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Old April 24th, 2007, 02:49 PM   #1
carlisle
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Skyscraper architectural styles.

I know I'm going to be disagreeing with a lot of what this forum stands for when I say this, but I'm dissatisfied with most of the tall buildings going up today... especially in the UK.

The problem for me is, the buildings aren't designed like buildings, to me with their curves and sleekness they look like consumer products. One of the most important characteristics a building can have in my opinion is permanence... it has to look like it could be there for the next thousand years, and the modern buildings lack this... they're nice to look at, but that permanence has a certain je nai sais quoi.

The first skyscrapers in America were designed using classic principles of architecture which had evolved over thousands of years, but then in the post-war period all this was done away with and skyscrapers were designed usinig minimalist, brutalist and geometric formulae, unfortunately they often got the materials wrong. But still all this is good architecture, it looks permanent, like a building should (yes I even like 60's tower blocks)

Trouble with modern tall buildings, is, even though they look great, and there is so much potential in the modern materials, post-modern architectural principles seem to eschew permanence, buildings are designed as though they were merely sculptures, or steel and glass ornament, to look good for a bit, and then be discarded. Maybe this ties in with our throw-away, wasteful culture, to be honest I don't know, that wasn't the point of my argument. I'm purely for aesthetics and I just want to know if anyone agrees with me, or if we're all for buildings that look like hi-tech refridgerators now?
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Old April 24th, 2007, 06:08 PM   #2
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I agree with you on some levels. The original skyscrapers of New York & Chicago were obviously going to look visually more permenant due to their heavy masonary of brick/stone. Stronger more efficient framework removing the need for external load bearing walls, better air conditoning and new building materials mean't that all glass curtain walls entered the fray. Through the 60s and 70s an uncountable number of clone boxes sprung up. I certainly don't think the materials did them any favour, and except for a few (Seagram Building) most looked if anything more heavy and dwarfing than the previous masonary period (Metlife (Old PAN AM) Building NYC).

In recent years the trend seems to be for more plate glass and less dominant concrete/masonary/external framework. This has resulted from tighter Planning rules and current architectural styles of more lighter structures visually. There does seem to be an attempt at making some skyscrapers on some levels invisible by tapering, set-backs, mirrored glass and trying to change them into objects rather than heavy space consuming blocks - thus reducing their apparent bulk. I don't disagree totally with this methodology and on the most part what is built is generally good architecture.

Public perception of skyscrapers has always been rather negative particulary in London, and this may be another catalyst to reduce their apparent bulk through materials and shape. People are more excepting of a tower that looks like a giant gherkin than a tower of equal size that looks like a mass of concrete. In addition I don't really think this is a phase (not what you want to hear) I think this is just the way things are going from now on, especially in UK, but in a lesser extent around the world as well.

In respect of permenance the odd thing is nowadays buildings have the potential to survive a far longer lifttime than those old masonary buildings of the past, even if they don't look like they would.
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Old April 24th, 2007, 07:13 PM   #3
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Yes... it's not just a look of permanence I feel buildings lack, maybe this is a topic for another thread but I often feel that tall buildings which are not open to the public, as many new ones aren't, and particularly which do not allow the public to enjoy their tallness though access to the top floors; no matter how enourmous they are and fantastic they look, soon become invisible. Only being noticed when the skyline is viewed from afar and all the public activity becomes too small to see.

I've seen this with other buildings, not just tall ones, but grand old ones too, people stop noticing a building which has no activity associated with it.
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Old April 25th, 2007, 08:07 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by carlisle View Post

Trouble with modern tall buildings, is, even though they look great, and there is so much potential in the modern materials, post-modern architectural principles seem to eschew permanence, buildings are designed as though they were merely sculptures, or steel and glass ornament, to look good for a bit, and then be discarded. Maybe this ties in with our throw-away, wasteful culture, to be honest I don't know, that wasn't the point of my argument. I'm purely for aesthetics and I just want to know if anyone agrees with me, or if we're all for buildings that look like hi-tech refridgerators now?
That's the current dictating movement.

I quite like it, they look futuristic, sleek, simple. That said, I certainly love skyscrapers of older days (WTC, Sears Tower, ESB)

In 30 years, there'll probably be a new way to design buildings, and I hope it'll be good.
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Old April 30th, 2007, 12:12 AM   #5
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This is an interesting discussion for someone like me who is positively obsessed with pre- WW2 architecture (especially art deco.) However, I know the importance of trying to bridge out a little into modern architecture and I do this without any reluctance - there are many brilliant modern buildings out there.

