ArchDaily Readers Debate: Preservation, BIG in Pittsburgh and Foster Imitating Frank Lloyd Wright

ArchDaily Readers Debate: Preservation, BIG in Pittsburgh and Foster Imitating Frank Lloyd Wright

The past two weeks have seen a number of high-profile designs unveiled, including OMA in Manchester, SANAA in Budapest, Libeskind in Vilnius, Foster + Partners in Chicago and two projects involving BIG in Pittsburgh and New York. As ever with such renowned practices scooping up work, opinions flew and in some cases also produced reasoned debate over the new projects. Read on to find out what people had to say about them.

New Debates

BIG, West 8 and Atelier Ten's Plan for Pittsburgh

Courtesy of BIG
Courtesy of BIG

The biggest project announcement of the past two weeks was undoubtedly the $500 million BIG-led masterplan in Pittsburgh - a project which some readers voiced measured concern over:

"The architectural language is teetering on being excessively derivative of the rest of BIGs work - the obsession with 'mountain' forms is predominate. I think the massing and general concept is pretty good. But it's dangerous to give so many buildings to a single architect. The city may end up with a 'campus' or 'district' effect, where one section due to its homogeneity and same-age construction segregates itself from the surrounding context through formation of informal boundaries. The city also risks its uniqueness by allowing such a distinct pattern - already in place in other cities on a lesser scale - to be repeated. Which really begs the question: why did they need to hire BIG at all? Why not find a local architect / planner already intimately familiar with the history and bureaucracy of the place?" - John Delaney

Fortunately for John Delaney, he didn't have to wait long to find a "Pittsburgher at heart" who was indeed intimately familiar with the area. This is just an excerpt from the great comment by Jeremy Walsh, but the full thing can be seen here and I highly recommend it:

"I am really not sure why they did not go through with, say, the master plan that local firm Urban Design Associates put together around ten years ago (full disclosure: I worked for UDA for eight years).

When I read a headline this morning that BIG had been selected to prepare a design for the old Civic Arena site, I felt a rush of excitement run through me... But after reviewing the renderings and working diagrams, I have mixed feelings... BIG's design does not feel urban to me, unfortunately. As they seem to describe their design, a 'meandering public realm' just doesn't scream 'Hill District.' The main east-west boulevard leads right into a 'bowl' created by the buildings addressing the higher scale of the Downtown, rather than acting as a conduit to the bustle of the city.

"I do appreciate the play with the roof lines and building heights to allow for view corridors and sight-lines from above. There is an acknowledgment of Pittsburgh's topography and those wonderful 'long views' that are cherished so much. But in doing so, it reminds me of a post-war European hill town. Context? And I also appreciate the concepts illustrated in the working diagrams - unfortunately, what was worked out in plan does not translate in the massing and architectural expression.

"While I think it is wonderful that a firm like BIG is working on such a large scale in Pittsburgh, I am not convinced that this plan was the right one. I will be curious to see how it progresses." - Jeremy Walsh

Norman Foster "Inspired" by Frank Lloyd Wright?

via MacRumors
via MacRumors

News from Foster + Partners that their design for Chicago's new Apple store was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie Style Homes caused some ridicule, with readers questioning the interpretation of Wright's style:

"I don't believe Frank would have considered a magical floating roof to be of the prairie style. His broad overhangs had very evident support, like the the tree trunk at SC Johnson or the chimney mass sitting on the boulder at Fallingwater." - Eric

In fact, some suggested that the design was more reminiscent of another architect who made quite a name for himself in the Chicago area:

"Really, Norman? It seems more like you were inspired by Mies' Neue Nationalgalerie to me." - Rhodgers

The Problems Surrounding Postmodern Preservation

© Flickr user merula licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
© Flickr user merula licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Yesterday's article Do Architectural Preservationists Know What They’re Fighting For? has already provoked some interesting responses, including this from Matthew Johnson:

"To my dismay, we've recently seen a resurgence of interest in architectural Postmodernism, and with it an interest in preserving some of the worst examples of it. The period produced many poorly crafted, dysfunctional buildings. Postmodernism was a case of academia driving the profession - theory dominated practice and what we got was lots of pink stucco and ridiculous overscaled quasi-historic details. Of course, there were good postmodernists and bad ones. Even a single architect's career might contain many examples of both. Robert Venturi produced a number of much-loved buildings (Houston's Childrens' Museum), and others that simply didn't work from day one (the Seattle Art Museum.)

"Simply because a building iconically represents a certain period in architecture shouldn't qualify it for preservation. Functionality, quality, and relationship to context should be taken into account." - Matthew Johnson

This response is exactly the kind of reaction I had intended to counter with the article, and I think it's important to discuss these competing claims of architectural preservation. A good example to use might be Michael Graves' Portland Building, a design which, by most accounts, was indeed dysfunctional from the start. But it was so influential that last year the City of Portland was convinced to preserve it as a piece of architectural history.

My article outlines the logic behind preserving buildings for historical posterity. So my question to Matthew Johnson is, when you write "Simply because a building iconically represents a certain period in architecture shouldn't qualify it for preservation" - why not?

Meanwhile, Anon-e-mouse used the opportunity to discuss a perceived inbalance between preservation and new construction:

"What I would like to add from how preservation is treated elsewhere such as Miami, the general public and city puts more effort in preserving something than in what gets built. It seems like whatever gets built and no matter how bad it is suddenly it gets this special protection because it is old regardless of historical importance. But the debate about what gets built and why is usually less so. I think that is an interesting dynamic. I saw a little of this in the article about London and I don't know if it's the same in other places." - Anon-e-mouse

I think in many cases I agree with this sentiment, and might humbly suggest that perhaps this is because it is easier for the public to comprehend the loss of a building that already exists than to assess the damage caused by one that is yet to be built. However, I'd love to know what our other readers think; does this imbalance exist where you live? And if so, what do you think is the cause?

Continued Discussion

Snøhetta's SFMOMA (Again!)

© Henrik Kam, courtesy of SFMOMA
© Henrik Kam, courtesy of SFMOMA

We're now into our third week discussing Snøhetta's extension to the San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art, and each week new and intriguing arguments are added to the debate. One of the recurring criticisms has been that, as Stephen Mallory described it, Snøhetta's change to the original building's central staircase "highlights... the disdain that Snohetta seem to have for the architecture of the original building." However, this week Nico Wright added a valuable counter to that argument:

"The loss of the central staircase is truly unfortunate, though it should be noted that the stair was unsalvagable under the precept of the expansion plan as it could not support the egress code requirements for the additional occupancy that the expansion creates. I do not think that Snøhetta has such negative feelings about the original building's 'style.'" - Nico Wright

While this is an important point to bear in mind, it does however reframe the question - perhaps we should be asking whether Snøhetta could have redesigned the atrium to comply with these codes but still pay more respect to the original?

Keep the debate flowing! Please post any responses to these topics in the comments below.

About this author
Cite: Rory Stott. "ArchDaily Readers Debate: Preservation, BIG in Pittsburgh and Foster Imitating Frank Lloyd Wright" 29 Nov 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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