Tuesday, February 18, 2014

[ego]tecture is for the birds

there's no denying, egotism and architecture go hand in hand. some of the best architects in history were extremely egotistical; unfortunately some of the worst architects have been too.

the city of wichita has a problem.  one of the main gateways into downtown, both by vehicles and pedestrians, is through a historically significant railroad underpass.  this pathway is dark, damp, and full of pigeon shit. simply stated, an incredibly uninviting space to travel through.  i couldn't be more thrilled the city and the downtown development corporation are trying to fix this. however when city projects, opinions, and design are involved, egotects emerge.

as a downtown resident who walks under this bridge twice daily and wanting to be more informed, i attended the public meeting held to present the project.  the design team started the meeting by clearly stating the problem, which is everything i mentioned before.  after discussing the issues, they started the brainstorming session.  a series of slides showing their vision of the final project, stating, "what if this underpass could be something more?" the next thirty minutes consisted of us being shown interactive l.e.d. displays, digital billboards and other technological eye candy.  the idea being drilled into our heads that this underpass could be something more...a destination.  a phrase and idea which starts to ignore the original problem, and makes us believe in a new, fictional one; that this underpass is underutilized as a destination; that it's someplace we should be. when i asked the design team how they planned to solve the bird problem, it was clear they spent more time finding images of projects using l.e.d's than solutions to pest control.

creating a destination out of nothing; building something that "wows" or is "awesome," are all common phrases of egotecture.  now, i have nothing against those phrases, i am after all an architect and sometimes projects need this.  however, let's get back to basics.  legally, to be an architect, first and foremost you must provide for the health, safety and welfare of the public.  slightly less stuffy and more poetically, architects solve problems dealing with the built environment in a creative and artistic way.  it's fine to ask if a project can be "something more," but you also must ask yourself if it shouldn't.  should a project be something "cool" or should it provide the public with a safe, healthy, and beautiful solution to a problem.

sitting through the meeting it was clear it was not about solving the initial problem of how to beautifully make a dark, damp, pigeon shit filled, historic underpass more inviting.  it was about egotecture; how they can take a project and force it to be something it's not.

does the underpass want to be a "destination" or in its natural and literal state, should the underpass be an inviting, well lit, creative and beautiful "connector" to other "destinations." some of the best architecture in the world is when the initial problem was solved beautifully and simply. when the surroundings were enhanced and celebrated, not forced to be something it's not.

less is more.

if the original problem isn't solved, it will resurface once the portfolio pictures have been taken. in this case, a digitally frosted, ornament filled piece of egotecture...for pigeons to poop on.