Many challenges underline the urgency of reconsidering dominant approaches to development, land use, and the institutional framework that governs them, in addition to the political context, which requires a novel and creative counter-approach in Chekka and Surrounding Towns in North Lebanon. As such, this competition is an open call for planners, designers, environmental scientists, agricultural engineers, economists and other professionals to draft an intervention framework, which simultaneously answers the concept of sustainable development and the immediate needs of the people, including job opportunities and a local economy, without compromising their health, the environment and local economic resources.
Both articles confuse me. “Good buildings recede seamlessly into their surroundings,” Rennix and Robinson claim, but the buildings they praise—figural structures such as London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Moorish palace of The Alhambra—stand out prominently. D’Aprile criticizes the authors’ imprecise use of terminology, but, as the opening passage above shows, her own language can be vague, relying on words such as iconic, ubiquitous shorthand among architects. (If it’s intended to convey “distinctive,” the irony is that most buildings described with that term have a similar sculptural character, so in our mind’s eye they all sort of blend together—the opposite of distinction.) She defines architecture as “buildings that have been designed for construction in the physical world.” Aren’t all buildings constructed “in the physical world”? And are all unrealized designs necessarily relegated to something other than architecture?
Late last month Current Affairs published an essay by Brianna Rennix and Nathan J. Robinson titled “Why You Hate Contemporary Architecture: And if you don’t, why you should.” The piece, written in a pseudo-funny Internet lexicon wherein all objects of criticism are “garbage,” is so laden with irony—the poorest of substitutes for analysis—that it is difficult to discern a core argument. Still, I’d like to question the central premise of the piece: that what the authors term “contemporary architecture” is ugly and oppressive, and that liking it is nothing shy of immoral.
Architects are economically bipolar; for us it is either the best or the worst of times. And it’s not just architects. The entire construction industry is tuned to these extremes, but only architects are psychologically validated by booms and crushed by busts. All professions have a larger source of dependency—medicine needs insurance, law needs the justice system—but the construction industry has a starker equation: building requires capital.
Contractors tend to react to market flows in purely transactional ways. Booms mean more work, more workers, more estimates, business expansion. For architects, a boom means life validation. Every architect wants to make a difference, and many want to offer salvation, like the architect Richard Rogers, who once said, “My passion and great enjoyment for architecture, and the reason the older I get the more I enjoy it is because I believe we—architects—can affect the quality of life of the people.” But salvation can only be earned if buildings are created.
The New York Times has published an in-depth article entitled ‘How China Built iPhone City With Billions in Perks for Apple’s Partners’, revealing a treasure chest of public benefits for the world’s biggest iPhone factory in Zhengzhou, China. In a city of six million inhabitants in an impoverished region of China, the local government has contributed $1.5 billion to Foxconn, Apple’s supplier of iPhones. The money is used, in part, to improve local infrastructure, reduce Foxconn's export costs, and build housing for the factory’s 350,000-strong workforce (five times the number of people employed directly by Apple in the United States).
Most visitors to the Galapagos Islands point their cameras towards the exotic animals and away from the local people. They direct their full attention to the natural landscape, as if to intentionally deny the existence of the urban space of the city, since the presence of any form of architecture would seem in logical conflict with the islands’ identity as a protected wildlife reserve.
The architecture of the Galapagos is both a conceptual and physical contradiction. Like a Piranesian joke, the San Cristobal typology of the proto-ruin falls somewhere on a spectrum between construction and dismantlement. With their “permanently unfinished” construction state seemingly in flux, it is unclear whether many of these buildings display a common optimism for vertical expansion or are instead symptoms of a process of urban decay.