Tuesday, September 26, 2006

If You Build It

To attract tourist dollars and resurrect dying (or emerging) urban centers, it has become common practice today in American cities to blend cultural institutions, convention centers, sports venues, and luxury housing accompanied by a brand-name architecture. In this weekend's NYTimes, Nicolai Ouroussoff considers the new cultural monuments designed in Midwestern cities' Minneapolis, Denver and Toledo, the latest among those looking to capture the "Bilbao effect."

While skeptical of most big plans that he describes as "developer-driven formulas: an insipid blend of cultural tourism and corporate homogeneity that can produce urban centers littered with a range of architectural statements yet nonetheless hollow at the core," he notes that in many Midwestern cities, "the civic spirit often feels more vigorous than in global cities like Los Angeles and New York, which increasingly resemble playgrounds for the rich. The result (in the Midwest) is often a more experimental brand of architecture" and seemingly more successful.

Generally, Ouroussoff looks favorably on the latest additions to these cities, recognizing the "sincere effort to repair torn fabric." In particular, he notes that Toledo's new Glass Pavilion is "a project that revives one's faith in the ability of architecture - in its purest form - to have lasting impact on how we experience our cities." Among other buildings reviewed, Denver's new Frederic C. Hamilton Building, Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater and the Minneapolis Public Library.

With the latest round of completions and announcements of local cultural landmarks: Akron Art Museum, MOCA, Cleveland Institute of Art, Natural History Museum, Cleveland Museum of Art, Convention Center, casino, Medical Merchandise Mart and recent revitalization efforts through the completion of the Gateway Sports Complex, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Great Lakes Science Center, it seems Greater Cleveland is as determined as any other city to shed its soot-covered overcoat for a new silver city. In concert, it still stands to be seen whether these monuments will elevate the city to a hightened maturity, or litter urban areas with monumental design mistakes.

It must be considered, that recent complementary projects of corridor and infrastructure rebuilding, residential construction and planning, and building rehabilitations suggest an indication that these monuments may be (or have been) the lynchpins in smart urban re-growth. I have yet to decide - regardless, the next decade will be fascinating to observe.

Note: In October, after a visit to Toledo's new Glass Pavilion, expect images and additional commentary.


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