Saturday, March 03, 2007

It's Not Pretty Being Green

The latest craze in architecture, after fizzled experiments in Modernism, Post Modernism, Brutalism, Deconstructionism, and Post-Brutal-Deconstructed-Neo-Modernism, is a genuflection to environmental consciousness called “Green Building” or “Sustainable Architecture.”

For the most part, building green means cloaking an intrinsically inefficient high rise building in an ecological hair shirt that makes owners feel good and tenants feel miserable.

The latest example of Green Building has risen in San Francisco where the lunatics by the Bay have ripped apart one of the grittier parts of their foggy asylum to construct what is surely the most ridiculous building of our still young century, the poetically named Federal Building.

A unique combination of crackpot environmentalism and elaborate ugliness, when it finally opens its doors (or flaps, or airlocks, or orifices, or something) this month, the Federal Building will become the first terrorist target that even al Qaeda would have to admit could only be improved by explosive charges.

It’s as if the Feds decided that instead of risking the destruction of beautiful new office building, they’ll just blow it up themselves right now and get it over with.

Indeed the design of the Federal Building seems to be directly inspired by the Alfred Murrugh Building in Oklahoma City and the Khobar Towers in Infidelphia, Saudi Arabia.

How bad is this building? It’s hard to quantify but keep in mind that it is an office tower tall enough to disrupt the skyline of the city yet its elevators only stop on every third floor to conserve precious energy.

And after trudging up and down the stairs on a blazing summer afternoon the unfortunate tenants soak in their own sweat because the building has no air conditioning . . . again to save energy.

Who could have conceived of such a manifestly bad idea? Well, imagine a hip West Coast architect who surrounds himself with turtle necked young designers and calls his firm Morphosis and you have Thom Mayne.

Did I mention Thom Mayne wears Corbu glasses? Of course he does. Corbu glasses are to pompous architects what waacka waacka guitar licks are to late 70s porno movie soundtracks. I’m beginning to think these glasses themselves might actually be the root cause of bad architecture.

A profile of Mayne in the San Francisco Chronicle includes this telling insight:

“Mayne doesn't see his work as ugly, for starters. He also seems honestly baffled by the Bay Area notion that new buildings should mimic the architectural character of their surroundings -- or, as Mayne puts it, indulge in ‘the anachronistic illusion of some other time.’”

Does anyone begin an interview with a statement about how ugly your work is not unless it is truly and demonstrably ugly? And secondly, if you’re baffled by 3,000 years of esthetic wisdom you probably have no business designing real buildings that people might actually see.

Hopefully, the Mayne event in San Francisco will be so notoriously bad that it will do for enviro-fundementalism what the Tweed Courthouse did for corrupt government . . . that is, give it unmistakable form that provokes people corrective action.

Until then, federal employees by the Bay will have plenty of time to contemplate the consequences of global climate change while working in their very own greenhouse.

UPDATE: Christopher Hawthorne of the Los Angeles Times suggests that Mayne's latest gift to humankind may not even qualify for Silver LEED certification. Translation: It's ugly and it's not even "green."

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