Sunday, September 03, 2006

Daniel Libeskind vs. Denver's Civic Center Park

"It seems to me that architecture is, in fact, the machine that produces the universe which produces the gods. It does so not fully through theories or reflection, but in the ever non-repeatable and optimistic act of construction. The qualities of its resistance, which are as pragmatic as the materials from which it is built, form an irascible and volatile field whose smile is not that of Buddha." Daniel Libeskind

What the hell does this mean? It's either very, very profound (so profound that I am, in fact, having trouble digesting it) or is it so much bullshit from someone who likes to talk fast because, in doing so, he can just slipslide his way through the moment without really giving anyone an opportunity to contemplate what he's just said. I agree; it sounds good. But, what the hell does it mean? God is a product of the universe which is a product of architecture? I don't know...

It was instructive that both the the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post columnists, who usually write about historical preservation and parks and art and environmental issues, were less than enthusiastic with Libeskind's "conceptual vision" for Civic Center Park.

Voelz Chandler, News columnist, noted:

"You know you are in trouble when one of the first comments from the architect [Libeskind, during the unveiling of his 'vision'] is 'We left all the historic elements."

Forgive me, but did the epitome of architectural haute couture--Libeskind--actually believe the "...historic elements..." of Civic Center Park were available for removal; up for grabs?

Voelz Chandler continues: "That is true. The Greek Theater is there, and the Voorhies Memorial, and the balustrades. But they are obscured by so many other things that a statement like Libeskind's becomes as much apology as defense. ...This would be a busy, busy place -- not the serene ambience intended by a Beaux Art assemblage of buildings, sculpture and landscaping elements."

Let's look for a moment at Joanne Ditmer's column in the Denver Post: "Busy, busy, busy --and too much of a good thing.

"That was my conclusion after attending two presentations Wednesday on New York architecDanielle Libeskind's proposal for revitalizing 88-year-old Civic Center. Initially, his design -- with a major pondcontemporaryry fountains, glass house cafes, canopied walkways and a soaring bridge -- seemed fresh, exciting and imaginative. And it is. It would be a beautifulexhilaratingng park -- somewhere else.

"These amenities were not meant to enhance this cherished, historic public park and gathering place, tucked between Denver City Hall and the State Capitol.

"The look-at-me design is a showcase of a celebrity architect's fertile imagination, not a sensitive enhancement of a city park so special that it is on the Nation Register ohistoricalri Places, one of just 7 percent on the register with the rating 'site of national significance.' It [the Libeskind vision] is a frivolity superimposed on one of downtown's last green spaces..."

The Libeskind "vision" for Civic Center Park is an incongruous assemblage of disparate components that only do not enhance the preservation of the historical elements in the precious open space, but pose a kind of amusement park crassness to the space. (What on earth is the torqued extravaganza that Libeskindnd calls a bridge that spans from the park to Sixteenth Street? Was this inspired from a visit to Six Flags where the Sidewinder for the Boomerang--roller coaster type rides--bare a striking resemblance to Libeskind's "vision" for a bridge?) Ditmer, the Post's columnist, observes that the design of this pedestrian bridge looks something " a whale's skeleton."

One of the most curious comments with regard to the revitalization, remake, preservation, enhancement--whatever you want to call it--of Civic Center Park came from Mayor John Hickenlooper. When asked about the issue of all the homeless folk who tend to congregate in the park, the Hick said, "If we create a great park [shades of Federico Pena's, "Imagine a great city..."], people will fill it, and I guarantee you that the people who are struggling to get their lives together aren't going to stick around."

The comment is curious because the mayor'euphemism--"...people who are struggling to get their lives together..."--colors the reality that those folks who hang in Civic Center Park today are drug dealers, drug seekers, mall rats, homeless, mentally disturbed, criminals, crooks, crass cranks, and hopheads who--when, as the mayor says, Civic Center Park becomes "...great..." ain't gonna be goin' nowhere, your honor. You bring good, decent, hard-working decent folk into the park and guess who's gonna be hangin' around, hopin' for handout, hopin' for a transaction, hopin' to intimidate, plead, cajole or simply steal from the other half who most of these pitiful souls believe caused their problems in the first place.

There is a wee bit of comfort in knowing that I am not alone in wondering what the hell this Libeskind "vision" for Civic Center Park accomplishes. Indeed:

Two Blowhards

If you'’ve got a little curiosity about contempo architecture and you take a peek at its coverage in the mainstream press (as well as the specialist architectural press), you'’re probably running into names like Daniel (WTC-site) Libeskind, Herbert Muschamp, Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, and Coop Himmelblau. You'’re probably also running into a lot of photos of zigzaggy, blown-to-bits buildings that look a bit like an L.A. kitchen the morning after the big one.

Chances are that, unless you'’ve gone to architecture school or have been otherwise marinated in contempo "theory," you probably have some variation on what I think of as the "Huh? What the fuck?" response. The writing and thinking seem almost incomprehensible and, when comprehensible, engaged with issues and ideas that seem of no conceivable human interest whatsoever. The designs themselves sometimes seem kind of cool and flashy -- but, lordy, imagine having to live in, or work in, or even have to pass regularly by such heaps of self-referential showboating.


City Comforts, the Blog

Syncophants Arise
I can hear their shrieks now:
Libeskind's Denver Art Museum Expansion
Now calm down. It's not that I am immune to the spectacular. I like the Rockettes and I like Liberace and I like the movie theaters of the 1920s. And I even like this Libeskind design, as much of its interior as is shown anyway. But as an advancement of culture it's so nothing-to-do with the daily texture of striving, so arty. But I grant him an A for intention: Libeskind would like to be relevant. In fact he writes about the importance of architecture:

It seems to me that architecture is, in fact, the machine that produces the universe which produces the gods. It does so not fully through theories or reflections, but in the ever non-repeatable and optimistic act of construction. The qualities of its resistance, which are as pragmatic as the materials from which it is built, form an irascible and volatile field whose smile is not that of Buddha.

The only problem is that his words are too unclear to have any real substance. It would be nice if a (probably) talented fellow like Libeskind could get down from his high horse and just talk plain English.

One does not suffer lightly the machinations of someone, an architect for christ's sake, whose mantra includes the poo-poo of any further consideration of form/function in the design of buildings/landscapes that folks are going to live and/or work in or around. That's probably because I've not gotten an architectural degree in the last five or so years from a university where, I'm told, the form/function given is no longer a given and, well, let your imagination go, young'uns. It don't matter what the functional necessities of the rabble who have to live with, in or around your designs want/desire. What matters is that architectural design creates the universe which creates Libeskind has imparted to us.

What more needs to be said.

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