Civic aloofness and civic f*ck y** in architecture
The Washington Post ran a piece by Christopher Hawthorne, the architecture writer for the Los Angeles Times, about the new Perot Museum in Dallas, "Perot Museum belongs to a preening old breed," and how it is evinces "civic aloofness" because the architect, Thom Mayne, made no attempt to connect the building to the Dallas Arts District in which it is a part.
From the article:
It's remarkable how slow — and disjointed — architecture can sometimes appear.
For nearly a decade, younger architects have pushed for a new agenda in the profession. They've been loudly (and rightly) critical of the expensive, highly mannered and sometimes self-indulgent trophy buildings turned out by some of the world's most prominent architects. And they've helped bring different and more public-minded priorities to the fore.
And yet the trophy buildings keep coming. ...
It is a thoroughly cynical piece of work, a building that uses a frenzy of architectural forms to endorse the idea that architecture, in the end, is mere decoration. ...
It's a kind of bullhorn urbanism. The building, marked by the civic aloofness that has become an unfortunate Mayne trademark, turns its back on the Dallas Arts District and the new park built atop a sunken nearby stretch of the Woodall Rodgers Freeway. The decision to lift the museum up on a plinth also sets it apart from (and in opposition to) the streets immediately surrounding it while giving it a stronger presence as seen from the freeway.
I really liked the term, which gets at the heart of the matter about architecture that connects versus architecture that disconnects, or says F* Y* to the world around it. This comes from architecture in the starchitect days of being treated as art and sculpture, rather than as a civic art, based on the concept of connection.
NBC Washington has a piece, "Neighbor: Three-Story Row House Addition Like 'Middle Finger of the Neighborhood'," about a different form of civic F* Y*, a two-story rowhouse being added to with a three-story addition, in the Shaw neighborhood.
Image by Mark Segraves. Caption: Some near 11th and V streets in northwest D.C. say a new row house addition is an eyesore, towering over the homes that neighbor it on either side, but it doesn't violate any D.C. zoning rules.
From the article:
Some D.C. residents are crying foul over a development in their Northwest neighborhood. They call a three-story addition to a two-story row house an eyesore, but it’s a perfectly legal project.
At 59-feet-3-inches tall, the structure towers over the rest of the homes in the area of 11th and V streets. “It kind of looks like the middle finger of the neighborhood,” neighbor Drew Leety said. When finished, it will be home to three new condominiums.
Frustratingly, I have written about this issue quite a bit, and outlined a very easy zoning fix that would, if not eliminate the problem, make it much less likely to occur. See the 2012 blog entry "Changing matter of right zoning regulations for houses to conform to heights typical within neighborhoods, not the allowable maximum."
Right: 1st and Seaton Place NW, photo by Steve Pinkus. Bottom: 1st and U Street NW, about two blocks from this location.
The problem arises because when most DC neighborhoods, especially rowhouse neighborhoods, were constructed--generally before 1930, and especially before 1915--the maximum building height was either two or three stories, and three story buildings were less prevalent than two story buildings.
But the zoning code created maximum heights for these districts that are significantly taller than what was prevalent when the neighborhoods were constructed. And building to that height is considered "matter of right," or legally allowable with no need for review or resident input.
I suggested that we should flip how matter of right works in neighborhoods of extant buildings. MOR height should be set to the neighborhood's prevailing height--two to three stories--rather than the somewhat arbitrary numbers present in the current zoning code.
And building higher than the prevailing height should trigger automatic zoning review.
I discussed this with a high level person in the DC Office of Planning, who said that the "amount of work" required to code every block to prevailing height (it would be either 2 or 3 stories, except maybe in parts of Georgetown and Dupont Circle, where some rowhouse buildings get up to 4 stories I think) was far too onerous.
I replied, "get a couple of interns, how hard could it be?"
Ironically, it was these kinds of actions by property owners unconcerned about the impact of their actions on others that led to the creation of building regulation through "zoning" to begin with. But this is merely an example of how suburban-oriented zoning codes are inappropriately applied to already constructed urban neighborhoods.