The Orange County Center in Goshen, New York, faced demolition this year.
Copycat architecture, greedy developers, threatened buildings, student protests: 2012 definitely had its share of architecture controversies. But really, with all the egos involved is that really surprising? From Zaha Hadid's faulty Olympic swimming pool to Wolf D. Prix's screed against the Venice Architecture Biennale, here are the top 10 scandals that shook the design world this year.
Pharrell Williams's and Chad Oppenheim's Ice Cream City accused of copy-catting.
In October, Pharrell Williams and architect Chad Oppenheim released drawings for their "Ice Cream City," a new urban fun center in Miami's rundown Overtown neighborhood. But one of Ice Cream City's buildings -- a large box housing a Target -- looked a little too familiar: specifically, like Jakob+MacFarlane's Orange Cube in Lyon, France. Both designs were bright orange, had a web-like scrim, and featured a large hole cut from one corner. Oops!
Non-architect Renzo Piano; photo: Mona Reeder of The Dallas Morning News
Architects Registration Board says Renzo Piano and Daniel Libeskind aren't architects
Renzo Piano may have a Pritzker Prize, but please don't call him an architect. In a truly bizarre e-mail to design publication BD, Britain's Architects Registration Board claimed that Piano and other-master-builder Daniel Libeskind were "not entitled to be described as architects." The reason: they weren't registered with the ARB. The board admonished the magazine for "misidentifying" the two designers, writing, “In the light of BD‘s readership I would ask that you avoid referring to Mr. Piano and Mr. Libeskind as architects in any future publications.” The ARB eventually issued an apology, but not before enduring a mountain of ridicule.
Zaha Hadid's Olympics Aquatics Center has problems
The London Olympics had its fair share of controversies this year: money problems, transportation issues, incompetent security, and a possibly poorly designed swimming pool. That's right, Zaha Hadid's splashy natatorium got a lot of flack when the Guardian reported that the Aquatics Center's bulging ceiling would prevent many ticket-holders from seeing the 10-meter diving events, resulting in possibly thousands of refunded tickets. Of course, Zaha denied that the design had anything to do with the refunds, saying that the sightlines had been approved more than two years beforehand. It wasn't the starchitect's first gripe with the London Olympics: Apparently, the committee hadn't invited her to any of the events, including the opening and closing ceremonies.
Wolf D. Prix bashes the Venice Biennale
In August, celebrated architect and erstwhile avant-gardist Wolf D. Prix penned a 570-word screed decrying that most sacred of cows: the Venice Architecture Biennale. Titled "The Banal" (ha, ha), the essay called the festival vain, boring, and an "expensive dance macabre" that fails to provoke “lively discussion and criticism of topics in contemporary architecture.” Ouch. But while many of Prix's observations were spot-on, there was a whiff of disingenuousness to the whole piece. After all, Prix's firm Coop Himmelb(l)au had similarly ditched the experimentalism that defined its early work for a more conservative, corporate-friendly tone (the better to appease its big-shot clients). As Charles Holland of FAT tweeted, “Wolf Prix, say hello to black kettle. Kettle, say hi to famous pot Wolf Prix.”
Princeton's School of Architecture; image via Archinect
Students protest Princeton's new dean
World-renowned architect Alejandro Zaera-Polo was named the new dean of Princeton's School of Architecture, and the student body was not pleased! Upon hearing Zaera-Polo was being considered for the position, two groups of graduate students sent letters to the school voicing their dissent. And after the big reveal, more than half of the school’s architecture students signed a letter to University President Shirley M. Tilghman detailing their reasons against the decision. Among the students' gripes: They didn't have enough of a voice in the selection process, and Zaera-Polo had received a few poor evaluations in his time as a guest lecturer at Princeton. The school defended its selection, and its new dean told Architect magazine, “I believe that an active student body is a good thing, and I believe controversies are positive because they make people think. A change of leadership always produces anxieties.”
Frank Gehry's design for Eisenhower Memorial under fire
Will Frank Gehry's Eisenhower Memorial ever get built? The architect has spent the better part of the year tweaking his design to appease the Eisenhower family, who found it lacking the appropriate amount of pomp and circumstance. (They're still not happy with it.) Then the notoriously conservative National Civic Art Society piled on the criticisms, saying that the design “shows unease with his subject’s greatness.” Now, the project's biggest problem seems to be a “controversial” metal scrim. The NCAS believes that a national monument is not the "proper" testing ground for such "untried experimental technology," subjecting the metal to a number of "scientific" experiments that involved throwing garbage on it and taking notes as debris ripped into the fraying material.
Frank Lloyd Wright house threatened with demolition, multiple times
It was a happy story: A house built by Frank Lloyd Wright for his son in Phoenix, Arizona, was rescued from demolition in the hands of a greedy developer when a mystery buyer scooped up the house for $2.4 million. Until it wasn't. The house's would-be knight in shining armor ended up backing out of the deal. Now the house faces the wrecking ball if it can't find a buyer or get historic landmark status ASAP.
The Orange County Center
Brutalist structures meet the wrecking ball
2012 has not been kind to Brutalist architecture. A number of iconic, if sometimes unloved, buildings have been threatened with demolition this past year, including the Paul Rudolph Orange County Center in Goshen, New York; Washington's FBI Building; social housing complex Robin Hood Gardens in East London; Baltimore's Mechanic Theatre; and the Preston Bus Terminal in London. Also two brutalist masters, John M. Johansen and Ulrich Franzen died this year, further adding insult to injury.
Photo: Nathan Weber for The New York Times
Prentice Hospital in Chicago faces demolition
Another important structure faced its demise this year: Chicago's Prentice Hospital, a Brutalist masterwork by Bertrand Goldberg. The building had been in limbo since June 2011, when the city’s landmarks commission shelved a decision to add it to the register. When Northwestern University, which owns the building, announced that it wanted to replace it with a medical research tower, 60 architects including Frank Gehry and Jeanne Gang signed a letter imploring Mayor Rahm Rahm Emmanuel to spare the building. The building has evaded destruction, for now, though its fate is far from secure.
Philip Nobel takes down starchitects in Metropolis
Philip Nobel loves a controversy. The critic's latest attention-getting act, a massive takedown of the "starchitect," published in Metropolis. Nobel lambasted everyone from Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid to Daniel Libeskind and Morphosis's Thom Mayne. But his biggest target: Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Nobel devoted 720 words to the High Line architects, whose work he described as " sloppy, pretentious, derivative." Meeee-ow.