Concerns are being raised about imposing buildings that ignore the urban contexts in which they are built, fail to make any concession to the human scale, and serve only as three-dimensional branding for their creators. These critiques echo an earlier generation’s displeasure with the anonymous global products of post-war Modernism. One response was Critical Regionalism, an approach that sought to humanise Modernism by making it more sensitive to place. The reaction this time around is more akin to the return to analogue that can be observed throughout contemporary culture – in the enthusiasm for vinyl records and handicrafts, for example. In an increasingly virtual world, there is a longing for human touch and a spirit of resistance to the invisible forces in which we find ourselves enmeshed.
There has also been a slow realisation that the beguiling, computer-generated images of glossy and curvaceous parametric buildings often work better on screen than in reality. Their construction still too often depends on a precision that is hard to achieve in practice. Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the architects of the recently opened Broad Museum in downtown Los Angeles, promised a diaphanous, perforated veil as its sweeping cladding. Instead, it is far more static, regularly shaped and solid – a concession that had to be made in the course of building.
In Britain in particular, ostentatious architecture did not guarantee the public’s affections. Many ill-conceived National Lottery-backed projects relied on the presumption that an impressive building alone would entice people to flood through the doors. In the case of Will Alsop’s arts centre The Public and Sheffield’s drum-kit-shaped pop-music museum, they didn’t. New uses for the vacant icons had to be found.