Last week, we attended a forum on urbanism held in Goldman Sach’s brand new building in downtown Manhattan. The forum specifically discussed the role of the mega project and its significance on the future of American urban development. The panel included Daniel Libeskind, Richard Kahan (the former Chairman and CEO of Battery Park City Authority) and Paul Goldberger, the architecture critic for The New Yorker.
A quick background of the origin of the “mega project” was discussed with the panelists noting that the mega-project is not an invention of our time, but rather an invention of New York. Grand Central Terminal and Rockefeller Center formed early examples for mega projects, and from their models sprang Battery Park City, and potentially Atlantic Yards.
Throughout the course of the evening, the role of the private verse public sector in designing mega projects was discussed and compared – as Battery Park was constructed in the public sector, while Libeskind’s parcel of the MGM Mirage CityCenter in Las Vegas was constructed through the private sector.
There was also an interesting discussion about the role of the public, (not the public sector but rather the people) in designing. Libeskind showed an acute attention to the client and praised the public input for Ground Zero explaining that, “if the public forces and the private sector is not balanced, then the project is not balanced” and even went on to say that “the future lies in public participation.”
But that idea was pushed further as Goldberger brought the issue of program to light. With regards to Ground Zero, the panelists discussed how the 10 million sqf of office space was privately agreed upon, and as a result, public input seemed to be secondary as program was not up for discussion. Sure, the public insisted on a memorial, but it would be interesting to see what path the project would have taken if the 10 million sqf was not predetermined….perhaps, the project may have become more successful.
When the discussion was opened to the floor, there was a comment about mega projects as being “anti-urban” because the meticulous planning of the project hinders the organic growth that would occur over time. In this way, the mega project becomes a static entity as it cannot respond or adapt to people’s changing needs. Yet, Libeskind felt that a mega project could be designed as a small entity. He felt that their affect could begin small and then grow, so as to afford it the flexibility to change.
The forum was particularly interesting because after studying Libeskind’s buildings, and then hearing him speak, there seemed a slight disjunction. While his words sounded quite thoughtful and his explanations of the relationship with the macro/micro scales were completely relevant, it seemed his words fell flat.
Of course, Libeksind isn’t the only architect whose buildings are perceived with a different understanding than a project description supplies. It seems to be a constant struggle to have the “words” completely supported by “the architecture”, so we can perceive the buildings and the words as a cohesive whole.