Monday, January 16, 2006

The Role of the Architect

Let’s tackle the difficult question: what do we think about Frank Gehry doing this project in our neighborhood? Our typical answer: Gehry is known to be a great architect, but there are real problems with this project. It’s too big, it’s too dense, the crowds will be unmanageable, people driving will take our spaces first, traffic is going to be even worse, the megablocks will detract from our streets, not enough public space, and it’s all private not public, why can’t we have a great pedestrian environment? We understand that the density is driven by the arena – the arena loses money so the real estate has to make it back. (Where’s a big media company when we need it?) Marty Markowitz wanted the team, and the deal made sense to the developers if they could make their profit on the real estate. How to sell it? Let’s get Frank! So here we are.

How much responsibility does the architect bear for the problems? Has Gehry’s predilection for hard street fronts determined the closing of streets? What can we say about his association with a plan that everyone knows is far too dense for the site?

Let’s start by acknowledging that an architect’s mission is different from that of a developer. People say different things about their intentions, but let’s be clear about the players’ respective roles. Architects want to make successful architecture; development teams require their projects to be profitable. And while it may be a good business plan for developers to try to gain popular approval for their projects, a good business plan is only a means to an end: the financial success of the project. In the pairing of developer and architect, let’s also keep in mind the primary relationship: the architect works for the developer, which despite the rhetoric is not a partnership. For better or worse, architects have virtually no say in the program, which includes total built area, area for different components, site limits, amount of parking, etc. These are critical items for determining the financial success of the project; in some projects an architect can weigh in, but they are always finally determined by the developer.

Given this relationship, it does help that Gehry is on the job. He will be more able to push for influencing the program and it’s disposition on the site than anyone else could in that role. From the public’s perspective there is a real advantage to having a star architect working on a project; a renowned architect has more clout to influence the program. Well-known architects can pick and choose commissions, and if a client proposes a direction that is not of interest, they can always decline to participate. Lesser known architects work at the behest of the client, knowing that satisfied clients will give them more work. A star architect plays to a different audience: his place in history. It behooves him to do the right thing, or to not do it at all.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

so what do we thing about ghery, who has expressed misgivings about the project? could he be persuaded to step down? does it matter to him that people don't want his project here?

4:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

your argument would be much more convincing if you offered even one small example of a starchitect mitigating a mega-project or walking away from it in response to community concerns. is there an example? or are you totally working in the realm of theory as you architects so often tend to do?

10:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not think either anonymous 1 or 2 above get it. THIS IS NOT THEORY HERE FOLKS, THIS IS REAL.

Jonathan is NOT saying that Gehry will do what ever YOU want (Correct me if I have misrepresented your blog). What he is saying is that Gehry is more likely to deviate and argue with the developer than a lesser know architect (who needs more work and a pay check).

Gehry can walk out on this project at any time. After some media hype, he will go back to his great "track record" and build more buildings.

I think what Jonathan is suggesting (underneath the rhetoric) is that "we" are better able to influence the direction of this project with Gehry than some lesser know architect.

(By the way, it is more difficult for Forest City Ratner to fire Gehry than some lesser known architect...)

Again, this is not THEORY, but fact. So, instead of wishing for Gehry to step down, you should be thinking of ways to persuade him to design this site in a way that suits the needs of the community.

9:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My concern is that Gehry becomes another Libeskind-at-the-WTC. He is initial window-dressing for the project but as "economic realities" intrude, he is gradually moved off-stage and the developer does what he wants. Which, given Ratner's track record, could be ugly indeed.

3:44 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

I agree they were both brought on to sell the project, and neither really has experience in the type of project they were proposing to do, but otherwise the situations are very different. In the final selection of the WTC masterplan, Libeskind’s offered a phasing strategy that was synchronized with the demands of the other players on the site, which is the reason he was selected. He was never selected for any of the buildings. Unlike Gehry, Libeskind was not brought on by the developer, who always had his own ideas about who should design the office buildings. And the LMDC and the Port Authority had their own selection processes for their projects.

2:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


my question in the 10:04 post which you also fail to answer was this:

do you have a specific example from anywhere else in the country of a starchitect like Gehry telling a developer to go blow in the middle of a big project like this?

man, you architets... can't just answer a straight question.

10:21 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home