Exploring The Built Environment: Always Look Back

By Barron Schimberg, AIA

Recently, my wife Patty and I visited the High Line, an elevated park running along Manhattan’s west side. Converted from a historic freight rail line, the High Line is an extraordinary and popular public space. As we walked north, we were reminded of the following:

  • Even in a major city like New York, there is always a different perspective from a pedestrian eye.
  • Urban oddities create visual stimulation and unique moments that provide opportunities in our lives for creativity and enjoyable experiences.
  • Always look back. As we walked past buildings and saw what was in front of us, we often turned around and looked at what we had passed. When we did, we saw completely different shapes, moments, and spaces.

What fascinated me the most about the High Line was the experience that this park provides pedestrians:

  • The opportunity to sit over a roadway and watch cars go by, like birds sitting on a wire.
  • The view between two multi-story buildings of wires, cables, ductwork, and windows creating a quilt-like patchwork of shapes and lines.
  • A peek into the mind of an architect or sculptor or an artist about how they chose to express an aesthetic, not at eye level, but at 30 feet above grade.

The question for me is: How many amazing experiences are out there in other cities that we are either missing, or could create?

Fun sculpture on a roof

Modern architecture juxtaposed with a 20th century building. Seeing it at 30-ft. above grade lets you truly experience the two styles.

Space between two buildings

Modern glazing juxtaposed with old, industrial building mass

I shot the photos above as we walked in the High Line. To glimpse other views from the park, visit the Image Galleries section on the official High Line website.

LINK

The High Line

Public Debates about ‘Eyesores’ in Art and Architecture

By Barron Schimberg, AIA

Reading about a public debate surrounding genuinely historic architecture in a village in New York got me thinking about the lively debate we’ve been having in Sarasota about a highly visible piece of art that has a tenuous tie-in to history.

Debating Brutalist Architecture in Goshen, NY

Robin Pogrebin, who reports on culture issues for the New York Times, has written articles about an architecture-related debate among residents and preservationists in Goshen, NY. (Goshen is a village of about 5500 people located 50 miles from New York City.) After the Orange County Government Center building in Goshen was closed due to storm damage last fall, some government officials and area residents recommended demolishing the blocky, concrete building. They regard it as an eyesore in their quaint village, known for its picturesque Main Street and Greek revival, federal, and Victorian houses.

Orange County Government Center, Goshen, NY. Photo: JosephA on Flickr

Preservationists are horrified that the building might be torn down. That’s because the Orange County Government Center was designed by celebrated modernist architect Paul Rudolph. Completed in 1967, the building is a prime example of the brutalist style of architecture.  In her article, Pogrebin explains that the brutalist style “rejected efforts to prettify buildings in favor of displaying the raw power of simple forms and undisguised building materials.”

In the article, Goshen resident and trained architect Patricia Turner argues that the brutalist-style building should be viewed as part of the area’s history, because it “reflects a snapshot in time in the late ‘60s and ‘70s when our history was turbulent. Isn’t that just as relevant as something that happened in 1868?”

Pop-Art Public Statue:  Tacky or Historic?

In some ways the “eyesore vs. historic gem” battle in Goshen reminds me of a public debate we’re having in Sarasota about the 26-foot-tall “Unconditional Surrender” statue by artist Seward Johnson. In 2010, a World War II veteran put up $500,000 to buy the statue on the condition that the statue remain displayed in a highly visible location on the Sarasota bayfront.

Some people in our city love the “Unconditional Surrender” sculpture. Others ridicule it.

Some Sarasota residents and visitors may see the aluminum sculpture as “historic” because it reminds us of the many soldiers and sailors who left home to serve their country in World War II.

But other members of the Sarasota region regard the statue as a cheesy piece of pop art that is simply a supersized rendition of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s iconic photograph, “V-J Day in Times Square.” I have witnessed visitors and tourists taking their photographs under the statue while gazing upwards, under the nurse’s dress.

Because the sculpture is located in such a prime, heavily trafficked spot, some people have started referring to it as Sarasota’s “tackiest landmark.” This raises the question: Would we (as a community) willingly choose the “Unconditional Surrender” sculpture to become the most widely viewed visual representation of Sarasota’s flourishing arts scene?

