Gehry’s New World Centre: not worth defending

on Tuesday 22 February 2011 - 17:45:03 | by diya
New World Center, Frank Gehry New World Center, Frank Gehry

New World Center, Frank Gehry New World Center, Frank Gehry

New World Center, Frank Gehry New World Center, Frank Gehry
(Photography: Witold Rybczynski, via Slate)

New World Center, Frank Gehry
1st Floor Plan
New World Center, Frank Gehry
4th Floor Plan
New World Center, Frank Gehry
(Drawing courtesy Gehry partners, LLP)

All that can be said about Gehry’s design for the New World Center in Miami is that it has nothing new to offer to a design-conscious generation. In plan, it could be an early 30’s recreational complex while externally it is dotted with random outbursts of post-modern Rhino afterthoughts, making it altogether a bizarre combination of old tricks, disappointingly applauded by critics as the designer’s attempt at restrain for context’s sake. What makes this an even more unfortunate appraisal is that Gehry’s work is precisely characterised by his disregard for constraints, placing him in the generation of icon creating rebels most of whom have, it appears already reinvented themselves for the contemporary. So while it is definitely healthy to rethink one’s approach and reinvent one’s style, it is not fair to label something ‘good’ just because it breaks a pattern.

The one thing the project is useful in doing is pointing out the idiocy of some of its critics. Witold Ribcyznski in Slate, for instance, concludes that it deals with an unusually complex set of functions. However, the Centre houses the New World Symphony accommodating spaces for musical functions- a concert hall, training and practice spaces, rehearsal rooms and the usual functions for such a complex, not unlike some of those in Aalto’s projects 50 years ago or Gehry’s earlier projects as well. The critic defends its mundane façade as a reflection of respect for Miami’s simple architecture. One assumes that he refers to the MiMo or Miami Modern style, a 50s response to post-war movements in the rest of the world, a vernacular resort typology evolved from the twenties Art Deco which is by no means the only architectural style in Miami nor the most exemplary to replicate in the 21st Century particularly by someone like Gehry.

The unnecessary formal pimples on the façade are mentioned as praiseworthy ‘creative confusion’ and drawing in light through slits in the ceiling are the creation of an ‘ethereal illumination in a sea of Escheresque forms’, as if everyone from Louis Kahn to Zaha Hadid never existed and Gehry himself is making his debut with confusing forms thrown in as excitement in a perfectly contextual superficial cage. The descriptions are bizarrely reminiscent of third year students lamely attempting to ‘explain’ their cultural centres section by section by section, until finally snubbed by a critic. If a project by a contemporary architect needs an essay describing how the functions are spatially distributed and have its lighting, contextual sensitivity and flaws excruciatingly explained and defended through the use of the oldest clichés in the book, then the end feels very near for criticism in general, and also unfortunately for Frank Gehry.

Ishraq Khan.
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