Stay Free! magazine


Stay Free! Daily: media criticism, consumer culture and Brooklyn curiosities from Stay Free! magazine

Got a blog tip? Contact us

« MPAA: You Are All Enemy Combatants | Main | Personal Kyoto »

What's wrong with architecture?

The next issue of Stay Free! magazine (due out in 2014*, at the rate we're going) is going to look at how architecture and the built environment affect everyday life. I know next to nothing about architecture, so I've been poking around looking for ideas... and just came across a handy example of what I hate about this subject that I know nothing about...

Here is a piece by

Healthier by Design
A new charitable trust asks whether good architecture can help cancer patients.

But instead of trying to answer that question, Rybczynski merely fawns over the light and airy spaces created by fancypants modernists like Frank Gehry and Daniel Libeskind.The real people who use and live in these spaces seem almost an afterthought. If these buildings are intended for cancer patients, why are there so many staircases? Why the emphasis on building exteriors? A letter to the editor from the parent of a cancer patient says it best:

It's not clear...what condition the patients are in when they're staying at the Centres. Chances are they're not in the middle of chemo, that is, their immune systems aren't compromised at the time they're there. Otherwise, pretty design and materials just make it easier to catch some opportunistic disease... For example: in the ward my son was in, the double doors to the unit formed an air lock to keep airborne disease out. Visitors had to wear surgical masks and gloves, and scrub their hands before entering his room. No one could use the bathroom in his room but him, from the time he began chemo until he was ready to leave. How could these rules be observed in the Centres? Sounds impossible, so I have to assume that there is limited use except in hospice-style arrangements. Otherwise, Maggie's Centres are just prettier versions of Ronald MacDonald House.

Arguably, this relates more to architecture criticism than architecture itself, but I'd say the former reflects the priorities of the latter.

Anyway, I'm just getting going on this, so if anyone has any suggestions of things I should read or investigate for the next Stay Free!, by all means let me know.

*Actual wishcasting: Spring 2007.

Posted by carrie on 12/01/2006 | Permalink


I don't know if this is exactly up your alley but Jinx Magazine is having a discussion about rebuilding New Orleans and Ground Zero. It's tomorrow (12/6) at 8pm: Downstairs at Lolita Bar (free admission, cash
bar), 266 Broome St. (at Allen St.) on Manhattan's Lower East Side, one
block south and three west of the Delancey St. Subway stop.

Posted by: Karol | Dec 5, 2006 5:50:42 PM

After viewing Rybczynski's short slide show I don't really understand your complaint. You write "The real people who use and live in these spaces seem almost an afterthought." I thought his point was that these architects were leading a movement towards making hospitals more livable spaces and moving away from the oppressive and overly functional spaces. Whether the architects achieve that goal is difficult to tell from 7 images. Perhaps your frustration is more with celebrity architects in general.

Posted by: Jesse | Dec 7, 2006 5:44:54 PM

This is a great topic to consider. In San Francisco we've seen an awful lot of ego-driven architectural undertakings, all way out of scale with the environment, the surroundings and human need. They become industrial-scale models of corporatist aspiration that people look at or pass through, rather than inhabit. The DeYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park is a dreadful example of that. "We must have something modern and fancy!" I can hear them saying. What we got was a large, lopsided postmodern turd with a conning tower not dissimilar, from a distance, to that of an aircraft carrier. I understand the urge to create a "cool" building, but this is also about the glamour of celebrity architecture, which is starkly disassociated from human existince or needs.

Posted by: indyarts | Dec 7, 2006 7:09:30 PM

Jesse, his point was that the buildings look nice, period. My point is that you can't really evaluate architecture without including function; aesthetics are only part of the picture.

Posted by: Carrie McLaren | Dec 8, 2006 12:38:34 AM

The book "The Hidden Dimension" by Edward Hall might give you some ideas. Also his book "The Silent Language". He talks a lot about how space and architecture impact our perceptions of personal reality.

Posted by: Greg | Dec 30, 2006 5:01:09 PM

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear on this weblog until the author has approved them.

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In