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Economics: The Latest Architecture and News

Good Design Does Have Economic Value—No Matter What Critics of Contemporary Architecture Say

09:30 - 12 December, 2017
Good Design Does Have Economic Value—No Matter What Critics of Contemporary Architecture Say, Yale University Sculpture Building / Kieran Timberlake. Image © Peter Aaron/Esto
Yale University Sculpture Building / Kieran Timberlake. Image © Peter Aaron/Esto

This article was originally published by Common Edge as "What Critics of Contemporary Architecture Are Missing: The Value of Design."

“The reason that highly designed contemporary architecture almost exclusively manifests in iconic structures is that it’s the only way that investing in design and aesthetic quality can turn a profit.” This is the central assertion of “The Politics of Architecture Are Not a Matter of Taste,” published in Common Edge a couple of weeks ago (and republished as “Hate Contemporary Architecture? Blame Economics, Not Architects” on ArchDaily). Marianela D’Aprile’s impassioned essay takes issue with a Current Affairs piece from October, “Why You Hate Contemporary Architecture,” in which the authors, staff writers Brianna Rennix and Nathan J. Robinson, hate on the current state of the design industry.

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?

Hate Contemporary Architecture? Blame Economics, Not Architects

09:30 - 22 November, 2017
Hate Contemporary Architecture? Blame Economics, Not Architects, <a href='https://www.archdaily.com/65609/center-for-brain-health'>Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health / Frank Gehry</a>. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/kimberlyreinhart/4586001600'>Flickr user kimberlyreinhart</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/'>CC BY-ND 2.0</a>
Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health / Frank Gehry. Image © Flickr user kimberlyreinhart licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

This article was originally published by Common Edge as "The Politics of Architecture Are Not a Matter of Taste."

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.

10 Years On, How the Recession Has Proven Architecture's Value (And Shown Us Architects' Folly)

09:30 - 17 May, 2017
10 Years On, How the Recession Has Proven Architecture's Value (And Shown Us Architects' Folly), © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/backkratze/3482233639/'>Flickr user backkratze</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a>
© Flickr user backkratze licensed under CC BY 2.0

This article was originally published by Common Edge as "Building Madness: How the Boom and Bust Mentality Distorts Architecture."

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.

Want to Understand the Inner Workings of China's iPhone City? Start Here

08:00 - 26 January, 2017
Want to Understand the Inner Workings of China's iPhone City? Start Here, Apple Store in Shanghai, China © Flickr user wza. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Apple Store in Shanghai, China © Flickr user wza. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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).

Apple Store in Shanghai, China © Flickr user wza. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Zhengzhou Convention Centre © Flickr user josechugijon. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Foxconn manufactures the iPhone © Flickr user prachatai. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 iPhone City, Zhengzhou at night © Flickr user damien_thorne. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 + 5

“Permanently Unfinished”: The Evolution of Architecture in the Galapagos Islands

06:00 - 11 January, 2017
“Permanently Unfinished”: The Evolution of Architecture in the Galapagos Islands, © Joseph Kennedy
© Joseph Kennedy

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.

"Unfinished" construction in Puerto Baquerzio Moreno. Image © Joseph Kennedy "Unfinished" construction in Puerto Baquerzio Moreno. Image © Joseph Kennedy "Unfinished" construction in Puerto Baquerzio Moreno. Image © Joseph Kennedy "Unfinished" construction in Puerto Baquerzio Moreno. Image © Joseph Kennedy + 61