Blowhard, Esq. writes:
I spend more time than is probably healthy
trolling providing constructive comments in various reddit architectural forums. There are lots of contemporary architecture fans around there and one thing I see constantly is their enthusiasm for contrast of a very specific type — a traditional building juxtaposed with a Modernist/contemporary one, like the picture above or the other example below.
I’m always sort of baffled when people ooh and ahh over this kind of thing, as if putting a contempo building next to a classical one is a good in itself. Contrasting St. Paul’s with a steel-and-glass box may make for a interesting photograph, but what exactly do the buildings gain from it? What’s the point? They aren’t talking to one another, they’re not having any kind of artistic exchange. In the example above, nothing about the contempo structure echoes, references, or responds to any of the elements in the cathedral. It’s like walking into a room in which two people are having a loud, contentious argument where neither is listening to the other.
Instead, ignore the glass towers in the background and compare the foregrounded buildings on the street in the picture below.
This is what I think of when I hear the phrase “architectural contrast.” There’s a dialogue between the buildings in which the materials, shapes, and colors complement, elaborate on, and extend one another. Notice how the pointed arches of the building on the far left are echoed on the first story of the middle building, but the middle supports the arches on two columns. Or how the striped brickwork of the two buildings on the far right complement one another. Each building is like a different movement of a symphony whereas in the St. Paul’s picture above, it’s like some shoved a Kraftwerk song in the middle of a Bach performance. I may like “Autobahn” but I wouldn’t splice it into the “Mass in B minor.”
I wonder if the popularity of the shuffling on iPods, fusion cuisine, and genre mashups have given people more a taste or appreciation for mixed traditional-Modernist neighborhoods. If the postmodern jumble works for music, food, books, and movies, why shouldn’t a toss-it-all-in-the-air approach also be applied to architecture? It sometimes feels like the mashup is one of our most vital cultural expressions.
Will the pendulum ever swing back away from the stylistic free-for-all? When “contrast” becomes the dominant style will someone finally prod architects to contrast contrast — bring everything full circle — and return to harmony? It can’t happen fast enough for me.
- A Flickr group that focuses on traditional-Modernist contrast.
- Some contrasts I noticed in NYC.
- What about a building that internally contains a mix of the traditional and contemporary? The Central Library in Kansas City may qualify.
- Back here I wrote about John Summerson’s The Classical Language of Architecture and here I wrote about Bernard Rudofsky’s Architecture Without Architects.