Monday, March 06, 2006

Follow Me, You Go First

Modernists architects are snippy about the New Urbanists getting all the attention in rebuilding the Gulf Coast. There are two reasons for this:

  1. The New Urbanists are taking the initiative in getting in touch with the residents, listening and making proposals. The Modernists, on the other hand, write articles in Artforum magazine about why New Urbanism is bad.
  2. Most people outside of NY and LA like what New Urbanism has to offer and think that Modernism is totally alien in their towns.
NOLA.com carries an aticle about Andres Duany's charette in Arabi. Local residents who participated in another charette are downright pleased.

Rebecca and Robert Young live in Abbeville. They hunt and fish avidly, so they are concerned about coastal erosion. Robert, an ophthalmologist, has an office downtown, so he was concerned about plans for the city's heart.

The couple attended the Vermilion Parish charrette.

"There was so much information," Rebecca Young said. "They spent a lot of time with local people. They ate the local gumbos. They went to church with us. They listened to what the people had to say."

Fact is, the Duany group sat down and listened to the residents. Opposite of what happened with the BNOB Commison proposal. Needless to say, New Orleaneans were not so receptive.

This whole dust-up between the New Urbanists and Modernists helps bring to light the philosophical differences of the two. The Modernists like to believe that it is they who have the vision to move society forward and should not be hindered by such things as market forces and popularity of the general public. The New Urbanists believe that the best architecture is that which responds best to these constraints This explains their two approaches.

John at Veritas et Venustas highlights this dichotomy where he describes the different types of clients.

(There are) different types of clients: the Patron, the Client, the Builder and the Buyer. The Patrons are the people who buy custom houses from Frank Gehry, sharing with Frank in the creation of a work of art.

The Client wants some of that process, but doesn't have the budget for a Gehry or Koolhaas building. Most young architecture practices get their work from Clients: if they succeed in becoming famous, they move up to having Patrons, with their almost unlimited support for the Starchitect and his budget.

The Builders build most new construction. Their budget is strictly controlled by their profit margin. Their architecture is governed by their market. Some Builders are also Patrons, but most view architects as a commodity no different from all the other consultants and contractors with whom the Builder negotiates.

The Buyer buys from the Builder. The architect rarely meets the Buyer. They Buyer is not a partner in the creation of a work of art. The Buyer is an unknown person who may move in 12 months, to be replaced by another Buyer.

The poor are buyers with no money and no leverage. They are the last people we should be experimenting on.

Unfortunately, despite all the comments on public process and the genuine desire to help, the academics at the symposium were unable to imagine any work other than "innovative" and "creative experiments" in the tradition of Pruitt Igoe.

The Modernists have clients yet want to be the Patron themself. The New Urbanists are reaching out to the Buyers and the buyers appreciate it. Ultimately this approach of interacting and listening to the local population will result in successful cities and hopefully no more Pruitt-Igoes.

2 comments:

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fakeisthenewreal said...

I thought most of the proposals in Art Forum were pretty lackluster, but it's hardly an article about 'why New Urbanism is bad,' — there are four sentences about New Urbanism out of a twenty-page feature.

Art Forum isn't a planning or architecture magazine — it's a magazine on ideas about art. As Building Big Easy says, the "Modernists' probably do 'believe that ... they ... have the vision to move society forward." I don't think that the contributors to Art Forum's collection of proposals actually think that they will be built - they are being presented as possiblities — paper architecture. John Massengale ridicules that approach, but it would be more constructive to engage with the ideas presented. Thomas Mayne's proposal [in AF] does 'ignore marketability and popularity with the general public.' However, It goes farther than any other proposal I've seen to preserve the long-term viability of the city.