Architects and designers are requesting more from glass, in part to help them realize their increasingly complex, out-of-the-box building designs. And now it seems it’s not only the architects who want “different.” Officials from two American cities—Boston and Orlando—recently encouraged developers to propose more thoughtful designs and iconic looks for newly constructed downtown buildings.
According to a Jan. 9 article in the Boston Herald, “Boston Mayor Argues for Bolder Building Design,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh told an audience at the Boston Chamber of Commerce in December that downtown Boston needed more innovative architecture. The Mayor called the latest buildings installed during the city’s recent building boom “merely functional,” and urged developers to go beyond the normal and create structures that reflect Boston’s “culture of innovation.”
It’s a noble charge, but as anyone involved in any level of the construction industry knows, high-quality designs come with a high price tag. In the article, Tom O'Brien, managing director of HYM Investment Group, said, "Developers will now be looking at how to create a revenue benefit from the extra expense of creating better designs to add to the skyline."
Kamran Zahedi, president of Boston developer Urbanica, says the city’s developers should take cues from European countries which have developed innovative multi-family housing projects within tight budgets. "It would be sad if we do not also create beautiful 21st century architecture here in Boston," he said.
The Jan. 26 Orlando Sentinel article “No Space Needle or Gateway Arch: What Defines Orlando's Skyline?” details Orlando’s desire for innovative design, asking, “Why doesn't Orlando have a skyline that stands out?” City Hall development task force members want “iconic” architecture to give the city a “unique and identifiable brand”—beyond Disney World.
According to the article, city planners said downtown Orlando probably won't see a building taller than the 441-foot SunTrust Center—the tallest building in Orlando—due to the close proximity of Orlando Executive Airport. But city officials and members of the task force say tall isn’t the key; it’s creating something that communicates and identifies the city’s spirit.
However, sometimes what’s unique is not what the locals ordered. As if in response to Boston’s and Orlando’s pleas for iconographic buildings, Rowan Moore in the Jan. 18 Guardian article “The last thing east London needs is another seven towers” describes the pitfalls of the proposed high-rise development in East London’s Tech City. He says that all the opponents of the development agree it has nothing to do with the area, and quotes the area's mayor: “this scheme is completely unsuitable for this part of [the local area].”
Tech City workers oppose the new development because it does not offer the right kind of space to vitalize small- to mid-sized enterprises in the area; conservationists oppose it because “the towers will crash into views in neighboring conservation areas, as the relationship of the new to the old is clumsy”; and Tech City residents oppose it because it will cast a shadow, eliminating already integrated daylighting in buildings hundreds of yards north. Moore also points out that the development is unlikely to have more than 10 percent of its units as affordable housing. Developers argue that the complexities of the site “make it unprofitable to offer more, or to reduce the bulk of their towers.”
And this is where all the talk of bigger, better, more complex buildings really hits home. Design at its roots should be practical. And structures that do communicate the essence of a place are all about what they offer to and say about the people who live there. “It’s not a beautiful word, localism,” says Moore. “But it’s an ideal with whose basics it is hard to disagree: that local residents and businesses should have a say in what happens to their communities.”
Stough is managing editor of Glass Magazine. Write her at email@example.com.
The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, other Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.