The flamboyant exteriors of the recent crop of signature buildings represent yet another shift in architectural priorities. Whereas technological innovation once focused on the interior workings of the machine — from plumbing to structural innovations like steel frames — most of today’s architectural innovations are expressed through the buildings’ exterior forms.
Not everyone is happy with this state of affairs. Traditionalists, still stung by the rise of Modernism, see the current crop of signature buildings as a break with the historical street front. Mostly, they criticize these works on aesthetic grounds: as flashy expressions of architectural vanity.
It’s true that some of the new buildings are ostentatious. When workers broke ground two years ago on Herzog & de Meuron’s 40 Bond in the East Village, the building was hailed as one of the city’s first serious residential projects by an international celebrity firm. Today the cast green glass facade feels slick and mannered. An elaborate gate meant to resemble a three-dimensional work of graffiti is an embarrassing effort to tap into a bygone underground scene. (Nevertheless all of the multimillion-dollar units were sold before the building was close to completion.)
But the city has also been starving for innovative architecture. And to my mind the greatest residential projects of the last decade have managed to balance aesthetic freedom with a nuanced understanding of their surroundings. Rather than mimic period styles, such buildings are a physical expression of the needs and demands of the environments they inhabit.
While I am a traditionalist, I really like how this article talks about the class implications of architecture. While I am not against a "signature building" I firmly believe that those structures need to be located in city centers and not in low height and bulk residential neighborhoods.
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