J.D. Welch - User Experience Design

Frank Gehry's awful
Stata Center at MIT

Why he's my least favorite architect, ever

stata centerthe architect himself says his $300 million new computer science and artificial intelligence building at M.I.T. "looks like a party of drunken robots got together to celebrate" in an ny times article published today. wired has some good photos and alex beam's column in the boston globe has nothing nice to say.

the supposed adaptability of the building to its inhabitants' needs and whims is used to explain away a lot of its ridiculousness. gehry says in the wired piece: "They loved Building 20 [which the new structure is replacing] because they could beat it up. So I said, 'How about a building where you feel comfortable banging the walls out, putting up stuff?'" to whit, he provided plywood partitions, but, as the times notes, that's not good enough for graduate student kunal agrawal, who uses "headphones to block out the noise, and that she had covered the glass walls in front of her desk with sheets of paper" to minimize the distraction of the building's freeform spaces and lack of offices— 370 for over 1,000 people. wired again: "When Microsoft comes to recruit, notes one doctoral candidate, 'one of their big selling points is: "Our offices have doors." With the kind of focused work people do here, spin-up and spin-down times are excessive.'"

that the building is asethetically a disaster should be obvious from the above photo of the model.

i enjoy exactly one gehry building: the weisman art museum at the university of minnesota at minneapolis, and like it in that only a single façade is done in the now-ubiquitous undulating metal skin; the rest of the building is a solid modernist design. even his admittedly groundbreaking guggenheim bilbao is looking dated, not to mention its titanium skin looking worse for wear.

extrapolating his signature style into a franchise with the local-to-me experience music project, he created an unbelievable blight on the nifty world's fair period architecture, the recently opened, stunning mccaw hall and, of course, the emp's immediate neighbor, the space needle.

the one place i cannot stand kitsch in art is architecture, and, for example, as much as i love michael graves' denver central library, his dolphin and swan hotels are disgusting. it's a pity that frank gehry's 'whimsical' 'playful' or pick-a-euphamism silly, trendy, ephemeral design strategy has been such a success; i'm heartened that his latest undertaking, a mixed-use and among other things new home for the new jersey nets in brooklyn is meeting a strong backlash, despite his bullshit claim that his showy work isn't meant to bring "the bilbao effect" to cities around the world.

with structures like 2004-pritzker-prize-laureate zaha hadid's contemporary arts center in cincinatti or rem koolhaas' forthcoming seattle central library (expect to hear from me about that one when it opens in a couple of weeks), it is clearly possible to create significant and interesting buildings without resorting to trendy tricks that will look awful in a few years. however, as long as people keep hiring him, gehry and his associates will produce exorbitantly expensive, ugly buildings. most humerously, the architecture hate page ranks the guggenheim bilbao #6, right after the utilitarian big box of another icon of world architecture, the wal-mart store.