Saturday, April 14, 2007

Hack Infrastructure will abound!

This morning, Steve Litt reports that a world-renown bridge designer, a hired consultant for the Innerbelt project, was basically ignored by ODOT officials and Michael Baker Corp., the firm who will be designing the Innerbelt Bridge. Christian Menn, a Swiss engineer, alleges that the approved solution is not an efficient or particularly elegant design, and that most of his input was dismissed.

BOTC does not know who is in the right concerning the bridge design. But we do have a feeling, based upon looking at Menn’s and Baker’s websites, which entity is more interested in design, and which is interested in all-things infrastructural and not necessarily refined aesthetics. This may be a case of sour grapes on Menn’s part or the exposure of a design + creativity inferiority complex by Baker.

However, here in Cleveland we tend to tolerate and even celebrate the mediocre while dismissing the potentially brilliant and innovative. For example, witness the celebrated mediocrity in Bob Madison’s + KPF’s proposed solution for the Cuyahoga County Complex and the dismissed innovative in Davis Brody Bond’s + Weber Murphy Fox’s solution. For another example, see City Architecture’s proposed food court inspired solution for a renovated Public Square. Both inadequately engage the potential and flux of our future urbanisms and will become monumentally obsolete by the time of their construction.

Again, leaders in the region are allowing a potentially dynamic and unique design opportunity to recede into the overtly ornamental, the empty formalist, the false functional, and utterly normative. The kinds of projects that local authorities and governments are undertaking will exert influences that will span many generations. Unfortunately, BOTC feels that our grandchildren will be wondering what the hell we were thinking.

As Vonnegut would write, "So it goes."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

RIP Kurt Vonnegut

BOTC went on a Vonnegut binge a few years back, practically reading everything this American iconoclast wrote in a few months time. We enjoyed the privileging of the anti-hero in his stories. We enjoyed the absurdities, the sketches, the unique sentences + statements. We tried to correlate the literature to architectureand we are still trying.

RIP, Mr. Vonnegut. I may have to pull-out Bluebeard tonight for old-times sake.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Cuyahoga Monumentality

As we discuss the design of Tim Hagan’s + Jimmy Dimora’s Monument (aka the Cuyahoga County Administration Complex), we must consider what we are wishing to make monumental. Not much if we think about it. Let us explain.

Seats of government are usually inculcated with values + beliefs that define a nation, state, of even a city. Think of the United States Capitol, a democratic edifice fronting a democratic green expanse of the Mall. Think of the many state capitol buildings around the country, each hosting, projecting, or alluding to the essences of their states, like Nebraska’s populist Capitol Building, or more recently, the proposed State of Alaska Capitol. Even think of Cleveland’s City Hall, an important built presence within Tom L. Johnson’s + Daniel Burnham’s Group Plan.

There is pride, blood, sweat, and toil embedded within each of these physical manifestations of democratic government. Soldiers and sailors died in service of the United States and their home states, at least during the Civil War—markers, names, and remembrances can be located within Capitols or on the grounds. City pride resides in the halls of a City Hall building, usually ornamented with murals, statues, etc. which showcase the ethnicities, diversities, and beliefs of a community. These buildings possess meaning and are part of a national, state, or local collective memory that transcends generations.

Do we possess any loyalty or pride that concerns our County? Hardly. A county building will merely contain the excesses of a Democratic patronage system and nepotism. A County Building will remind us of employees who leave work at 4 PM, a bureaucracy that sucks tax dollars away from over-taxed citizens, and an impotent, gluttonous government infrastructure that is continuing to allow residents to leave the county at a clip of 10,000 people a year.

So the new complex should have been programmed to accomplish something, like offer a new paradigm of urbanism, display techniques of the proper manner of the restoration of mid-century modernism, or the re-use of existing urban buildings. There should be a reason to make something “monumental,” other than the presence of an unnecessarily massive bureaucracy.

Friday, April 06, 2007

A Proposed Hack Monument

Rockitecture took great offense to our recent statement that Robert Madison, FAIA is a “local hack architect.” Rockitecture also leveled a potshot at BOTC, questioning our level of education + awareness.

