AD Readers Debate: Calatrava's WTC Hub, the AIA's Sustainability Role, and the Render as a Contract

The past two weeks in architecture have provided plenty to talk about in thanks to some big news stories, such as the opening of Santiago Calatrava’s World Trade Center Transportation Hub, and some hotly-debated articles, such as Lance Hosey’s critique of the AIA’s sustainability leadership. As a result, it’s been a busy couple of weeks in our comment section - read on to find out what ArchDaily readers had to say.

Santiago Calatrava’s World Trade Center Transportation Hub

via WTC Progress

With the opening - finally - of Santiago Calatrava’s Transportation Hub at the World Trade Center site, people were understandable keen to discuss their thoughts on the value for money given by the $4 billion design. Unfortunately for Calatrava, many felt that he had missed the target in dealing with the site’s context:

A nice structure, to be sure, but feels squeezed and out of place among all those tall buildings. Like a caged bird. - Reder!c

This looks more like a dinosaur ribcage rather than a bird and it doesn't make sense closed in by tall buildings, it's a waste of money. This kind of architecture fits well if you have a big open space and you want to put something for public use in the middle. Some museums or convention centers or sports centers or other public buildings are surrounded by a big park or have a plaza on one side and a big road on the other, there you can build a monument like this. What's wrong with a functional subterranean train station with some skylights and green public space on the surface? Green space in a dense city is better than anything built imho. And you can get creative with green space. - ararar3

In our round-up of critical reviews of the new building, however, one reader wanted to refocus the conversation on the money, picking up on a sentiment by Paul Goldberger:

‘At a time when this country spends far less on public works than it should…’ Its decrepit bridges are a testament to that. Outside the colosseum Rome burns. - Walt

This short comment raises a good question: even if the transportation hub hadn’t been billions of dollars over budget, given the current state of the United States’ transportation infrastructure is Manhattan really the best place to spend that money?

© Martin Tessler

The AIA’s Responsibility for Sustainability

Lance Hosey’s article this week, which criticized the AIA for removing sustainable design from their continuing education requirements, sparked some interesting discussions, with some people highlighting the lack of power they have to force a client’s hand in decisions around sustainability:

An architect can do everything within their power to promote sustainable design, but more often than not it seems to fall on client's deaf ears. How many clients still fight against accessibility standards? The only reason new construction provides accessibility compliance is due to regulations, and unfortunately the same will also be required to produce more sustainable buildings. - J.C.

However, readers also pointed out that this lack of power for the individual architect is exactly a reason why the AIA needs to make a stand on matters of sustainability:

This is where I find the AIA's role disappointing - we need extremely strong advocacy for more sustainable building standards. This is good for innovation, good for our profession, and good for the environment. There is very little pressure from within to seek training or even acquire an accurate awareness of buildings' impact on the environment. What I do see is lot of back-patting, and the view that LEED and other weak standards are solving the problem. - CBrenny

Exactly, there is no push for innovation without the pressure of higher standards. It is the creativity in which the standards are achieved that matters, not the regulations themselves. I do not agree with the dismissal of dedicated CE for sustainability, because seeking those credit hours is what exposes firms to the new & exciting possibilities outside of the traditional practice. - J.C.

My question to our readers, therefore, is this: how can we connect the dots here? If (at least some) architects are trying and failing to convince their clients, there must surely be a way that those same architects can convince the AIA to take more of a leading role. What can be done?

© A2 Studio

On the Render as a Public Promise

Another article that caused some discussion this week was MVRDV’s defense of their use of renders, where Jan Knikker and Alex Davidson argued that a render acts as a kind of “promise” to the public. One reader saw that as the potential starting point for a significant change in the construction industry:

Quite agree with rendering as a promise to the client and users, and I believe soon the perspective renderings could be a "graphical contract" as powerful as your blueprint. - Lim Nmil

I think this is a fascinating suggestion, however I question how feasible this might be in reality. While current construction documents have evolved to a high level of precision, renders involve - and always will - a certain amount of subjective interpretation of things such as light quality. This could lead to lawsuits based on things that are completely out of the architect’s control. But what do our other readers think? Is the idea of a contractually-binding render possible, and if so would it be desirable?


China’s New Regulations Against “Weird Architecture”

In response to China’s new directive to curb architecture that is “oversized, xenocentric, weird, and devoid of cultural tradition,” many readers were rather worried about exactly what it would mean for design in the country:

This could either be a great thing or a terrible thing, depending on how it’s enforced. If it targets things like Eiffel Tower replicas, or strange buildings that are crazy just for the sake of crazy, then it could refine China’s architectural landscape and help some of its original, non-western culture shine through.

Or it could follow the old saying, "the nail that sticks out gets hammered," and reject anything that shows a shred of creativity, reducing China’s architectural scene to stuff designed by ledgers and committees.

Hopefully it’s the former, I guess we'll see. - Conor Austin Jesse Sass

Hopefully, indeed.

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

About this author
Cite: Rory Stott. "AD Readers Debate: Calatrava's WTC Hub, the AIA's Sustainability Role, and the Render as a Contract" 06 Mar 2016. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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