Monday, October 12, 2009

Yet Another Hall of Mirrors Structural Glass


Richard Laming comments in the EU Observer on the subject of what buildings tell us about the state of governance in a society, pointing out that there is a direct form of expression in the buildings built to represent those governments. However, he’s overlooked entirely the dynamics of design and the patronage of design and instead gives us a lauditory argument about seating and how cheap it is to build yet another behemoth in Brussels.

Designs such as these are driven by the degree to which a designer thinks it can gage a committee’s notion it has of its’ institution and the significance thereof, and that committee’s concept of the ‘nation’ it represents.

In the case of the Council of Ministers building, one of a dizzying array of relevant sounding bodies, it is nothing other than any modern airport design: sterile, distant, and with the obvious cliché of using glass as an analog for the notion of transparency. Reflective glass being “a mirrors reflecting society” is another one of these sad rationalizations that I hoped was long abandoned since its’ height in the late 1980s as well.

It’s also touted as so many things now are as touching and attentive to the Euro-Ur-human Jedermann type through symbolic, fig-leaf environmentalism that is already regarded by the public, and not just a great many design professionals as pandering and fixated on whatever symbolism works today.

Thirdly, there is the way the building reflects our political times. Much emphasis has been put in the design, and in the PR, about the ecological considerations that have been incorporated: the building will generate some of its own electricity through solar panels on the roof and it will recycle all the rain water.
These are NOT remarkable things, but as with the clatter of all the sorts of things being promoted as good measures in Architectural practice now that academic Architects are trying to rebuild a long discredited Hegelian noblesse oblige, is costly beyond the wisdom of it’s benefits, and appear far more absurd that they realize. For example: trying making your own power with solar panels is a disastrous use of resources. It requires more energy than a city plant, and costs quite a bit more.

And in case you’re wondering where ALL the water coming out of your tap came from, all of it was once rainwater. Evidently Rube Goldberg illustrations of how nature works are what sensitivity to resources in Architecture is now reduced to, and is growing into a kind of perfunctory and pedantic acting out of ritual statement and presentation. It is now, more than ever, becoming a kind of self-inflicted stigmata, once found in medieval society as a way of displaying your faith to others, with no evidence of a personal belief in it at all.

Too harsh, you say? No. When you expend more in resources than is ever to be returned compared to the non-promotional conventional means of doing the same thing, then it too proves that it’s taking place to make such a display of oneself to the detriment of the thing one wants so much to be loved for. It’s sad.
You can tell a lot about a political system from the buildings it erects to house its decision-makers. They provide a literally concrete expression of the collective self-image of the politicians inside.
True that, bro. It’s unselfconsciously called “The Résidence Palace” after the exisiting building is proposed to engorge, a cozy and warm place from which no lucky palace resident is ever likely to be removed but by their own free will. Like the sad concealment of primacy of calling a leader “fist among peers” it is hard to believe that a name like that can bring to mind the notion of democracy. We are to believe that this is a catharsis: from the old to the new, or more precisely: from the old to the soon-to-look-dated which has never permitted any sort of confidence in knowing what time the founders lived in.

Like all new prominent European designs, it’s “over the top”, over-designed, with over-scaled elements speaking to a supremacism immune from lese majesty, and states quite firmly in form and execution that the public’s money is to be misspent and considered little more than an instrument of a governments aspirations for glory, much as a it was in the distant past where usurious taxes were levied to gild an oblivious monarchic elite’s cage. Throwing the peasants a few things about salvaging some rainwater here as opposed to there is one of those things wrongly believed to ameliorate that arrogance. Awkward design antics and a Greenie veneer will do nothing to blunt it, not even to the uncritical citizen.
The greatest cultural miscalculation is that It (as do many other new “state-managed-utopia” designs,) demonstrates with scientific empiricism exactly where it is that the money embedded in the project ISN’T going. As with the new Euro-designed and contracted NATO headquarters, it demonstrates quite clearly that someone ISN’T getting their new up-armored vehicle in favor of the cost of “good design” when even the larger member states can’t seem to acquire heavy-lift aircraft made by their own industries. Since one must believe that government monies didn’t come from the public to do this, and believe this they must for the show to go on.

Europe, we are told over and over by the pedantic promoters of its’ wonderous nature, is supposed to be rife with those who understand the universal nature of man, have superior design skills and taste, etcetera, etcetera, and so on, but the same promoters can’t seem to identify the obvious: the barrier of a world view wracked with elitism, especially in matters of the role of a government institution in a free society. This is where the cold, ham-fisted, and architecturally indulgent design hits the nail right on the head. It indentifies the cream of a continent’s governmental elite beautifully: the warmth and understanding prominently found on the label just isn’t in the box.

The hilarious part is in the execution. By overusing the same architectural vocabulary as so many projects before, it becomes indistinct. One glass prima donna competing for attention abutting too many others to not be confused for the corporate head office of contrived “national champion”.