Overall a building is as good as the design that went into it, obvious but true. But also that design has to be footed in the right concepts. If you set out to make a monolithic media scraper, who sole purpose is to advertise those who built it you'll probably end up with something over bearing, or if you want to build a statement about what you'll think skyscrapers will look like in the future, it will probably look pretentious. All categories need to be considered.

But perhaps none is more important than the context in which you place a building and this doesn't mean we have to create pastiches of previous styles. Personally I think opposites work well, to me a heavy masonry art deco building next to a light glass structure can be a perfect combination. They can offset each other, an example would be the new ephemeral 7 WTC near to the old Barclay- Vessey building. Another is the proposed London Shard, it's lightness cancels out it size and compliments the surrounding masonry buildings (if built.) The John Hancock tower next to trinity church in Boston is a good example too. Point is, modern buildings can often be consumed by their own esoteric aspirations. If however, they are built with consideration of neighboring areas they can be great, and still extremely forward looking.

Last edited by PresidentBjork; April 30th, 2007 at 12:22 AM.
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Old April 30th, 2007, 03:01 PM   #6
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Excellent point Bjork... I'm thinking of writing an article on tall building design (for whose consumption, I'm not sure). I have a lot of gripes... Up here in the grim North there are a lot of tall buildings going up at the moment, and a lot of competition between cities (on who can have the tallest Beetham tower... are Beetham the new Arndale?).

While there are a significant number of people with reservations about all this tall building, these generally fall into the luddite crowd who oppose anything and everything modern. Most professionals and even most public are as eager as the developers to see the North modernise in the hope we might be able to match London or the USA in terms of architecture.

The result is an 'anything goes' consensus where any attempt by planners or the conservation lobby to control what is built where is strongly opposed by both professionals who think they know better and the public who are worried that their city will lose ground to the other northern cities. Even simple measures like establishing tall buildings policies to ensure that tall buildings are of sufficient quality and pay due respect to context are lambasted in the media as a signal the the city council is 'anti-tall building' and determined to remain in the stone age.

Developers are left feeling that they have all the power and the mandate to do whatever they want, and buildings that go up aren't well designed (Liverpool has 3 Beetham towers now, two of which are tall buildings... one currently going up looks nice, but also looks like every other Beetham tower, the one that was built a couple of years ago is frankly hideous) don't present any sort of street frontage (the existing beetham tower has plain concrete at the ground level with a few plate glass windows and a small door tucked away in a corner and don't offer the public any return for their faith in that they are all private buildings which you can't enter without a pass.

What everyone really needs to do is take a step back and think about what it best for their city. What will improve the atmosphere and ambience of the street level, will provide amenity for the whole population, not just the rich elite who can afford to live in the buildings and what will set their city apart architecturally and not just be 'oh, look, another Beetham tower'. Unfortunately, as soon as these points are raised everyone gets agitated that you are standing in the way of progress.

We really need to disentangle the link between tall buildings and progress.
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Old April 30th, 2007, 08:40 PM   #7
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I haven't seen much of these new towers, and need to look into them further.
But Liverpool is a good example of how controversial new developments can be.
After all, it is has and is a great center for commercial activity, for many years being at the forefront of international trade only falling on harder times during the 80's. Many people see the new demand for high rises as a sign of a revitalized economy and something to be positive about which I must say I agree with. However, the city center is now also a UNESCO world heritage site, and new development has become an international matter.

I'm a firm believer that seeing new projects going up can have an overall optimistic effect on a city. However, what is perhaps more influential is the final design, because as I see it, development can induce optimism, but final quality gives the impetus to do it again and make the city a more inhabitable, and usually a more beautiful place. This, as you point out Carlisle can only be done when the building is somehow accessible to the general public, have plazas or even just somewhere where you can sit with a few trees.

Otherwise, these projects can seem remote to the general populace, anonymous bulks only few enter. Perhaps this would not be so bad in a city like New York, where these kind of buildings are in relation quite small, but in somewhere like Manchester a skyscraper like the Beetham tower is clearly meant to be a landmark. Even though I believe this one has quite good street access, those without, such as the example you gave will become landmarks only to those high in society who can afford to live there. Landmark buildings are meant to represent a city, and a city is the populace who live in it, rich or poor, and all have to appreciate the building in someway. If you exclude most of the city's people , it will only increase resentment against such buildings.

But perhaps a few mistakes have to be made first, to get the impetus to build new structures and learn from them.
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Old May 1st, 2007, 12:46 PM   #8
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Exactly... nothing says a city is on the up like a skyline full of cranes but if it is full of ugly buildings in a decade's time then it will all have been for nought as there will be public pressure to pull them down whenever developers want new land for new buildings.

