Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Paper Beats Rock, But Rock Beats Titanium




John Ochsendorf, a civil engineering professor at MIT and masonry enthusiast has really made me reconsider Frank Gehry. His buildings sometimes seem like monstrous frivolities to me now, like giant fabergé eggs, or like spending a hundred million dollars on cotton candy.

And as structures, they're frequently junk: leaky, high-maintenance, outrageously expensive. They defy gravity in a breath-taking way, but at enormous cost. Beneath the swooping, graceful forms is the brute force of massive quantities of structural steel. Structures at that scale don't want to do those things -- which is why his buildings are spectacles, I suppose. With enough structural steel, you can do just about anything, but that's not necessarily admirable.

And then there's the fact that he seems to be edging into self-parody, with buildings like this.

What Ochsendorf and Peter Rich Architects did with the Mapungubwe Interpretive Center -- turning the dirt under their feet into those gorgeous, vaulting forms, and with vanishingly small energy costs -- that's elegance. That's magic.

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