Tuesday, September 23, 2003

From the Wild Minds of Architects

Hi Kari:

As the architectural fan of our blog duo, I thought I'd go ahead and share something I came across that might be of interest to you and perhaps you (and our readership) could educate me about.

If you are going to London sometime between September 18, 2003 and January 4, 2004, be sure to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum and check out their exhibit on Zoomorphic Architecture. I came across this exhibit reading the news briefing section of one of my science journals.

The museum web site blurb says the following:

Today's leading architects are using animal forms to take modern architecture in an exciting new direction. Not since Art Nouveau a century ago has there been such an eruption of new building inspired by the natural world. This is being made possible by new building materials, computer design software, brilliant structural engineers and the suspension of the old rules of architectural integrity.

Zoomorphic pulls together the world-wide buildings and projects at the forefront of this new movement displaying architectural models and photographs alongside the species that have influenced them.
Apparently, a prime example of this style is the Milwaukee Art Museum designed by Santiago Calatrava.

For some really cool pictures of the MAM go here and here.

My guess is that this type of architecture really tests the limits of engineering. On one hand you might think biological structures would logically transfer over to buildings. However, if you think a little bit more you realize just because a structure works for a human being standing 5 to 7 feet tall doesn't mean it will work for a building standing 5 to 7 stories tall.

I wonder if the architectural community as a whole likes this stuff? Or will it be a flash in the pan? I certainly can admire the technical challenge of making these concepts into reality. But what do you think of them aesthetically?

Architectural newbie,

UPDATE: When I was researching for this post, I should have known to visit our "blog parents" at 2Blowhards. I finally thought of that today and searched their site to see if they talk about Calatrava and indeed, they beat me by about two weeks. Check out what Michael had to say about the MAM. Here is an excerpt that you might appreciate:
On the not-so-plus side: The project, initially expected to cost around $50 million, wound up costing more than $120 million. Fundraising went well but still came up $20 million short where the building itself is concerned ... and another $5 million short where the endowment is concerned ... and the Pavilion turns out to be a lot more expensive to operate than was expected, and ...
One of the readers, Van der Leun, then chimed in with the following:
The multiple decamillions spent on these halls that do not aid the art but merely announce themselves first and foremost is exactly where one might look for funds for a decent collection of art, much less a few decent programs that fund training, classical training (like, perhaps, "drawing?") in the arts.

These things are merely ego-boondoggles.

Doesn't this remind you a bit of our little dialog (scroll to posts September 5 and 7) on does architecture have to work in order to be great? In this case "work" is defined by the economic cost versus benefit.


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