Thursday, June 30, 2005

Lot 5 design update

Yesterday for two hours the Council met again in a work session with members of the Ram Development team for more discussion about the architecture we want to see on the Lot 5 development. As promised, they presented us with a series of photos of various styles of urban mixed-use developments as a way of trying to get a sense of what we liked. I was not sure this process was going to be very productive--it seemed like a was a good way to ensure that we went down the road of generic, derivative architecture--but I think it was good in that the Ram team now has a clearer sense of our collective aesthetic sense.

We don't agree on everything, but we mainly do agree on the following: we don't want neotraditional, we don't want postmodern, either of which style ends up in fakery. Thumbs down on a building designed to look as if it were once an old warehouse. Many cities have old warehouses that are morphing into condos--Chicago is full of them, so for that matter is Durham--but that's not us. What we do want is design that is real: exposed steel beams are fine, for example (whereas nonfunctional columns making statements in the neat postmodern way are not). We like texture (wood is a nice complement) and warm colors. As I said to the Ram folks, trying to synthesize what we were hearing, I think that we have a basically modernist sensibility.

Nothing is anywhere near settled yet, but for now we seem to be headed in the right direction. The team that will be negotiating the development agreement with Ram--which I'm on--will meet over the rest of the summer. The Ram folks will be back in September to the full Council with design sketches for consideration.

It makes sense that the same kind of tension going on here--a desire for real, non-generic architecture set against uninspired marketplace realities--might be going on elsewhere. Some of the photos we saw were so far off the mark that I wondered they bothered; and one, I swear, was on one of the "magnificent malls" of Chicago's North Michigan Avenue.

In Chicago, planning and superior design are on parallel paths that seldom converge. Regional planning has largely lost interest in the quality of the built environment, while municipal regulation, by its charge, is less a force for extending Chicago's legacy of architectural innovation than a machine for maximizing development by taming the most egregious design features of the market economy. As a result, seldom in Chicago's history has the will to create superior architecture been as marginalized as it is today.

But more about Chicago later. Because I want to post some pictures I took on our trip, I've been holding off till my webmaster is back in town. (Tucker gets home today from a trip to Scotland, England, and Wales with the North Carolina Boys Choir.)

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