by Steven G. Shapiro, Esq.
There can be no doubt that the public gravitates to the grandeur of high design, and the media serve their audiences accordingly. The architecture critic, though, enjoys freedom of opinion and hindsight that we do not. Critics are unimpeded by withering issues of economic realities, market pressures, and the dictates of time and funding. By not being tempered with the realities of design and construction, I would argue these same critics do a disservice to everybody by perpetuating false expectations.
It is tempting to assume that a construction project is a pre-ordained and routine set of steps from initial concept to the design of the project and into construction and completion. We know, though, that the design and construction of a building is not a mystical process, and there are no guarantees of success. The process demands painstaking attention to detail, multiple schemes and designs, brute force on a dangerous work site, endless work hours, and a massive coordination of workers and tasks.
Case in point: Objecting to a proposed plan of expansion, the historic preservation community demands that the Phillips Collection of Art in the fabled Embassy Row area of Washington, D.C., preserve the façade of a decrepit apartment building; this alongside conflicting visions of design excellence, stalled selections, and a strict budget and completion date.
The construction is located on a tight urban job site containing a sliver of a staging area, and construction cannot disrupt the neighbors or damage the priceless collection in the existing building. There is also the litany of city officials, permits, and schedule inspections. Still, everything works out successfully. And yet the architecture critics issue their stark evaluations that the building does not excel to their artistic ideals.
I believe that we live at the intersection of grand concepts and bold visions that sometimes conflict with market realities and the unforgiving project budget and schedule, which makes design and construction interactive, interesting, and fun. Is it too much to ask that a complete media review of a complex project include both the critical review of the art and architecture plus appreciation of the realities of design and construction? Certainly, form and function of a building are critical topics for a review. But taken alone in a vacuum, aesthetics don’t do justice to the fullness of any project.
What do you think?