MAKE A STATEMENT

Craig Ellwood, South Bay Bank, Manhattan Beach, CA (1956)

Craig Ellwood, South Bay Bank, Manhattan Beach, CA (1956)

I came across a term new to me in an architectural magazine today. The writer was speculating about whether Jeff Bezos would have an influence on the design of the new headquarters of the Washington Post. “One question is whether the newspaper’s new owner wants a statement building,” he wrote. A statement building! It struck me as a sad commentary on the present state of architecture that what at one time would have been called simply good design had now been elevated to the status of a “statement.” And a statement of what? The architectural equivalent of a designer label: I am a Gehry, I am a Hadid, I am a Foster? A ratification of the status of the client: I am rich, I am special, I am not run-of-the-mill? Or a corporate message: we value design, we are green, we are on the cutting edge? It is times like this that I miss the certainties of mid-century modernism, when it was sufficient for a building–whether it was a corporate office, a house, or a bank–to merely exhibit structural and functional logic, clean but not labored details, and a modest range of materials. If there was a statement here it was simply “I am modern.”

4 Responses to MAKE A STATEMENT

  • Your conclusion is somewhat mindful of a famous Venturi cartoon on statements…

  • Sam says:

    I have no nostalgia for modernism, I was born too late to see it built and still find all but the very best examples of it to be monotonous and dehumanizing, but I also find that I agree with your point. At least there was a well much more clearly defined standard of excellence for, as you put it, “good design”. I long for a return to architecture (or at least the principles of architecture) that has the capacity to speak both specifically and generally. To say both “I am a church” or “I am a house” and “I am beautiful.”

  • Jan Conradi says:

    Amen! I too was irritated at reading the comment about ‘a statement building.’ I suppose in a world where everything seems to be based on how it’ll play in social media, we shouldn’t be surprised to see good work, and the motives for creating it, reduced to superficiality. If modernism is dead, it is because the concept of timeless and lasting quality doesn’t matter in a world that lives by tweets.

  • Marvin McConoughey says:

    The Seattle public library fits my image of a “statement” building. It is ambitious enough for a rich city.

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