However, in the face of such withering critical fire, we here at BOTC still stand by our original statement since Mr. Madison has not really contributed much original architectural thought or built work in quite a while. Rather, he and his firm have become the bagmen for many government projects, like the current Cuyahoga County Administration complex.

Anyone listening to that debacle on WCPN earlier this week could hear that Mr. Madison’s arguments for the demolition of the existing Breuer Cleveland Trust Tower were as flimsy as his, or actually, Kohn Pederson Fox’s proposed curtain walls. The answers to the many questions offered lacked any substance, narrative, or intellectual profundity. His statements resembled caricatures of bad marketing and surface historicism. Madison’s supposed reasoning for the project + demolition have been contaminated by the grease of local politics and the contamination of a lucrative contract.

BOTC does not question the intestinal fortitude of Mr. Madison and the discrimination he fought + overcame in his early days in Cleveland. However, as we enter a new century and look for true change and progressivism within our local government and design ranks, BOTC believes that we must abandon the old-thinking and closed-door politics that have driven us into the ground. Business, politics, and architecture-as-usual will not alter Cleveland’s downward trajectory.

Instead of being an international leader in the restoration or re-use of a modern master’s office tower, Cleveland will again follow, destroying a historic artifact. Instead of generating knowledge and intellectual capital (with a restoration) that can be exported, leveraged, and earn income and revenue for the region, Cleveland will import and pay for knowledge that earns revenue for other regions.

Tim Hagan is confident that Madison will create a monument. Yes, Madison, or more accurately, KPF will create a monument that will tell of the lack of foresight, intellect, and progressivism that plagued Cleveland in the first decade of the 21st Century.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Some more things . . .

It has been a while since BOTC said anything. We have been really busy with life, practice, and such. But here are a few things worth talking about:

1. The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, like every other "Believe in Cleveland" institution, went once again across the country to find their design talent. The final decision for the museum came down to Denver's Fentress Bradburn and Cleveland's Westlake Reed Leskosky--and the museum decided to send its money to Denver rather than keep it locally.

Again hypocrisy drips from the lips of another instititution that supposively believes in the region, sustainability, and the economic viability of Northeast Ohio. Had the museum awarded Westlake Reed Leskosky the job, the firm could have produced local design intelligence, technique, methods, and systems that could have been exported through other design commissions, therefore bringing more design fees back to the region. Instead the museum will get a bad building, designed by the C-team of an out-of-town architect.

Although these institutions will need to depend upon a burgeoning creative class to bolster their attendanmce, endowments, and efficacy, they are sure doing a bang-up job of alienating local design professionals who actually visit these institutions.

2. Peter Lawson-Jones seems to possess too much intellect, ethics, and reason to be a Cuyahoga County Commissioner. Jimmy Dimora and Tim Hagan are intellectual midgets, political hacks, and stasis-oriented Democrats.

In a 2-1 vote, Dimora + Hagan voted to demolish the Cleveland Trust Tower, designed by a great Bauhaus architect, and to allow a over-hyped local architect to "design" a "monument." So instead of a Breuer, Clevelanders will be receiving a C-team designed project by Kohn Pederson Fox of New York in collaboration with local hack architect, Robert P. Madison. This whole process has been a sham.

BOTC agrees with TOI that we need a transcript of the latest Commissioners' meeting. Dimora flatly lied about many aspects of the design process and the proposals of many of the six architectural teams who presented solutions. Namely, Dimora stated that 5 of the 6 teams suggested that the County needed to demolish the building. However, each team was told that the commissioners wanted the building demolished and they would not be persuaded otherwise.

Once again local political leadership is leading to the futher degradation of our built environment. Let's hope the Peter Lawson-Jones runs for Mayor of Cleveland where he can apply his intellect and passions without the interference of dimwits like Dimora + Hagan.

3. In happier news, Cleveland Public Art is hosting an exhibit of urban speculations for Cleveland and its environs. "Influence + Imposition" exhibits the work of several young architects as each engages with places such as Public Square, Scranton Peninsula, and the region as a whole. An important lesson is to be garnered from the work: architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design can really only be unleashed to engage potentialities with the acquiesence of enlighted political thought, appopriation, and fortitude.