Monday, March 30, 2009

fascinations with modernism

While at the Society for Photographic Education conference this past weekend, I took some time exploring and absorbing the architecture and spirit of Dallas, Texas. After a full weekend of being in the city without a car, I can say for certain that the spirit and architecture are dead if not on life-support. I'll admit my opinion is biased; the weather for the first three days of my trip was horrendous and Chicago-like. But walking around yesterday in clear, sunny and 70 degree weather didn't really change any of my opinions but just affirmed them.

James Howard Kunstler gave the keynote address at the conference aptly titled Sprawl and his observations about the city mirrored my own. They centered around the point that even though Dallas was supposed to be a bustling and interconnected city of commerce and industry, its infrastructure and architecture is so flawed that you have to walk 5 blocks from the Hotel to get a stick of gum. Sidewalks will dead-end at an alarming rate and more often will lead you into the middle of an intersection that lacks a crosswalk.

The architecture, like the street design, is just as uncoordinated and lacks any kind of interconnected style. On Sunday morning I walked by a 70-story-skyscraper that was totally locked up and forsaken of any human activity. How a building of this size remains totally dormant, sucking energy on the weekend free of any productive activity really bothers me.

I did appreciate the little thought that went into designing the west end center where the few restaurants and night life exist simultaneously but the rest of the city is in serious need of a neighborhood-kind-of-love that is all too easy to find in a city like Chicago.

The modern city of Dallas, Texas

While the design of the city and its architecture lacks any kind of integration or sympathy towards humans, the architecture does fascinate the hell out of me. I saw quite a few modernist and post modernist buildings that looked like they could quite easily be used for prisons or maybe Dick Cheney's office.

After reading the article "Buckminster Fuller: Starting with the Universe" and looking up a little information on the man himself, I think Dallas could benefit tremendously from even one implementation of Fuller's amazing ingenuities or philosophies.

I had the opportunity while growing up to actually see and participate in Bucky Fuller-inspired architecture, that is the Climatron in the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, Missouri.

The Climatron

The Climatron sits in the middle of the huge Botanical Garden founded by Henry Shaw in the Tower Grove neighborhood of the inner-city. Inside is a maze through a tropical wilderness where plants and trees grow 50 feet high and the air is as humid and dense as a rainforest's. During many summers while growing up, I would be enrolled in summer classes at the botanical garden and we would learn about plants and have scavenger hunts in the Climatron. I loved it and always felt like the things that were in the dome were part of a world that was fantastically and futuristic ally transferred directly from the rainforest. Imagine my delight then when I found out this morning from its wikipedia page that the Climatron inspired part of the 1972 sci-fi film Silent Running.

plan for the Climatron

Needless to say, I'm anticipating the trip to the MCA tomorrow to see the Bucky Fuller exhibit and see the relevance of his ideas to the problems that face not only our urban centers but the sprawling suburbs of America. In the beginning of the article, Elizabeth Smith writes "still some have seen Fuller relevant as fodder for ideas about shifting interpretations of and unchartered terrains within modernism" (Smtih, 61). While I see how some might think this way, I think that it's important to keep Fuller's ideas in context and use them to explore new application; not as all-powerful solutions that were supposed to solve the problems of modern architecture instantly and forever. They are certainly futurist and require a discernment of design and application that when thoughtfully used could really help integrate and sustain life around them.

No comments:

Post a Comment