United States Architecture and City
While the single-family house remains entrusted to individual initiatives and continues to constitute a field of experimentation for small professional studios or for isolated architects, medium and large-scale interventions are the subject of design entrusted to large studios and see the new figure of the gifted developer of great initiative, capable of moving large capital and therefore of strongly influencing urban politics.
The figure of the developer assumes particular importance in parallel with the cuts made on the financing of social programs and those relating to the construction of low-cost housing. Outside the city, as we have seen, smaller apartments are being built into condominiums – for an average family that has fallen below 3 units – and service centers of better architectural quality; in the city, the decrease in population continues to be accompanied by the phenomenon of progressive building degradation of low-income areas that do not allow the reinvestment of capital. In other words, initiatives that developers focus on urban areasmust agree with the administrations, and which must be legitimized by public opinion: in a society in which, in general, the building quality and the use of precious materials are not automatically accompanied by architectural and urban quality, an attitude of design consciousness, i.e. awareness of the project. The limits imposed by the administration on the developer can be volumetric and functional: the negotiation sees on the one hand the administration asking for services and spaces for public use and on the other hand the developer and the financial companies involved, asking for more airspace.
In this economic and administrative framework, architectural quality has been characterized in recent years by a multiplication of linguistic hypotheses that generally accompany the financial transaction, facilitating its placement on the market, continuing that progressive disconnect between sign and meaning that was characteristic of the communicative message of the ‘modern architecture. Beyond the economic aspects, however, this multiplication of architectural languages is also to be put in relation to the greater functional and communicative density of the objects of use and interior spaces: simple air conditioning, sound systems of spaces, as well as very small electronic equipment are in able to confer situations of greater environmental well-being that have nothing to do with the language of
The intersection between finance and architecture, through the role of the developer and large design studios, has become very narrow; the same schools of architecture are involved in the process, sometimes not only marginally: the same teaching assignments in compositional courses are influenced by the market trend due to the ability of the academic world to penetrate the world of media. In a situation of such strong influence on architecture by the economy, the figure of the star designer emerges, particularly in the US., which, legitimized by culture and gratified by public offices, easily inserts its projects as products. We are very far from the great conceptual importance given by L. Kahn to architecture, and from the passionate search for an American tradition made by R. Venturi in his writings.
While generally participating in the post-modern condition, not exempt from the necessary compromises with the market, at least four trends susceptible to positive developments should nevertheless be reported as particularly interesting. In the first place there is the resumption of a conceptual continuity with the so-called Chicago School; large professional firms, with the help of individual architects as partners, build buildings in which the emphasis is not placed on stylistic curiosities but on the use of rigorous technologies in the search for internal spatiality: an example, in Chicago, is H. Jahn with W. Murphy in the Xerox Center (1977-80) and in the State of Illinois Center (1979-85). The search for an internal spatiality also in the large building dimension, however, has already started in the US since 1967 with the Ford Foundation of K. Roche and J. Dinkeloo and ass. and with the great hotels of J. Portman: the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco (1972) and the Bonaventura Hotel in Los Angeles (1970-76).
Secondly, the methodological and conceptual legacy of advocacy planning is found variously distributed among the new groups of technicians who collaborate at the level of the grassroots communities in technical support of the public discussions on transformation initiatives: the R / UDAT teams (Regional Urban Design Assistance Teams established by the AIA) which bring together the architects of the so-called Process Design, eg. C. Moore and W. Turnbull with M. Buchanan and D. Whitaker in New Haven, in the housing of Church Street South, funded by the federal government. In their work the linguistic multiplicity is justified at least in the meticulous and documented collection of basic requests from a generally active and collective clientele.
Thirdly, the general tendency to invest in the arrangement of open spaces both public and private, both urban and suburban: Franklin Court, in Philadelphia (1972-76), by Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown; the Faneuil Market Place in Boston (1972-78) and Harbor Place in Baltimore (1983) by B. Thompson with the Rouse Corporation, also authors of Fulton Market in South Street Seaport in New York. This is a now generalized trend which corresponds to the positive impact on the space of the city of the margins of an affluent society. A tradition that can be said to have started in San Francisco in the late 1960s with the interventions on the Waterfront: Ghirardelli Square (1962-67) by Wurster, Bernardi and Emmons with L. Halprin. This trend, which can be found on the scale of both detail and ensembles (streets or squares), it often constitutes a point of contact between artistic production in the strict sense and architectural space. Finally, many architects, such as P. Soleri, continue to characterize their work through a very strong tension towards research, apparently disinterested in fashion and market problems.
In conclusion, the current architectural production of the US is characterized by a great vitality, a marked eclecticism and the persistence of some ” regional ” characters. Its vitality is confirmed by the fact that the architectural project ranges from the very small to the very large scale, from the Pace Gallery in S. Hall on Madison Avenue in New York to the great urban transformation plan of Battery Park City in New York (1979) due to Cooper and Eckstut Ass. As far as eclecticism is concerned, every studio that really deals with the market has different solutions in its drawer depending on the occasion and the client: see the large SOM studio, which offers a certain variety of styles both in Houston in Interfirst Plaza (1981) and in Times Square in New York (1987-93). FO Gehry with his home in Norton Beach (1984), the Arquitectonica studio with the Palace in Miami, Florida (1979-80), and Duany, Plater-Zybek with Charleston Place, Florida (1983), testify to a regionalistic revival in a historical key.