Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Not a Nice Place to Visit, and I Wouldn't Want to Live There, Either
ROM-ruining architect Daniel Libeskind has just unveiled "Villa", a "luxury" mass-produced pre-fab house that can be shipped and assembled anywhere in the world. For a mere $3 million to $6 million (depending on finishes and location), you can own a cookie cutter home, which may or may not be suitable to the climate, geography, or building site of your choice, and which may or may not leak, but which IS guaranteed to induce a state unease, if not out-right high anxiety, in all who enter (let alone try to eat or sleep in the place).
I tried, I really, really tried, to find something to like about the Libeskind addition to Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum. But: it's not a "crystal", it's trailer-park siding. It's depressing and disorienting from the moment you walk in. It's got little functional exhibition space. The execution and detailing is abysmal throughout ("Staircase of Blunders"?). It sends such nasty feng shui poison arrows at its neighbours on Bloor Street that I don't even want to go to my favourite roof-top bar anymore.
As an architect, Libeskind seems enjoy making people feel uncomfortable in his buildings. There is nothing pleasant, uplifting or humane about the experience. Oddly, he manages to get handsomely paid for designing the same thing over and over. With "Villa", at least the marketing is straightforward: it is a pre-fab. Anyone foolish enough, or status-seeking enough to buy one will have only themselves to blame. Unfortunately, Torontonians who love the ROM can only wonder how on earth this project, literally based on a sketch on a paper serviette, ever came to fruition.
However, the European design and architectural community is not proving to be as gullible. An article published yesterday in the respected online architectural and design journal "De Zeen" has generated 36 comments so far, almost entirely negative. Here is a sampling:
(Some of the respondents obviously are not native english speakers, but their meaning is "crystal" clear)
"This makes me so sad, when architects don’t care if its a museum or a private house, it all looks the same. This is where our bad reputation is founded. Care more about the content DL!"
"And where exactly is architecture here??? Money making machine! You can just order the same house, put it on the beach or in your backyard… North, East, nomether where, it belongs everywhere??? Pack up the house, load the truck, put it anywhere you want just show us the money! That should be the line for seling it! This man cannot be serious!!!"
"I live on Greenland. It will perfectly fit on the climate there :-P
The real good thing in this project that I have finally found out what kind of architect he is. Daniel, please find another job. Please."
Stupid shape - [Check]
Pretentious logic - [Check]
Corny symbolism - [Check]
Rehash of unbuilt project - [Check]
Stupid diagonals - [Check]
Immature design rational - [Check]
Sloped wall gimmick - [Check]"
"For $3mil - $4 mil. a wealthy client should expect a unique house that responds to a specific site, a highly personal lifestyle and individual aesthetic goals. Libeskind’s mass-produced, “one-size-fits-all” house, however glorified in the jargonistic buzzwords of the day (i.e. “sustainability”), satisfies none of those ideals. Hence it can never truly be considered high-end design. It will never be more than something for the intellectually insecure to use to try and achieve social credibility. Only a fool would buy into the hype."
"Architectural Masterpieces, I think not!
Emperors New Clothes, anybody?"
You can see pictures, read Libeskind's promotional materials, and read the commentary in full here.