25 October 2006

Two architects, two paths

A letter by architect Jyanzi Kong about the 2 proposals for the Sentosa integrated resort. The designs by Michael Graves and Frank Gehry represent two opposite ends of prevailing architectural thought. Letter.


Jordan said...

I am partial to Frank Gehry's work. This is an architect that is putting 'art' into architecture.
Gehry gets my vote.
Frank Gehry was born in Toronto, Canada, he changed his name from 'Goldberg' to Gehry. he now lives in Los Angeles, n is a us citizen. Graduated from U of Southern CA's school of Architecture, he also lectures at columbia n Yale. Having said that, it is his work that impresses me.
Singapore should go with Frank Gehry, his architecture are works of art worldwide.
But then again, it is more than just the architect's work involved.
There are many other obstacles that the management committee will be given, n presented with.

Anonymous said...

I would choose Gehry's architecture of the "uncertain truth", mainly because beautiful and unique architecture like these are inspirational to view (think Sydney Opera House) and can be iconic.

Of course, it looks like it may cost more to build, but one can think of it as an investment. Perhaps another "Uniquely Singapore" item for STB?

Booger said...

I don't think that a Casino, of all things, should be conceptualized as an icon of Singapore's continuity and/or change. As it is borne out of commercial interest and 'realism'(ostensibly so), one should not be discoursing about it and give anymore significance to it.

Surely I think it is de-basing to impute Singapore's histories onto an icon of consumerism. Hence the disneyfication of the Casino or whatever the developers want to do with it should be seen as a purely commercial endeavor.

The STB (or whoever's managing the project concept) should just stick to its day-job.

Ronald Lim said...

Much as I find Jyanzi Kong's article engaging, one needs to note that his posture was partial to Frank Gehry from the very outset, and I do not believe that he subjected Gehry to the same level of critical questioning as he did Graves.

I admire the adventurous forms of Gehry, yet I am of the opinion that Gehry has failed to break new ground since the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Singapore IR notwithstanding. The impact of that piece of icon and the success of the "Bilbao effect" condemned him to reproduce more of Bilbao because that is what his clients and everyone expected him to.

In this respect, much of Gehry's work since then has been more of the same, (e.g. the Walt Disney concert hall) and lack the punch/inventiveness of his earlier work such as the Gehry house (which ushered in the age of deconstructivism) or the Deutsche Bank in Berlin.

I also disagree with Jyanzi Kong's take on Michael Graves, much as I also personally disapprove of Graves' architecture. Contrary to Jyanzi Kong's statement that Michael Graves adopts the use of orders (columns) and axial relationships, I wager that he used them without the rigour and thought that our colonial architects did under their Beaux-Arts training. In that sense, the root of his architecture is not "conformity" per se but even worse, "mindless reproduction" with an uglier form in the absence of substance.

What I find disturbing about the whole IR process is that both architects were probably hired on account of their established "names", probably with a set deadline to produce a scheme as quickly as possible, and the expectation that since they had a name, they will produce the architecture that the government wants.

The difficulty is that the architect alone, even if he has attained super status, cannot always produce the right kind of architecture. Good architecture demands a client with the same objective and determination (I think, for example, of Hilla Rebay who was critical to the process of commissioning Wright for the Guggeheim Museum), it demands more time, more care, more questioning, and even more, an understanding of the context that is essential to compelling architecture that is suited to its site and context. The most successful pieces of architecture arise because the competition/commissioning brief made room for the right questions to be asked.

In that respect, both Gehry and Graves were doomed because they were condemned to producing flashy colourful forms for, of all things, a theme park/integrated resort that will not respond to the question of Singaporeaness. The client himself was, after all, expected to present before a panel of ministers the fanciest and most impressive proposal that will win him the bid. He himself doesn't care for the architecture. He probably hired the architect on account of his "name".

(As an example, the designer for our Marina Bay IR, Moshe Safdie was probably hired for his "world-renowned" status. Yet, his rise to critical acclaim was not due to recent work, but was because of his 1968 Habitat apartments that revolutionised housing. That was more than 30 years ago.)

The sad thing is that, like every other city (from Taipei to Dubai) that wants to jump on the Bilbao bandwagon, we think we can hire a superstar architect (anyone, as long as he has a name!) and expect an icon to emerge. In that respect, we are mindlessly outsourcing our imagination and how we want to be represented to the very architects who are reproducing works on every continent, in every city, many times over. (just count the number of cities that have museums / cultural centres by international architects ongoing)

We outsource our imagination, even when we have architects (e.g. Wong Mun Summ of WoHa, or Mok Wei Wei of W) who are well qualified to produce architecture that is Singaporean (not in terms of the nationality of the person who designs it, but in terms of the context it responds to and the will of the epoch that it represents through form and space)

I say this not as a matter of national pride, but if you observed the history of accomplished architects, you will note that Corbusier's most compelling works were in France, that Alvar Aalto's responded to and were inspired by Finnish landscape, that Renzo Piano still has the strongest affinity for his projects in Genoa, and so on and so forth.

I am of the opinion that we are much better off taking the risk to trust our creative youths (who at their deepest levels of unconscious have a sense of what Singaporean is and what the city-nation-state Singapore stands for) and to have faith in the greatness they will rise to, if given the opportunity.

Jordan said...

I have to go with 'Ronald Lim's' input.
He makes a great point.
What happened to that line of thinking?
and who comes up with phrases like "IRs"? anyway? Some president Scholar at the round table???
Is 'Casino Resorts' such a dirty phrase for the Singapore govt?