July 19, 2003
Skidmore, Owings, Merrill & Libeskind

This is potentially great news, and is a typical consequence of the fact that in the USA they know how to build skyscrapers. Twin Towers replacement competition winner Daniel Libeskind is to be made to work alongside David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

In the bad old days, Modern Movement architects put themselves in unchallenged charge of their buildings, and took in upon themselves to redesign everything, with relentlessly disastrous results.

Architecture is difficult. Architecture is big. Architecture is complicated. Architecture is like ship design. Would you want to travel in a ship designed by a Modern Movement architect, who told you that he had radically rethought what we mean by ship and that this was an experimental not to say revolutionary design? Only if you wanted to drown. To make big buildings work properly, you need people around who are the equivalent of the old master ship designers.

And Skidmore, Owings & Merrill are the master builders of skyscrapers. When they build a skyscraper, it scrapes the sky in regulation style, and it works. Letting some inspired amateur like Libeskind do his unvetoed best and worst for the replacement of the Twin Towers is about as sensible as getting him to redesign the Space Shuttle. But putting an adult in charge of the playpen might just work really well.

Libeskind in partnership with an SOM heavyweight just might be the best of both worlds. SOM towers work, but they tend to be rather dull. Libeskind buidings are not dull, but a Libeskind New York skyscraper is inviting technical cock-ups beyond counting, to the point where they might well have had to knock the damn thing down after a decade of failing to make it work. But if the SOM guy is allowed to veto Libeskind's "inspirational" designs until the thousands of things in a skyscraper design that have to be got right are got right, New York could end up with a fabulous new landmark, and one that will actually be usable as a building, to live in and to work in.

I haven't studied the Libeskind winning design. It looks like a mess to me, but as I always say with big architecture type buildings, you never really know until it's built. I never do, anyway.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:25 PM
Category: Architecture