these types of social rules may seem, every society has these types of protocols in one form or another: Japanese and Chinese custom typically dictates one removes shoes at the front door, so flooring must take this into account. Mexican customs involve many, many events involving dozens of people in the front or back yard, so the volume of traffic and comfort zones surrounding the landscaping must be taken into account. Many Texas neighborhoods have a custom of sitting on the front porch in the evenings to converse with passerby, so the porch and its visibility from the street needs extra consideration.
A house that does not satisfy the unspoken protocols of one's local culture will ultimately detract from the possibility of a happy home. Of course in America, we have the added problem of a huge social and legal taboo about asking what ethnicity will be living in the area. If you ask a developer or real estate agent "So, will there be many Mexicans living in this neighborhood?" they will not only look at you in shock that you would ask such a thing, but will vehemently deny that ethnicity is even a remote consideration in development...
And yet it MUST be, if one is to design a satisfying home to the inhabitants. This is a classic example of tatemae and honne (self-evident truth vs. society's expectations) in conflict with one another. Without taking an anthropological approach to architecture, we cannot possibly create good designs.
If a global architectural firm took the approach of "anthropological architecture" with their satellite office, then the new innovations and technologies they bring from their home countries might very well be a good thing for that society. But if they take the default ethnocentric view that what's good for the goose is good for the gander, then the structures they create for the local populations of their satellite offices will be unsatisfying and will negatively impact the location they build in.