Thursday, September 30, 2021

Architecture vs. Expediency at Bard College

The pure forms conceived by celebrated architects are often compromised by the needs of ordinary people.

For example, at Bard College this storage shed was installed behind the Hessell Art Museum, presumably to store maintenance equipment. The style of the shed with its dove gray crossbucks is at odds with the simple forms of the museum. The architectural firm of Goettsch Partners, who designed the museum, say that "the construction details emphasize the minimal." The shed has since been removed.

As incoming traffic approaches the gently curving row of offices in the Reem & Kayden Center for Science and Computation (designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects), automobiles are routed on an adjacent driveway so that motorists can admire the glass-walled structure. 

Unfortunately workers inside keep putting up curtains in the floor-to-ceiling windows. Understandably they don't want their private business open to casual inspection, or to be subjected to the glare of headlights at night.  

Bard College's 65 million dollar Fisher Center, designed by Frank Gehry, is renowned for its curving stainless steel rooftop. 

But perhaps Mr. Gehry didn't anticipate the heavy masses of snow sliding off the edges of the roof, endangering people below. After Bard's operations team tried using crime scene tape and traffic cones, they commissioned these flat-roofed shed entrances to be built and installed. It's an expedient solution that probably annoys purists as much as the bike racks and picnic tables.


Storm Thunders said...

I have worked in more than one award winning building where the structure was actively antagonistic to the building's intended function. I long ago ran out of kind words for that sort of thing. If you want to make a square wheel as an art display object, go for it. But if you expect people to tote heavy objects around all day long in your square wheeled wagon, don't be surprised if they despise you.

Smurfswacker said...

Peter Blake discussed this sort of thing in his 1977 critique, Form Follows Fiasco. It's more of a rant than a critique but it does a great job of pointing out that when you let purely esthetic concerns determine a design, be it a building or a product, you'll inevitably experience unexpected human consequences. I've never forgotten a photo of two modernist chairs and an old-fashioned sofa. The caption reads:

"Chromium-plated chairs (vintage 1928) by Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand. In back, a traditional Victorian Chesterfield from which to observe the chairs in comfort."

Drake Gomez said...

I wonder why the good people at Bard didn't put a snow rail on the roof rather than add the entrance shed. It's also amazing that Gehry didn't anticipate the problem with snow sliding off--every residential and commercial building with a metal roof has some kind of railing or snow "stops." Maybe the roof is too steep for them to work, or maybe form just superseded function.

@Smurfswacker: The caption to that photo is classic. I'll have to check out the book.

Susan said...

The photo of the shed behind the Hessell Art Museum looks like a Jeffrey Smart Urban painting.

Krystal said...

There is also a good (and sillyà example with the nex French Nationale Library in Paris... It is probably very modern compared to the ancient one (Richelieu), with it's large glasses windows but.... absolutely not conceived for books storage !
So that all the curtains are always drown, and the books have been removed... underground !

Susan Krzywicki said...

It isn't always the architect's issue. Often, humans are just short sighted and we don't see the bigger picture. We just want what we want. "Oh look, here's a good place to stick our tool shed. It is flat and near the utility entrance. Go for it."

If we look around most family's kitchens we can see the same forces at work. "I'll just put my olive oil here where I can reach it." and two weeks later, there is a mini-pile of items that have decided to live there permanently.

We see it in community planning aw well: the self-storage behemoth in the middle of a small community of local businesses and shops. The tall pylons running through housing areas.

Being humans is messy!

Steven Colatrella said...

If I remember correctly, Gehry never even came to the (once) beautiful campus to see where the building would be situated. So he never thought of snow or of the gorgeous view of the mountain range the building now obstructs.

n/a said...

Most modern architecture is simply hideous. If you like the opposite, I recommend this guy on twitter:

Wrath Of Gnon

Stephen Filarsky said...

Designed by an Architect: Looks pretty, roof leaks

The Citizen Architect said...

As a Bard grad and an architect I’ll point out two things.
First, it isn’t always the architect’s fault if someone needs a shed for storage. Times change. Requirements for space change. Maybe when the Fisher Center was last renovated they had a storage room and two faculty offices, but since then they hired a third professor and turned the storage room into her office, necessitating a shed be put outside to make up for the lost storage room? Just a guess.
Second: and this goes particularly to the Fisher Center. The College spent way too much on that building. Around the same time that Bard hired Frank Gehry and his custom CAD software for the Fisher Center my former employer was hired to design the Morris Cultural Arts Center at Houston Baptist University. Very similar program. A third the budget.