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spenser1058

What Good Can a Gehry Do?

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http://penguinrandomhouse.ca/hazlitt/longreads/what-good-can-gehry-do

 

This is a great longread on whether "starchitecture" can transform a city. Author Simon Lewsen suggests Frank Gehry's Guggenheim in Bilbao may have, but that may be the exception to the rule.

 

"The Bilbao effect has given rise to the Bilbao fallacy: the tendency, among politicians, boosters, and investors, to claim that a single expensive building will somehow alter a city’s identity, even though such transformations are more the exception than the rule."

 

Instead, "...the qualities that elevate a city above its peers tend to be more diffuse, less iconic: think of Boston’s buried highways, London’s 500 km of under- and over-ground transit lines, or Sydney’s slew of repurposed heritage buildings."

 

Which once again reminds me that what makes downtown Orlando so unique is its close-in neighborhoods cheek to jowl with the ever-more pedestrian-friendly core.  Could it be that, with the completion of the first round of the venues (for the Dr. Phil's sake, let's HOPE it's just the first round), our efforts might be best concentrated on what makes us something special by plussing our neighborhoods instead of hoping for the vertical monument that may never come?

 

That also reminds me that when the legendary William Whyte was brought to town by Mayor Bill back in the '80's, his takeaway of what made Orlando interesting was the neighborhoods like Lake Davis/Cherokee.

 

If so, it might be ironic that the most-maligned mayor of recent times, Glenda, may have actually understood the key to success for our burgeoning burg than anyone else.

 

Thoughts?

 

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Where to begin. Yes, most of the time, it is not worth it. Bilbao is the exception not the rule in my opinion. DPAC and Amway are important for what goes on the inside, not the exterior. This is not to say that we should ignore the exterior, but the focus should always be on what takes place in a city, not what it looks like. 

 

Big name architects are more important in cities where it is necessary to stand out. But I think it is not necessary. On the public side, the focus should be on roads, crime prevention, and a fair tax structure. Keeping up the maintenance on our brick streets (and not taking a year to do construction on summerlin), maintaining an adequate number of parks and public space, and focusing on all methods of transportation will keep me happy. 

 

If and owner wants to stand out with a crazily designed building, I say we embrace that person and let them spend their money as they see fit. 

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I'm not quick to throw away the aesthetic value of a building; although, I think that is central to the point.  Mainly, starchitecture is inherently adverse to the local surrounding vernacular style, it has to be because the central theme to these structures is that you can easily name drop it's creator in the same way you would a Warhol, a Lichtenstein, or a Giger work.

 

Starchitecture is also nothing new -- HH Richardson was doing it, and doing it well, way back in the mid-1800s.  His style, Richardson Romanesque, is as popularized as anything by Gehry or Calatrava today.  You can easily walk the streets of Boston, Albany, Buffalo, or Northampton, and spot the Richardson.  

 

I think the reason why the "Bilbao Effect" is a fundamentally flawed idea rests in Bilbao itself...namely, Bilbao was never really that flawed to begin with.  It was a sleepy yet urban city in Basque country with great vernacular architecture in a country filled with cities just like it.  It was a overlooked gem all along.  This doesn't translate in the same way to most places, especially those that struggle with identity.  Just imagine if a Gehry was built in Tampa, that would be like a UFO landing in a Walmart parking lot.  Neither would understand how to communicate with the other, so they wouldn't.

 

Back to Orlando, I think all effort must remain focused on building up the urban environment and pulling in the missing pieces -- retail, more extensive mass transit, greater residential density, a concentrate of jobs downtown in science and academia, and a profound focus on the "local aesthetic" (aka the brick streets, the pedestrian scaled neighborhoods, preservation of historic buildings, etc.),  If in the process we get a building downtown designed by Gehry, hopefully he'll be kind enough to incorporate a CVS pharmacy into the ground floor retail space!

Edited by prahaboheme
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Gehry or not....I think an iconic building give the city an identity. I can think of many building that define the city. Here are some example

 

Sydney ....the opera house

London ... big ben

Seattle ... space needle

Kuala Lumpur ..PETRONAS twin tower

 

It gives the city something unique to brand it.

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Sunshine, your post has got me thinking about this even more.  And all I've been able to come up with is a question:

 

While all those buildings are identifiable by city name, do they provide the city in reference with an identity or help to define that identity in a meaningful way?  Compare this, to say, an image of a Charleston Row, a SoHo cast iron facade, a Savannah square, or a Miami Beach art deco building.  I ask this as I think about Orlando, a city that already has one of the most easily recognizable buildings in the entire world.

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