Sunday, 23 May 2010
1111 Lincoln Road, by Herzog & de Meuron. Image taken from the Flickr stream of www.urbancityarch.com and used under a Creative Commons licence.
At a symposium on "Ballardian Architecture" at the Royal Academy a week ago, journalist and Ballard expert Chris Hall said something rather intiguing about Herzog & de Meuron's 1111 Lincoln Road. Lincoln Road is a multistorey car park in Miami - Edwin Heathcote covered it well for icon in issue 081. Hall suggested that Lincoln Road could be considered "the first post-Ballardian building in the sense that they've taken a liminal structure of a car park and made an art work out of it".
This remark was very striking, not least because it's an excellent description of Lincoln Road. Rather than decorating or attempting to hide the multistorey car park, Herzog & de Meuron have made it highly assertive and expressive. It is beautiful and dramatic; in the words of Herzog, it's pure Miami Beach, because it's "all muscle without cloth". "Modern. Fast. Adaptable. Sensual," promises the website (emphasis mine). Muscular, unclothed, sensual, it wants to be sexy.
A sexy concrete multi-storey car park! What could be more Ballardian, eh? Except, as Hall noticed, this isn't really a Ballardian building - it's a post-Ballardian building. It's not a subconcious expression of the kind of pathologies that Ballard explored - instead, there's something janglingly concious about it. It's a place that knows exactly what it's doing. Alongside the car park, the complex has boutiques (Nespresso, Taschen), offices, art installations, offices and apartments (including one belonging to the developer - shades of Anthony Royal, to borrow Hall's observation). These functions "activate" the car park space, stitching it back into the city, dragging it out of alienation and liminality. (Not a new or unique strategy, just an under-used one - Owen Luder included a rooftop restaurant in the Trinty car park in Gateshead). But this is not a mixed-use complex that includes a car park - the car park is to the fore, out in front, the building's centrepiece. As well as regenerating a run-down part of Miami, the ambition is to regenerate and rehabilitate the whole car-park typology. Lincoln Road confronts the architectural and cultural hang-ups about multi-storey car parks head on. It is unafraid of being "Ballardian". It is unafraid full stop. It is a bold, glamorous, 21st-century building.
This success is very heartening, and gives us a chance to look forward to what else might be achieved with "post-Ballardian" architecture. There is great value in revisiting a large number of highly useful but allegedly "discredited" typologies - multi-storey car parks, elevated motorways, streets in the sky, megastructures. We should be rescuing them from blanket dismissal and looking afresh at their advantages and their potential success; re-examining what was exciting, sexy, positive about them. If their built manifestations failed, we should be unpicking why they failed, rather than simply discarding the typology. My colleague Owen Hatherley's book Militant Modernism makes excellent progress in this direction, and is perhaps a post-Ballardian architect set text. I realise in retrospect that I was indulging in PoBa re-examination when I tried to describe what I like about Beech Street in an earlier post. The importance of this line of inquiry has also occurred to me in connection with a long-planned but still largely formless post on Steven Holl and megastructures. Proceeding typology by typology, a systematic look at the potential for post-Ballardian architecture could make for a stimulating series of posts - or even the basis of a book. It's certainly worth further thought.