And what you say about them becoming landmarks only for those with access relates to what Kevin Lynch said in the 60s... when he asked inhabitants of neighbourhoods in Los Angeles, New Jersey and Boston to draw sketch maps of the important paths and nodes in their area and found that such highly prominent structures such as freeways cutting through their area, which were for cars not people, and some of the tallest buildings which were only open to big business and the rich were missed off the maps... Because they had no access and played no part in the people's lives, people stopped noticing they were there.

I was in Riga recently... they have a number of tall buildings there, a modern clock tower, a hotel, a cathedral... but most of them have some form of public access (often a bar) to the top, and as a result they play a part in people's lives and people can easier use them to orient themselves, or to act as a symbol of their city.

The tallest building in Liverpool is an observation tower called St John's Beacon (or nowadays, the Radio City Tower). Admittedly you have to pay £4 for a tour but you can go up it. Also it is the home of a popular local radio station, so although it isn't public space, people feel it is part of their city, and not just an ivory tower for the rich. In the 70s and 80s however, it had stopped being used for it's original purpose, as a revolving restaurant and lay derelict. So even though it was the tallest building right smack bang in the middle of the shopping district, it became invisible, people weren't even calling for it's demolition that much because they hardly noticed it.
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Old May 1st, 2007, 02:33 PM   #9
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That's funny, I was thinking about ordering Kevin. A. Lynch's 'Image of the city' recently, and I think I will now.
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Old May 1st, 2007, 11:41 PM   #10
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Quote:
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That's funny, I was thinking about ordering Kevin. A. Lynch's 'Image of the city' recently, and I think I will now.
It's a good book... I can't remember whether he commented on the LA people not seeing the landmarks much at the time or whether it was someone later commenting on what they'd read into his results but it's there to see nonetheless... my favourite book at the moment is Francis Tibbalds' making people friendly towns.
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Old May 2nd, 2007, 12:33 AM   #11
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I agree with you to some extent, it's kind of life cars nowadays, made out of plastic instead of metal, they are death traps. But I still find the future more interesting than the past, because we are yet to live the future, but we can never relive the past. As for today's architecture, there's thousands of towers I am absolutely in love with. But then again your point seems to make sense, they seem to be caring more about appearance that structural quality.
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Old May 2nd, 2007, 11:48 AM   #12
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oh no, I wasn't saying that... I'm no engineer but I'm sure the structural quality of modern buildings is sound... I'm taking issue with appearance, a lot of them going up look the same, I think they look like consumer products, some of them just look downright ugly... the one in Liverpool has loads of glass facing out over the river but only a few small windows in an ugly concrete facade facing the city, as though the developers didn't care how it looked to the city because they wanted to create an ivory tower for the rich and didn't want to associate themselves with Liverpool (a traditionally working class city)

This is the river-side of the existing Beetham... which is nice, if a bit unimaginative... hardly adds anything to the city



I couldn't find any pictures of the city-side of it... presumably because to most photographers, it's not worth photographing, but I can see it from my flat and can vouch for it's ugliness. You can see the concrete at the sides of it on the photo... well this concrete with the same small windows, continues round the back, with a rather pointless protruding block and some black stuff (just more concrete I think) thrown in for contrast.

The new Beetham looks all in all better, though it isn't completed yet and developers have a tendency to reduce materials quality for financial reasons once construction has begun. It still looks somewhat corporate and unimaginative though, it sits awkwardly in a site which doesn't relate to the building plan and I can't really see it having much of an impression on Liverpudlian's impressions of their own city.
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Old May 2nd, 2007, 11:41 PM   #13
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Honestly, I find decontructivism to be very overrated. Not only are they so tacky, but they are practically expensive to built. Some of the designs that architects like Frank Ghery, Daniel Libeskind, Santiago Caltavara, and a lot of others build I could copy by crumpling up paper or a napkin and move it around just to show what it looks like. Also, I am not a big fan of building that look like blocks stacked upon them either, b/c this is like a baby could have done it. Musuems that use this style tend to look like they were bombed or something. Deconstructivism actually makes boxy designs like modernism actually look better.
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Old May 7th, 2007, 01:49 PM   #14
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Chrysler Building is the best among all skyscrapers in architectonic apsect
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Old May 8th, 2007, 03:32 AM   #15
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The Twins showed how great a building can be just by being simple.
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Old May 9th, 2007, 02:37 AM   #16
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i like art deco e.g. empire state building and international style e.g. chase Manhattan bank...
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