Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Architecture – Finding Middle Ground

Dateline: 10:46 am December 26, 2006 Filed under:

I’m going to discuss architecture. Two separate occasions this past year confirmed to me something that has been on my mind for some time: the balance between “starchitecture” and a quality public realm.  

Peter Calthorpe received the prestigious J.C. Nichols Award at the ULI conference in October. In the course of his acceptance speech and a presentation given earlier in the day, he provided a number of insights about the industry. Most striking was his comment about state of present day architecture. He explained that he was bothered that buildings are either neotraditional in design or “hyper-modern schizsophrenic,” as he put it. Calthorpe explained that we need architecture that is “calm enough to enhance public spaces.” He called them “basic background buildings.”

An phone call from an architect colleague of mine early one recent morning suggested to me that many of us may be thinking the same thing. Sure there is a role for monumental design, as we have witnessed with recent new museums and theaters in many of our cities. And sure, new urbanists sometimes get it wrong by designing buildings that are a little too “Disney-fied” or just simply out of context. With all that said, we agreed that there are some very good recent examples of basic background buildings that are beautiful but not overbearing.

I think this discussion has merit. Look for calmer architecture as the public realm is held in higher regard.

I welcome any commentary on this.

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