July 31, 2014

Ugly Buildings?

October is Architecture Month, and we’re putting a panel discussion for it on ugly architecture. Ugly is in the eye of the beholder, but it’s widely thought that Béton brut, or brutalist architecture is one of the less attractive styles. There’s a building here in Baltimore of that style, which the Baltimore Architecture Foundation has nominated for listing on the Endangered Buildings list in Maryland. Part of the discussion will be centered around whether it’s fair game to dislike a building just because it’s ugly!mechanic

Right as I was working on putting the panel and other details together, I noticed an article in the Guardian about the building that they touted as Architecture’s Epic Fails!

2 Columbus Center in NYC. Um… where are the windows?

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Tour Montparnasse in Paris. It just looms above everything, looking dark and foreboding.image

The FBI Building in Washington, DC. For a city with so many gorgeous monuments, it’s got a lot of hideous 1970’s buildings.image

Boston Government Service Center. Designed by Paul Rudolph, the Dean of the YALE School of Architecture. Maybe he hated Harvard!image

EMP Museum in Seattle. Two huge egos involved in this: Frank Gehry and Microsoft zillionaire Paul Allen. Neither one’s best work.image

Portland Building, Portland Oregon. Michael Graves’ 1980’s building with many structural flaws. Now scheduled to be torn down.image

Another Paul Rudolph design: The Orange County (NY) Municipal Building, complete with leaks and black mould. Looks a bit tippy, too!image

Is there a building where you live that you’d like to nominate? If so, put the link in a comment and I will add pictures tomorrow!

21 comments:

  1. There's a real revival of interest in brutalist architecture. It won't win any popularity contests among the general public, but buildings like the National Theatre in London and Birmingham Central Library are now getting some respect. There have been campaigns to save a number of architecturally significant buildings from demolition.

    For outrageously awful buildings, there are lots of possibilities other than brutalism. My favourite is the Grand Lisboa hotel and casino in Macau.

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    1. Thanks for your input! I will have to check the Grand Lisboa and casino!

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  2. Trellick Tower!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trellick_Tower

    I live near there and I am always slightly confronted by it and can't seem to get used to it. There is something quite foreboding about it. normally one gets used to something and I will admit to eventually having a soft spot for some examples of brutalism but not this one...

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  3. I worked for several months in the Hubert H. Humphrey building, another Brutalist building, in Washington D.C. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubert_H._Humphrey_Building
    The majority of the interior space is pretty uninspiring, as there are long, maze-like corridors divided into small offices and cubicles, most without windows and no skylights or other source of natural light. The penthouse contains the cafeteria and is actually a nice space with good views of the Capitol. Officials with window offices on Independence Ave. also have lovely views. But the plaza outside is weird. The random changes in level are, in my opinion, downright dangerous. They have made some modifications to warn users of the fact that there are drop-offs, but more than once when I first started working there, I missed my step and almost fell. Meg, why do so few modern architects of major public buildings seem to disregard the needs of the humans who will be using them? I remember working in some early 20th century office buildings in Buffalo, New York that were lovely, with interior courtyards to provide light to the inner offices, graceful facades, beautiful iron-work staircases, etc. I have never worked in a building built in the mid-20th century and later that was pleasant to be in day after day. Are these architects narcissists or sadists or both?

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    1. All of these buildings just scream 1970's to me!

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  4. I meant to say why do so few modern architects regard the needs of humans!

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  5. I wish I had a link to this building but am afraid the "men in black" might come get me if I photograph it. I work at the FAA secure facility in Oklahoma City. They built a "new" visitor's entrance and surrounding architecture after 9/11 which is meant to be more secure. I don't mind the design so much but it is all oppressive grey concrete. I call it The Gulag. Also, the Oklahoma state capitol building was crowned or domed with a wonderful statue called The Guardian by Enoch Haney. Haney’s 17-foot tall, 6,000-pound statue of a Native American was placed on the dome in June, 2002. However, the surrounding office buildings are 1970s disasters, leaking and mold filled and due to be torn down I think. Oklahoma has so many excellent architectural wonders, but these two, the FAA visitor's center and the State office buildings, make me cringe.
    You can see the office buildings in top of this aerial photo: https://hollybaumannphotography.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/20120217_blogpost_aerialphotography_okstatecapitol-1.jpg
    The wonderful capitol building:
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/marvinok/6785534851/

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    1. That could have worked if the building was a little less sharp.

