“Architects Defend the World’s Most Hated Buildings”

It is fun to see the efforts of seven well-known architects as they highlight the better points of some buildings disliked by many. Some summary statements:

Maybe Tour Montparnasse is not a work of genius, but it signified a notion of what the city of the future will have to be. [Tour Montparnasse]

At a distance, the scale of the skyline exudes a sense of identity and strength for Albany, while at the pedestrian level the Plaza plays an important role in the community. I know that others find it too brutal or forbidding, but I think it’s beautiful in its monumentality and starkness. Monumentality always suggests supreme power, and that’s scary. I somehow think that if you could populate the Plaza with more gardens, and make it feel more part of everyday life — which they’ve tried to do with farmers’ markets and using the basin for ice skating — then it wouldn’t feel so hostile. [Empire State Plaza, Albany]

Monuments, if you trace their ancestry, can reveal disturbing things about the past. Nonetheless, they have enduring qualities which, viewed on their own merits, are perhaps an example to us. [Templehof Airport, Berlin]

It was the first building with an observation deck — that way of engaging with the city was actually pioneered by the tower. It had a restaurant that wasn’t particularly expensive. High rises today are about exploiting the skyline for private gain. But Londoners are capable of being nostalgic too: We have a power station that is now a modern art gallery. I wonder if the satellites and antennae shouldn’t be reinstated to communicate its purpose as an enduring symbol of the moment in the 1960s when technology propelled Britain onto the international stage. It’s a reminder. [BT Tower, London]

Who exactly gets to decide whether a building is loved or hated? Who are the real gatekeepers? This is actually an issue for many cultural objects in the modern world. There are always opinions from the experts, whether from architects themselves who can better understand the process to architecture critics who often write for influential media and can have their opinions heard by millions to the public who can now share their opinion via social media and other public forums. But, architecture is slightly different than say music or other media because it has a real permanence. If a major public building or skyscraper is viewed as ugly, it is not likely to be torn down or remade quickly. (The Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis is a rare example where it was occupied for less than twenty years and its destruction was viewed by “the death of modernism.”) The seven buildings in this particular article are here to stay and, oddly enough, may just become targets for historic preservation in the future because they are important and old.

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