Sunday, April 20, 2008

Would you live in the world's tallest vibrator?

At 150 stories tall, including a $40 million penthouse with a view of four states (!!!), the Chicago Spire, when complete, will be the world's tallest residential building, and the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.

Spanish architect Santiago Calantrava says he was inspired by nature, but I can't think of much else that gets you farther away from nature than being 150 stories up in the air pretending to be God. I hate to be a jerk about a building, but is all this small-dicked, Napoleonic, hubritic exclusivity really necessary? Each unit's front door is going to be custom-designed for god's sake!

Meanwhile, a couple of weeks ago, the Congress for New Urbanism held its annual conference in Austin (I snicker every time I hear "new" urbanism....), and gave an its prestigious Athena Medal award to Austin's own Synclair Black. According to the Chronicle, Over four decades, he's remained tirelessly devoted to inspiring, cajoling, haranguing and goading Austin to embrace better urban design.

In the accompanying article in the Chronicle, they note that he was commissioned to design the vacant lot on north Lamar, between 38th and 45th street, but that the developer didn't comprehend the value of the plan to integrate the residential, shopping, and commercial/medical components to create community synergy. It eliminated almost all traces of the New Urbanist principles, one by one, and instead built a suburban-style project with disconnected shopping, housing, open space, and a hospital. Aka, it became what is now Central Market, with that hideous and foreboding parking lot and dead space.

He also had a plan to sink I-35 and create park space on top of where it now is, but Texas Department of Transportation has no intention to ever do so.

The "sunken" I-35 plan, where local drivers would use handsome new tree-lined boulevards at street level.

And in 1981, apparently he drew up a "master plan" of downtown Austin consisting of incredibly dense 4-6 story buildings, using Barcelona, Washington D.C., and Paris as his models.

Beautiful Barcelona.

Ah, what might have been. If Austin had been forward-thinking enough 30 years ago to have started implementing some of these "new urbanist" ideas, instead of saying "Oh, shit!" and scrambling to save its ass now by building 180-story condos (which, don't get me wrong, I'm all in favor of, although I think a more European-style plan, with smaller buildings closer together and much larger sidewalks creates a far more welcoming and vibrant street life), imagine how different and amazing it could probably be today. For one thing, we wouldn't have all these box stores and gigantic parking lots in the central city, and it would probably all have much more of West Campus feel. I drove through West Campus the other night just to check out all the new construction and stuff, and damn, that neighborhood is dense! There's not a square inch there left uncovered. And it's beautiful and really vibrant. Too bad the whole city's not like that.

Anyway, there's a short list of some of Sinclair Black's other architectural plans (most not ever built, sadly) here if you'd like to check them out.

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