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The Angry Store

7 Famous Architects Defend The World's Most Infamous Buildings

The New York Times posted a fascinating feature piece this week, asking the simple question: Can the world's leading architects changing our minds about some of the most hated buildings on the planet? They asked a series of globally renowned names – including usual suspects Daniel Libeskind, Zaha Hadid and Norman Foster – to pitch a case for the defence of these abhorred structures, and the results were provocative to say the least. Take a read of the quotes below, and see if you are won over by their arguments...

Yours infamously,

The Angry Architect

 

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1. DANIEL LIBESKIND
ON THE TOUR MONTPARNASSE, PARIS

“It’s legendary for being the most hated building in Paris. I want to defend it not because it’s a particularly beautiful tower, but because of the idea it represents. Parisians panicked when they saw it, and when they abandoned the tower they also abandoned the idea of a high-density sustainable city. Because they exiled all future high rises to some far neighborhood like La Défense, they were segregating growth. Parisians reacted aesthetically, as they are wont to do, but they failed to consider the consequences of what it means to be a vital, living city versus a museum city. People sentimentalize their notions of the city, but with the carbon footprint, the waste of resources, our shrinking capacity, we have no choice but to build good high-rise buildings that are affordable. It’s not by coincidence that people are going to London now not just for work but for the available space. No young company can afford Paris. Maybe Tour Montparnasse is not a work of genius, but it signified a notion of what the city of the future will have to be.”

 

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2. ZAHA HADID

ON THE ORANGE COUNTY GOVERNMENT CENTER, GOSHEN, N.Y.

“The 1960s were a remarkable moment of social reform. The ideas of change, liberation and freedom were critical. Now people think public buildings should be more flowery, but these were times when people did tough projects. The complex is arranged as a sequence of interconnected indoor and outdoor public spaces that flow into each other. There is an integrity within the design that displays a commitment to engagement and connectivity. As a center for civic governance, it enacted democracy through spatial integration, not through the separation of elected representatives from their constituents. Many similar projects around the world have also suffered neglect; yet sensitive renovation and new programming reveal a profound lightness and generosity, creating exciting and popular spaces where people can connect. Rudolph’s work is pure, but the beauty is in its austerity. There are no additions to make it polite or cute. It is what it is.”

 

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3. ANNABELLE SELLDORF

ON THE EMPIRE STATE PLAZA, ALBANY

“Against my better judgment, I like this complex. It’s sculptural, architectural abstraction to the extreme. At a distance, the scale of the skyline exudes a sense of identity and strength for Albany, while at the pedestrian level the Plaza plays an important role in the community. I know that others find it too brutal or forbidding, but I think it’s beautiful in its monumentality and starkness. Monumentality always suggests supreme power, and that’s scary. I somehow think that if you could populate the Plaza with more gardens, and make it feel more part of everyday life — which they’ve tried to do with farmers’ markets and using the basin for ice skating — then it wouldn’t feel so hostile. Ultimately it has to do with the sense of feeling included and welcome. When life is allowed to enter, it makes a space feel alive. Then it becomes an outlet for the expression of our democratic values of assembly and freedom of speech.”

 

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4. ADA TOLLA

ON VELE DI SCAMPIA, NAPLES, ITALY

“If somebody put this complex in front of me right now without adding any context, any history, I would consider it a really strong piece of architecture. They are iconic buildings that embed the Modernist idea of the right to a home — a home for everyone. At the time it was conceived, the complex was very positive, optimistic and progressive. It embodies the idea of the megastructure as the mechanism that can solve the pressing problem of overpopulation and saturation of the city center. The urban planning for the development of the area also testifies to that optimism, with all the roads named after leftist, Socialist or Marxist Italian figures. The interior courtyard and shape of the sail combines the most humble and lively moment of Naples life — the vicolo (narrow street) — with the city’s opulent iconography of the water. But the complex was cursed. It wasn’t built as specified; value-engineering changed the structure and reduced the interior courtyards, therefore limiting the amount of light. None of the planned public spaces, amenities, schools or offices were ever constructed. The buildings were squatted even before completion. The Camorra installed gates and blocked the police from entering. For me it is important to recognize that the Vele is not a failure of the architecture, but rather a failure in execution and management. Demolition is often an attempt to sweep things under the carpet, and that doesn’t seem like the right way to learn from the past.”

 

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5. NORMAN FOSTER

ON TEMPELHOF AIRPORT, BERLIN

“Tempelhof is one of the really great buildings of the modern age, and yet it is inevitable that it is not necessarily celebrated by everyone. Its architect, Ernst Sagebiel, studied under the Jewish master Erich Mendelsohn but later served the Nazis. It was adjacent to a concentration camp that held journalists, politicians, Jews and other so-called ‘undesirables,’ so it is redolent with all the most negative associations. Like a pendulum, it served the purposes of the fascist regime and then became a lifeline with the airlifts of 1948 and 1949 that delivered food to the people of West Berlin. The airport is full of contradictions and paradoxes. It has an austere facade, which is not so fascist, and could almost appear in Sweden. The back is a sweeping, cantilevered curve. It soars. If you were transported there and were to walk under that cantilever, you would be awestruck. The architecture is heroic, not in a pompous, empty, vacuous sense, but as engineering that really lifts the spirit. Monuments, if you trace their ancestry, can reveal disturbing things about the past. Nonetheless, they have enduring qualities which, viewed on their own merits, are perhaps an example to us.”

 

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6. AMANDA LEVETE

ON THE BT TOWER, LONDON

“What fascinates me is that in its time the BT Tower was a building that was entirely about its function as a telecommunications tower: Its purpose was its height. Now, without the satellite dishes, that purpose is redundant. It’s lost a lot of its visual and symbolic power. I was 10 when it was finished in 1965 and it was the tallest building in London for many years. It was a marker of arrival if you were coming from the north. That, in the context of London’s skyline now, is extraordinary. It was the first building with an observation deck — that way of engaging with the city was actually pioneered by the tower. It had a restaurant that wasn’t particularly expensive. High rises today are about exploiting the skyline for private gain. But Londoners are capable of being nostalgic too: We have a power station that is now a modern art gallery. I wonder if the satellites and antennae shouldn’t be reinstated to communicate its purpose as an enduring symbol of the moment in the 1960s when technology propelled Britain onto the international stage. It’s a reminder. It holds so much meaning in an elegant slender cylinder.”

 

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7. VINCENT VAN DUYSEN

ON CENTRE POMPIDOU, PARIS

“I admire its boldness and openness as a building that participates with — and is woven into — its city, its place, its time. It was without any respect for the environment, a cultural factory where you could observe important modern art collections, a superexpressive, very colorful, complex building. It was seen as a rejection of the neighborhood, the Marais, and of Paris itself. Paris stands for French stone and light gray rooftops and beautiful natural colors, and all of a sudden you have got this architectural machine. On the other hand, the building has this democratic purpose because it attracts how many millions every year. I couldn’t take my eyes off it when I was studying architecture. It reversed the typical model of a museum into something that was engaging and inviting to the public. Architecture at that time needed to do things differently, like a shock. The shock liberates a lot of emotions and perceptions.”