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Architecture: The End of Excess


A recent Newsweek article by Cathleen McGuigan discusses the phenomenon of iconic architecture and experimental design that was fostered by the economic boom of the late 90s. Now, as we climb out of the recession,architects seem to have learned the lesson along with the rest of the population: bigger, more extravagant building isn’t always better.

Plans are slowly deviating  from the excesses of the new millennium and the demands for extreme, ground-breaking style from modern starchitects are fading. There is less focus on excessive, jaw-dropping designs and more emphasis on creating a building that is functional, yet innovative and environmentally friendly.

One of the largest trends that goes hand in hand with this new design aesthetic is collaboration. Architects are working with other architects and professionals to place more attention on “urban planning, civic projects and the creation of public space.”  Looking toward the future with these collaborative projects requires more creative problem solving, yet holds the potential to benefit the community for years to come.

An example that stood out to me involves the excessive “starchitecture” that has become commonplace at the  Olympics. Year after year, billions of dollars are spent in preparation for the games, building astounding facilities and venues that showcase brilliant architecture. While during the games, this is awe-inspiring, many buildings fall into disuse after the closing ceremony and aren’t quite worth the dollars put into them.  With the 2012 London games on the horizon, only one such facility is being built, Hadid’s Aquatic Center. Other than that, the city is focused on creating pragmatic and simplified structures.

What’s [ingenious] about 2012 plans is that the British government is sinking 9.3 billion pounds into the future, not just two week of showing off for a global TV audience. When the Games are over, thousands of people living in a wretchedly poor part of East London will get to enjoy the infrastructure, park, public amenities, and new housing.

This increasingly popular notion of collectivity undoubtedly pains the lone, brilliant architect, the Howard Rourke, if you will.  However, it is for the best. Advanced planning and collaboration allow for increased sensitivity to the environment and careful consideration of social, economic and political factors in the surrounding area.

The article goes on to chronicle a variety of other architectural projects in this new era and compares and contrasts them with previous feats. You can also see Newsweek’s image gallery on Architecture: The End of Excess, which offers many great “then and now” shots.  Be sure to check it out and let us know what style you support!

Photo courtesy of Newsweek and Rafa Rivas / AFP-Getty Images