Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Five buildings that should not have been built

These are my monuments to architectural incompetence and/or excess:

Number 5: University of Wisconsin-Madison Humanities Building

Credit: http://img101.imageshack.us/img101/7577/dsc00115ol7.jpg

The ugliest building on the campus where I studied and worked for 19 years. A spectacular example of the 60's brutality school; a building that only a concrete thinker could appreciate. Perhaps the most ironically named building I know. UW is planning on tearing the building down, at which point the FBI building in Washington will take its place as the ugliest building of the type (although they are all ugly).

Number 4: Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York

Better known as "(Nelson) Rockefeller's Last Erection." Enough said.

Number 3: Principal Insurance Building, Des Moines, Iowa

This building is not so bad--it is not distinguished, but not so bad.

It is, however, excessive. Land in Des Moines is more or less free. High-rise construction is expensive, in part because high rise buildings need deep footings, and in part because rentable area is reduced by elevators. The reason for high-rises in New York and Hong Kong is that land is so expensive, the benefits of economizing on land outweigh the costs of the expensive improvements.

Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Photo_801grand_north-eastside_des_moines_usa_2007-06-15.jpg#file

Number 2: Petronis Towers, Kuala Lumpur

Credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/85/Petronas_Panorama_II.jpg

It was 30 percent empty when it opened. It looks like a very large pair of binoculars. I generally like Pelli's work, but...

Number 1: Burj Dubai

Credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b8/BurjDubaiJI3.jpg

Dubai puts the rest of the world (including perhaps even Vegas) to shame when it comes to excess. Burj Dubai is the tallest building in the world. Construction was halted before completion because of financial consideration. According to the Dubai newspaper The National, rents in Dubai are plummeting. Perhaps it is because one project has dramatically increase the amount of available space for rent.

I referred above to the low cost of land in Des Moines. Dubai is in the desert; when one flies into its (beautiful) airport, one sees empty land in every direction. Dubai is not Hong Kong.


Dave said...

You left out all of Brasilia.

As for Washington, DC: George Washington University's campus has some buildings ugly enough to rival the FBI's headquarters.

Anonymous said...

I've always referred to the NY capital complex as Brasilia. Truly the ugliest state capital in the country.

OTOH, Texas & California both have beautiful capital buildings and surrounding support structures.

Anonymous said...

I worked at the NY Capital for five years. The Capitol building itself is quite nice, and I imagine that there are few as nice in the US. I had an office on the fifth floor. Parts of the building are simply amazing: The War Room, the libraries, The Assembly Floor, and the Senate Floor among them. Also noteworthy are the flag museum and the mammoth stairway with historical figures scultpted into the masonry. Nelson's stuff doesn't fit in as well, but the architecture is certainly unique. I was always impressed with the way the agency buildings seemed to float above the ground. I can understand how people might not appreciate the Empire Plaza, but the Capitol Building itself is amazing.

Moopheus said...

Boston's city hall is a spectacularly oppressive example of Brutalist architecture.

Albany's capitol is pretty bad. Whether it's one of the worst, I don't know. Also, an entire neighborhood was razed to build it.

Also, I'm sure you're aware that building tall buildings is about more than using the space economically. It's about making a statement. In Dubai's case, the statement is "we have nothing here but sand and ego."

Uncle Billy, Mental Widget said...

Bunche Hall, UCLA

It's like a robotic insect from the outside, and a maximum security prison from the inside.


Anonymous said...

Look at the bright side. The logistics of staging and construction in Iowa and Dubai were much easier AND less expensive than Hong Kong or NYC.

R. Pointer said...

For brutalist monstrosities you have to look at University of Toronto's main library - Robarts. Sure Umberto Eco wrote some of this finest work there, but its 14 stories tall and looks like a turkey.

Here are some links:



Seriously, that Madison building is tame.

Anonymous said...

Come on now. Throw your hands up for North Korea's Ryugyong Hotel

Jmd said...

Attended and graduated from the University of South Florida, inexplicably located in Tampa; pretty bad stuff, comparable to UW, all over the place.

Anonymous said...

Have you been to the principle building? Step into the lunch room and experience the 30-50/1 ratio of women to men. Or stand outside at lunchtime and watch the women poor out to buy lunch. If you are single guy you have found Nirvana. Walk through the hallways and notice the ladies stand up and follow you to see where you are going and to check your ring finger... lol. :)

Anonymous said...

None of them can hold a candle to this one...


Don Coffin said...

Not a building, but a public space, and fully worthy of
Ada Louise Huxtable's comment that is is a fine example of "totalitarian chic"--the American Legion mall in Indianapolis.

And Humana's corporate headquarters in Louisville strikes me as a spendid example of Mussolini-emulation/

JRinMA said...

if you are going to criticize brutalism, then i think you gotta go for the poster child--boston city hall. easily as ugly as any building ever constructed, it has the additional feature of having replaced several square blocks of thriving neighborhood (what used to be called boston's west end) with acres of flat, empty brickscape. url below for pic (and an attempt at justification)...


Anonymous said...

In the case of Dubai, they built it because they could. Just shows what happens when you have too much money, too little imagination and a large case of Western (penis) envy...

Anonymous said...

Harvard's Graduate School of Design Building is (ironically) quite awful. Another example of brutalist architecture.

Anonymous said...

UW-Madison's humanities building is one of my favorites in the world. if you've spent a lot of time there, you'd realize how amazing it is. hater

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