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  6. I nominate Steve Holl's pile of crap that has been stuck on the beautiful Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. Some call it unique, new, modern. I say it's a lit up Butler building complete with raw concrete floors. The emperor is butt naked and seen hanging out with that hideous shuttle cock artist.

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  7. so much of this is just fashion - things are 'out' now, just like much missed 'Penn Station' was out of style when it was torn down. I think buildings are a part of our history and the best examples, at one point or another, will always be out of style. I think while I agree with you that many of these are ugly, they are interesting, and decades in the future if they still stand will probably be much beloved for their quirks. Just my guess.

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    1. But think of how timeless a building like the National Gallery in DC looks... these can be dated at a glance.... 1960-1980.

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    2. I'm with ArchitectDesign. I was once told by a preservationist in Baltimore that building fashions are on about an 80-year cycle. If times are tough, old buildings that are out of fashion survive long enough to come back into fashion. Having said that, not every example of brutalism is worth saving, nor is every example of any other style. I think it is about quality, not style. I, for one, have definitely come around on many styles over the course of my life. I find good modernism to be really beautiful and am now in a phase of loving good examples of brutalism. In March we stayed in a brutalist hotel on the big island of Hawaii and it was probably the most elegant and comfortable space I have ever stayed in. I still haven't gotten around to liking post-modernism. I find it all pretty hideous--although when I was still a young whipper snapper in the 1980s I loved it.

      How do you feel about the East Wing of the National Gallery?

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  8. I think I know what has been contributing to climate change. Huge buildings -- solid blocks of concrete radiating heat, Windows reflecting the sunlight back up into the atmosphere, And the need for conditioned air -- all that freon evaporation into the atmosphere. Honestly, the contributions these types of edifices make to climate change or global warming can not be ignored. Huge office buildings create traffic jams as X-plus numbers of people trying to get to the same place at the same time Just like 90,000 plus football fans headed to a giant stadium on any given Saturday during the fall. Bazinga!

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    1. Honestly, it is called Urban Heat Islands a combination of asphalt and concrete buildings plus cars add up to create a micro climate in cities. Do an internet search and one will see the research!!!!!

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  9. 2 Columbus Circle (not "Center") was completely redesigned six years ago. Its successor is not much of an improvement over the original building you show in the photograph, which is now the subject of some nostalgia. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/08/25/hello-columbus

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  10. Did you see this Buzzfeed post about ugly buildings in DC? Hilarious! http://www.buzzfeed.com/bennyjohnson/the-7-most-heinously-ugly-government-buildings-in-washington

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  11. I have to agree with Home before Dark regarding the Bloch extension to the iconic pillared Nelson Atkins Museum here in Kansas City. It just makes no sense. Oh and 2 Columbus Center looks like a prison!

    xoxo
    Karena
    The Arts by Karena

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  12. http://cdn.newsday.com/polopoly_fs/1.3056756.1311895124!/httpImage/image.JPG_gen/derivatives/display_600/image.JPG

    This "artspace" building was constructed - on purpose, mind you - right across the street from our library. Not only is it three times taller than all the other structures around it, it's got enormous panels of baby crap brown, baby puke green, and diahrrea tan. It was the biggest eyesore our town has ever installed... until Tritec started building their enormous mall/hotel/apartment house in the center of town.

    Patchogue is a historic village, and main street used to be lined with two-story shops. We had the quaint cast iron light fixtures and hanging flower baskets, and the place was really looking nice. The blocks-long monstrosity they are building now is FOUR times taller than all the rest of the village, and it's turning us from a nice historic village into Queens. All so the crooked mayor can line his pockets. Building by building, they're taking away the sky. I don't even drive through town any more. Too depressing.

    There's a town a bit west of us called Sayville. Sayville did it right. They are a historic village, and they've really maximized their potential and their draw to people from other towns because they've put all their efforts into keeping the historic feel to the place. No tall buildings, lots of antique shops and candy stores, there's an old timey diner, and wine boutiques, specialty cafes... and people come from all over to shop there, eat there, spend their money there. I wish our village had had the same kind of wisdom, instead of going the easy route and caving in to big construction.

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  13. Ugly I don't mind, as long as I don't have to live in it. In fact, I think ugly gives a city character. But falling down, mold, etc., that's plain old poor quality, and no, I don't like it one bit.

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