November 6, 2007

Frank Gehry's Toontown at MIT

From the AP:
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is suing renowned architect Frank Gehry, alleging there are serious design flaws in the Stata Center, a building celebrated for its unconventional walls and radical angles.

The school alleges the center, completed in spring 2004, has persistent leaks, drainage problems and mold growing on its brick exterior. It says accumulations of snow and ice have fallen dangerously from window boxes and other areas of its roofs, blocking emergency exits and causing damage.

Gehry, designer of the UFO crash Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, needs to lawyer up in a hurry. Disney might sue him for plagiarism, because his MIT building looks an awful lot like Roger Rabbit's Toontown at Disneyland, just silverier:


I love a joke as much as the next guy, but the reason we have new jokes is because jokes get old, fast. I'm sure that when MIT decided to spend $200 million (or whatever they budgeted before it ended up costing $300 million) on this, it must have seemed pretty funny at the time. But the problem with a $300 million dollar joke building is that it ought to last long enough to wear out the joke. Maybe that's Gehry's latest conceptual breakthrough: design it so badly that it will fall apart only a few years after it's not funny anymore.

24 comments:

Mike said...

This is so sad. MIT, full of the smartest propeller-heads in the country, constructs an idiot building, an architectural joke, a folly, and then acts like it is actually supposed to work.

When an illiterate one-eyed Mayan roofer can tell at a glance the whole building is going to leak like a stuck llama, it takes a pair of gargantuan brass ones to actually bring suit, knowing you are going to look like a complete and utter moron to the entire engineering world.

It's like suing Rube Goldberg because his machines break down in a production environment.

It's like suing Duchamp because his urinal leaked.

How can anyone give an MIT degree the same respect, knowing that no one in the entire institution had the common sense to say "no".

Buckaroo said...

This building really does seem like it was designed on a dare: see what overpriced and laughably impractical monstrosity can you ram down the throats of people afraid of being labeled aesthetically unsophisticated or, worse still, conservative. The task is of course greatly aided by the fact that those making the decisions are not spending their own money.

I have seen it during construction and been inside a number of times and it is an unmitigated disaster in all important dimensions. But perhaps it was all a clever plot by ex-Boston University president John Silber whose book "Architecture of the Absurd" is coming out in literally days. And its cover features, you guessed it, this Gehry building. Not only can you not buy this sort of publicity, you can scarcely conceive of it !

Martin said...

It's clear from the way that new buildings look today that architects despise thier fellow people. That's what they are saying by making such monstrosities: We hate you.

daveg said...

In no way aesthetically pleasing.

tommy said...

Postmodern architecture: Exhibit A in the assault of Western Civilization by trivial men.

josh said...

I never understood why this guy was and is celebrated as a genius! His stuff is ugly!

tommy said...

This is probably one of the reasons my father, a civil engineer, always hated architects.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that this would be compared to a Rube Goldberg machine. It turns out that Frank Gehry was born Frank Goldberg in Toronto, Canada. Maybe Gehry/Goldberg is an example of Canada's attempt to undermine the USA to gain dominance over North America. With the Canadian dollar overtaking the US greenback, it appears to be working.

tommy said...

Gehry strikes the perfect balance between lack of functionality and lack of aesthetic appeal.

Fred said...

"It turns out that Frank Gehry was born Frank Goldberg in Toronto, Canada. Maybe Gehry/Goldberg is an example of Canada's attempt to undermine the USA to gain dominance over North America."

Frank Gehry was actually born Ephraim Owen Goldberg, not Frank Goldberg. Given the advantages many of you imagine come with being Jewish in this country, it's a wonder he changed his name and distanced himself from the religion.

FWIW, I think the MIT building looks like crap. But some of his other stuff is compelling: the Guggenheim in Balboa, for example, or the cafeteria at the Conde Nast building in NYC. I give him credit at least for thinking outside the box. He may be over-praised for that, but then architects like Mies van der Rohe were over-praised for building rectangles like the Seagram building in their day.

Steve Sailer said...

The essential problem faced by architects is that after 10,000 years of putting up buildings, the human race only extremely rarely needs creative new shapes for buildings. Pretty much all the good styles have been invented, and good architecture now is no longer a creative art, it's a worthy craft of applying the best pre-existing style to the setting at hand.

Anonymous said...

There was a lecture hall in the building which, honestly, induced vertigo. It had lots of "vertical" lines a bit off vertical, with the effect that if you were standing in it with your eyes open, you started getting disoriented.

I'm sure the folks who decided to pay to have this building built with someone else's money all live in very traditional homes, probably in neighborhoods with zoning or covenants to keep anyone from erecting such property-value-destroying monstosities anywhere close to their valuable homes. The difference between what you'll do with your own money or someone else's are amazing....

Steve Sailer said...

Here's Gehry's own house:

http://www.greatbuildings.com/cgi-bin/gbi.cgi/Gehry_House.html/cid_1042767014_Gehryhouse.gbi

tommy said...

Here's Gehry's own house:

I think I've found another residence designed by Gehry.

Oh, wait...

tommy said...

Maybe that's Gehry's latest conceptual breakthrough: design it so badly that it will fall apart only a few years after it's not funny anymore.

