Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Salk Institute

Speaking of Allan Temko, the late architecture critic for the SF Chronicle was a great fan of Louis Kahn, and he always spoke reverentially about Kahn's groundbreaking work on the Salk Institute in La Jolla. It's hard to get a real feel for the place from outside the gates, and I hate to be too critical without knowing what it's like to experience this building from within, or even inside the courtyard, but I can't say I really liked it. There's a lot to admire, of course, but the need for thermal stability within the labs and for security dictated a great deal of how this building looks, especially from without. And it's hard to look at it without seeing the prototype for so much bad institutional architecture that followed, and which copied its fortress-like poured-concrete exterior without achieving any of the grace that this building exhibits, or incorporating natural elements like wood so elegantly.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

On architecture in (much of) America

My two posts from Florida reveal the banality of what passes for architecture in much of the U.S. As Allan Temko once remarked, "There's architecture, and there's building."
Architecture is thoughtful, deliberate, and ideally beautiful while serving a practical function. Building is merely purposeful, and any aesthetic or experiential concerns are peripheral to the task.
That most of America's buildings fall into the category of having been "built" rather than "designed" seems to me almost tragic, because I believe that beauty elevates the human condition while ugliness diminishes it, especially where the built environment is concerned. To care too little for the aesthetic quality of buildings - those which surround us, and with which we surround ourselves - seems to indicate an emptiness that goes far deeper than mere surface. This stuff is important. Beauty feeds the soul.

Out my hotel window, Amelia Island, FL

The Atlantic Ocean as seen from the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island.
Florida in general seems to lack good architecture beyond South Beach, but this building seems exceptional because it really should be much better. Instead of blending in with or even acknowledging the landscape, it's been imposed upon it, on a scale that's grotesquely out of proportion to everything around it. Was land really so expensive that it couldn't have been spread out a bit rather than built as a blocky, eight-story monolith?
It's nice inside, of course, and the rooms are comfortable, but it's amazing that a Ritz-Carlton hotel could be so ugly.

Out my hotel window, Fort Lauderdale, FL

The Atlantic Ocean as seen from The Courtyard by Marriott, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.