On April 28, area critics cheered when a driver accidentally smashed into the statue, requiring it to be dismantled and returned to the sculptor for repairs. But according to news reports, the veteran who donated the statue to the city hopes to have it back in Sarasota by August 14, the anniversary of VJ-Day.

Personally, I don’t mind that the “Unconditional Surrender” sculpture has provoked public debate.  Art will always be subjective—some people will love works that others despise.  Is architecture a form of art?  Is a sculpture representative of a photograph, artwork?  Is graffiti artwork?

What Do You Think?

In my opinion, the truly historic brutalist building should be preserved—even if it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the community. Destroying it would be like wrecking ancient Greek buildings to make way for new structures that would blend with modern Athens.

As for the “Unconditional Surrender” statue in Sarasota, I would prefer to see it displayed in a less prominent location. It represents one man’s desire to pay for a sculpture.  If it was in his backyard, that seems fair.  If it was displayed in an alley, that seems appropriate.

We live in a community that values and displays all forms of art.  But I agree with those who wonder whether we really want this particular sculpture to become a symbol of art in Sarasota at the most prominent corner in our town.

So, what’s your opinion? Should we strive to give extra visibility to art simply because it reminds us of a historic event?  Or, should we work harder to preserve architecture as an art form that reflects our culture at different periods in history?

LINKS

NY Times: Unloved Building in Goshen, NY Prompts Debate on Modernism

NY Times: A Reprieve for Goshen’s Damaged Modernist Misfit

Sarasota Statue Trucked Away for Repairs

Are Apple Stores Too ‘Pane-ful’?

By Barron Schimberg, AIA

In his biography “Steve Jobs,” Walter Isaacson devotes an entire chapter (Chapter 29) to describing Steve’s involvement in the design of Apple’s retail stores. According to the book, “the architectural firm of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson designed the signature stores, but Jobs made all of the major decisions.” He wanted the store to “become the most powerful physical expression of the brand” and control the customer experience of buying an Apple product in a store.

Isaacson reports that in the newest stores Jobs insisted on replacing 18 smaller panes of glass with four huge panes made from newer technology. He says design-team member Ron Johnson told him that Steve’s goal was to build a glass box with fewer elements, because “it’s better, it’s simpler, and it’s at the forefront of technology. That’s where Steve likes to be, in both his products and his stores.”

Recently, an 83-year-old woman sued Apple for $1 million after she broke her nose walking into the door in an Apple store in Manhasset, Long Island. According to news reports, her lawyer is blaming modern high-tech architecture.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIez3iwZ92s?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

This incident surely wasn’t the type of customer experience Jobs was envisioning.

Blaming the architecture is absurd.

In my opinion, this is simply a reflection of our litigious society. PR-conscious, financially healthy companies such as Apple seem to attract an unusually high share of frivolous lawsuits.

What’s your take? Should modern architecture be blamed for an accident that could just as easily happen in any building with sparkling clean glass doors?

LINKS:

CNET: Women breaks nose on Apple store, sues for $1 million

“Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson

When Pen Meets Paper

ABOVE- INK AND MARKER SKETCH FOR A PROPOSED RESIDENCEINK SKETCHES FOR VARIOUS COMMERCIAL AND RESIDENTIAL PROJECTS

If you’ve ever seen children drawing, you’ve probably noticed how they become completely engaged with their imagined world. Like children, architects draw an imagined world—a world yet to be realized. To better form these yet-to-be-realized works of architecture, many architects study the existing buildings around them. Sketching helps reveal underlying principles that inform the architecture designed today.
-Eric Jenkins, AIA – ‘Try Your Hand at Architectural Sketching’

In our experience, even with the high-tech capabilities of the computer, AutoCad and other graphic programs, every project begins with a sketch.  It is the architect’s only true tool to allow, from inception, ideas to flow and creativity to thrive.  The pen (or pencil) and subsequent sketches, act as the catalyst for future development and evolution of the project.  Details are brought to light, planning intricacies are exposed and concepts are thought through.  The pen is definitely mightier than the sword, or in this case, the computer.
– Barron Schimberg, AIA
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