Gehry, always the genius, is already on top of that:

Two of Gehry's earlier university projects have run into difficulties. A 1986 engineering building for the University of California at Irvine has been torn down because it leaked. A building for the management school of Case Western Reserve University in Ohio cost more than double the original estimate.

tommy said...

Gehry designed the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Steve Sailer said...

I had to park under the Walt Disney Concert Hall for two weeks during jury duty, so I looked at it a lot. It's really not bad. It actually preceded his Bilbao in design, but, this being America, took years longer to finish.

What it is is a fairly normal box building surrounded by a gigantic metal abstract sculpture. It's the exact opposite of "form follows function." The saving grace is that the sculpture isn't ugly.

Gehry bought a sailboat-designing CAD package in the early 1990s, so he used it to make the exterior have a nautical flair -- billowing sails, etc. Sailboats are beautiful so his sailboat software forced him to come up with a design that at least looked a little bit like a sailboat, so it wasn't a total eyesore. Since then, he's gotten more sophisticated software so he can now design on the computer anything he wants, so his buildings have gotten even worse-looking.

Dennis Dale said...

Gehry designed the Experience Music Project in Seattle, a rock & roll museum (how's that for a concept?), with his typical Vegas-on-acid aesthetic (it's supposed to be a smashed up guitar).
Gaudy, ugly, intruding on its environment like bright, mult-colored discarded food wrapper in a field of grass; I always thought it was his little joke on the provincials.
Every time I pass by I wonder what the minimum decent interval required will be before it's torn down.

It was actually built to encompass the monorail that passes through it. Fittingly, the monorail, a tourist attraction built for the 1962 World's Fair (along with the Space Needle, which maintains a kitschy, if not originally intended, charm--are you paying attention, Mr. Gehry?) soon after started developing problems (two trains actually managed to side-swipe one another; two fires broke out over a brief period) and was shut down. Think of the Simpson's monorail episode.

Not very timely for a monorail expansion proposal that was pending at the time (tagged early on as a potential gay cruise, C. Van
Carter dubbed it the Man-o-rail).

Mark said...

after 10,000 years of putting up buildings, the human race only extremely rarely needs creative new shapes for buildings. Pretty much all the good styles have been invented...

Good styles will keep coming along. Like all art it happens, but at a much slower pace than we in our media-saturated culture would hope. So every would-be artiste thinks that all it takes to be creative is to do away with convention and taste (like Sarah Silverman).

C. Van Carter said...

What Martin and Tommy said. And what Dennis said, the EMP is a joke (for an insight into Gehry's genius take a look at the master's preliminary sketch for that building).

Half Sigma said...

I suppose that the traditional building shapes are designed funnel water to the exterior of the building . Who knew?

DissidentMan said...

On related note, the Royal Ontario Museam was completely disfigured by celebrity architect Daniel Lebiskind. The ROM was a fairly austere Edwardian block, and there is no question in my mind that a clever architect could have improved it in numerous ways, but there just aren't enough expletives in the English langish to describe Lesbikind's architectural atrocity. Also, judging by thing things I read and hear about it, it is not loved by the public. I can't help but wonder if Lebiskind's celebrity has basically been artifically manufactured by the same people who appoint pop-stars.

Furthermore i agree with the poster who wondered if Gehry would like to live in this fun-house-mirror circus creation. Same thing goes for Lebiskind. Would he like to live or even work in his creations?

See Libeskind’s Crystal ROM Opens from Architectural Record. Also read attention the comments, some of which may be from some of Lebiskind's fellow architects.

Anonymous said...

Something similar happened at Case-Western Reserve University (Cleveland Ohio). They commissioned a building from Frank Gehry, and they got something that looked like it descended from outer space. It doesn't at all fit the location (where there are mainly traditional buildings). It killed the view from the law school.

The construction costs were so over budget that they couldn't afford to finish the interior. Among other things, they didn't put in carpeting in the main entrance and hallway, so it looks like a concrete bunker. Even worse, the university closed down a sidewalk because of snow and ice falling from the roof.

Frankly, it sounds like MIT is just repeating history. Why is this man taken seriously as some great architect?

Here's an article on the ice dangers:
http://www.cnn.com/2003/US/Midwest/03/01/offbeat.school.building.ap/

If you want to see the CWRU monstrosity, it's here:
http://www.galinsky.com/buildings/peterblewis/index.htm

Jordan Stark said...

Controversy is always part of a reason some get attention; kinda like everybody moaning on here. People think graffiti is a monstrosity, but others are infatuated by it and view it as avant-garde and/or historical. Gehry isn't an engineer, so the fact that something is leaking or failing doesn't necessarily involve him— but perhaps the engineer, eh? Obviously, his constructions aren't traditional or tried and true, so those from MIT who have posted here should know that mistakes do in fact happen and should be expected from time to time. I'm not a big fan Gehry personally, but his steps can be important in the world of construction, design and engineering. This is why some view him as a precursor or genius— it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see why he's considered "important."

Keep in mind that an artist/designer/engineer/etc doesn't create "masterpieces" on every gig— hence the term "MASTER-piece." Get it??? ;)