February 4, 2009

Only Architectural Record Could Define Boring Modernism as "Defying Convention"

Krueck + Sexton's 1100 First Street NE

Architectural Record reports the office building shown here with the following headline:
"Krueck + Sexton Defies Conventions in Washington, D.C."
Am I the only one not in on the joke? Perhaps its due to the economy, perhaps its due to Architectural Record's endless fawning over starchitecture, but I fail to see how this building "defies convention." Quite the contrary I see a very boring and conventional building being given a label of "unconventional" (good) simply because of the resume of its architects. Krueck and Sexton are the architects of both the Millennium Park’s Crown Fountain and the Spertus Institute (both in Chicago). I wont get into the individual demerits of these projects, but its clear from the press that the DC building must be receiving praise because of Kruek and Sexton's reputation.

Clearly it can't be the building itself, a glass box, cantilevered over the sidewalk below, are are a dime a dozen in Modern architecture ala Mies. Cantilevering the walls out above the first floor has been a staple of modernist architecture for so long its practially become second nature, but somehow this passes as something wonderously new, as the article makes pains to point out.

The one design feature that is somewhat different is the shifting of the mass of the building outwards as it rises, but this alone is hardly a unconventional element. Now it does not appear in the rendering shown, but the article points out that the building features "a diagonal refracted crease in its north-facing glass curtain wall." This I suppose is unconventional, though not for Krueck and Sexton (apparently this is their "signature"), but these two bits of architectural slight of hand are hardly reason enough to heap praise on this building.

Why then the praise? Well the same old one trick ponies get trotted out. The opening act is an attack on classical and traditional architecture by "a new crop of glass-walled D.C. offices casting off perceived obligations to impersonate somber monuments and government landmarks." So to the casual reader, the enemy is imitation of the old, but anything new is to be preferred. So the hegemony of the modernist critics and academics would have you believe.

I myself work in downtown DC and can tell you most of the office buildings in the area are NOT imitations of monuments and landmarks, far from it. Practically all of the buildings there are of the most banal and lifeless modernist glass and steel Miesian imitations that one could find. Limestone or brick is rarely to be found and when it is (as in my building) it is an oasis in a desert of the bland.


Terry said...

I visit DC rarely. We drive in to see a museum or two and cruise around a bit. There is so many buildings to see, old and new, but my overall impression is not so good. It seems to me that everything is exactly the same height. It's vertically boring. Am I wrong? Do architects try too hard to overcome the height restriction? Does that make for more bad buildings?

It should be one of the best places but it's not.

John Paul Sonnen said...

A punto - you are exactly right. They sell the exaltation of the average while we pay big bucks for seeing the "extraordinary" in the ordinary which is really bs anyways.

The WPA sure built nice properties back in the day so there is hope!

Steve S. said...

The only good news here is the address, I'm please for any new building in that neighborhood. Will there be first floor retail. Hopefully they'll be eliminating a parking lot, at least.

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