Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Architecture and art. Art and architecture. First of all, I don't have anything against either. When I was in high school, I wanted to become an architect, and even if I don't get some of it, I can appreciate art.

But that doesn't mean that these two go together especially well!

Why I'm writing this

I think I need to go into details here. The reason I'm ranting about this now is that, a few days ago, I saw an article in our local newspaper. It was about an architecture prize for either the whole country or just our state, I don't know any more.
The point is that it had a category for public buildings, which I was curious about since the newest additions to our university's campus are the second reason for this rant. While the architects for these things were nominated, they didn't win.

First thought: Phew, there's some common sense left in this world.
Second thought: Why the hell were they nominated in the first place?

Art vs Architecture

While they go together, that doesn't mean they should. Thing is that art and buildings are... kind of different. And if this were You Don't Know Jack, I'd be playing DisOrDat with you now.

For one, there's the main purpose for both. Art is there to be, in one way or the other, experienced. That could mean looking at it, smelling it, licking it... I don't know, art is weird. Buildings, on the other hand, are mainly there to be used. People live in them, work in them, visit them... they should be, in some way, practical.

I'm not saying that these two don't go together, but, and that's a big but, you have to have your priorities set straight. I'm perfectly okay with buildings that are also art. What I don't ever want to see is art that is also a building.

Case study: These accursed university buildings

I'm not going to use names, but those who are familiar with this unholy trinity of design are going to know anyways.

These buildings aren't practical. I feel like the architect(s) in question didn't think about the fact that, yes, there are going to be people who are going to work in these buildings. Each has their own oh so specific flaws, which I will list in the order they pop up in my head now:
  • Colors: I know, white walls are boring. Gray walls are boring too. You know what isn't boring? Green. Green like this! A list of things that are green in this building: The walls. The doors. The floor, even though they had mercy on us and put some gray fibers in there. The toilets. Yes, you read that right. The whole toilet room (except for the bowls, most likely because they couldn't find any that weren't white) is in this damn green tone.
    The good thing is that people complained and the architect(s) listened. The second building got white walls. Too bad that the rest was still yellow! And yes, there was more complaining.
    So the third building got its main color changed from orange to a really unhealthy shade of brown. And beige for the most part. Congratulations, it only took you three buildings to start using a decent color scheme! Oh, and guess which one of these three colors was used for the toilets...
  • Layout: You know you're doing it wrong when you look at an M. C. Escher painting and think "I want to build that." For reference:
    Hey, it's perfectly reasonable design!
    This point actually managed to get worse over the course of three buildings. The first one, which I will call the green house from now on, has a reasonable layout. It's got four floors wherever you look, the stairs, while aligned in this fancy non-rectangular way that screams "look at me, I'm art," are actually gathered in one part of the building, and they had the foresight to put some tables in there for students who are waiting for their lectures. Or typing rants. The second one, yellow house, starts out with having the ground floor split in two, with one entrance on each side. The stairs kind of look like the architect(s) forgot about them and just put them in wherever there was space left and we get some glorious things like three elevators, not all of whom reach all the floors. When I last tried to describe my way to get to a specific part of a specific floor to someone, that person lost me after the first time I had to use an elevator because there were no stairs. I think that the most reasonable part of this building is the emergency exits.
    As for part three, (I'm so tempted to just call it shit house), I haven't looked into this one that much, but I'm sure there's some madness in it too. But mostly there's holes in the floor where space for additional tables could have been.
  • Impractical artsy things: The layout at large is bad enough, but there are so many things that would have been better if they had gone for practical use instead of being artsy. Like the aforementioned holes in the floor. Because yeah, whenever there's space that's not needed for closets or fuse boxes or the occasional bridge, there's holes. And, for additional artsiness, there's neon tubes hanging from the ceiling on wires. So yeah, if you have vertigo, these are not your buildings. Oh, and yellow as well as brown house have elevators encased in glass, which leads to a nice "aah, hole in the floor" effect. Would it be that bad to just simulate railings with sandblasted glass? And again, if you have vertigo, these are not your buildings. Not to mention that these holes are huge wastes of space.
    Talking about huge wastes of space: Someone really loved slanted things. If a wall doesn't need to contain a door, chances are it's not straight. And again, I get that straight things are boring. But walls that have, like a 30° angle, are just dumb. They cut down the usable space of a room and most of the time, you can't even place shelves at them. And let's not even talk about the random slanted pillars in some of the rooms. I mean, I'm no engineer, but I don't think they're carrying anything. Again, giant waste of space.
    And then there's stuff that just raises my eyebrows, like the freight elevator in the yellow house. You know, a big potentially people-squishing platform. It the danger zone marked with a tiny yellow house yellow line on the ground. Well, it must be legit because they got through with it, but still, what? I mean, I'd be okay with it if it was in an area you don't really come to as an ordinary student, but it's directly on the way to the toilets and one of the elevators for that floor. You can't do stuff like that, it's kind of stupid!
tl;dr: These buildings suck, and if this design won a competition, I'd like to see the others. And to architects out there: I don't care if your art gets rejected by everyone, but that's not an excuse to put artsiness before practical use when you're designing a f'ing building!