INSIGHT: Let’s Quiet Down: The Case for Places, Regionalism, and Sustainability /ArchNewsNow
Architecture should be concerned primarily with place-making, not object-making.
By Peter Gisolfi, AIA, ASLA, LEED AP
May 30, 2012
Recently, an eminent speaker at the Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York devoted his lecture to an art gallery in Great Britain. When it became clear that the building, albeit distinguished, had no discernable connection to its setting, I lost interest. Architecture should be concerned primarily with place-making, not object-making. Why doesn’t everybody agree with me? Isn’t it obvious that buildings must belong where they are sited? To understand more clearly the issue of place, consider the two southern corners of Central Park in New York City. At the southeast corner on 5th Avenue at 59th Street is Edward Durell Stone and Emery Roth & Sons’ General Motors Building 1968. It fights with its setting. It diminishes Grand Army Plaza across the avenue. It does not contribute to the place. At the southwest corner is SOM’s Time Warner Center. This building is sympathetic to Columbus Circle. It reinforces the energy of the swirling traffic around the fountain plaza at the center. It enhances the place. Put simply, the Time Warner Center is an elaborate edge building that helps define an outdoor room – Columbus Circle. The GM Building replaced a building that once formed the eastern edge of the plaza in front of the Plaza Hotel. By setting the GM tower back from the street, the defining edge of the plaza was eliminated, and a sterile streetscape created. The urban design failure of the GM Building is well known; it results from a lack of regard for the outdoor space. The success at Columbus Circle results from following the curve of the circular plaza, an idea unrealized by the predecessor buildings. Neither building is a masterpiece, but a building does not have to be a masterpiece to fulfill its role of enhancing the place.