I finally got a chance to look at the BreakWater "debate", which Cassie was kind enough to post. The whole discussion strikes me as an exercise in the arbitrary - on both sides. Renner (the architect) against the architectural critics - what a grand battle! Or is it? Both sides seem to agree that architecture is just a matter of opinion, and each side offers its opinion with no substantive reasons. The architectural critics bash the BreakWater for its allegedly bad connotations: an institution, a McManson. Scandalous! Renner bashes the critics for being Modernists and intellectuals. Thinking too much? - you should be ashamed! But wait. Why are institutions and McMansons bad? Why is Modernism or intellectual inquiry bad? Nobody in this discussion says. I think McMansons and Modernism are bad, but I find the whole discussion pointless because it is filled with Post-Modern subjectivism - a battle of whims and a battle over public influence. Rather than providing clear reasons that might elucidate some truth, both sides seem more concerned with molding public opinion.
More relevant questions: What does the BreakWater mean? What convictions does it express? What kind of life does it promise those who purchase condos there? These are not esoteric questions for architectural theorists to ponder in the classroom, detached from any relevance in everyday life. These questions are simultaneously theoretical and practical. They are desperately important questions, to which every customer of the BreakWater needs real answers. In that spirit:
Comfortable rather than Beautiful
Renner clearly states his intention to make a place that is comfortable for its residents, rather than visually appealing. He wanted to give people entertainment centers, well-equipped kitchens and spacious decks. He values the simple pleasures of ordinary life, rather than the sophisticated delights of the refined life.
Generic rather than Distinctive
Every unit here is basically the same, a fact broadcasted loudly on the exterior by the relentlessly repetitious balconies. Everybody gets exactly the same balcony. Everybody gets basically the same interior living spaces, as well. The conviction expressed is that we are more alike than different. The things that make us distinctive - our individual personalities - are not really relevant. In design we can safely filter that out of consideration. One size fits all.
The same conviction can be seen in the treatment of the structure, enclosure and form of the building. The driving desire is for conformity to an established model, rather than exploration of something new. It is more important to reinforce convention than to deviate from it. We should not question too much (if at all) the way things are normally done. It is crucially important in life to be normal, that is, to be like everybody else.
Money-making rather than Landmark-making
Renner is probably right that the BreakWater will make money for its developer, and maybe also for its residents. According to Renner's own statements making money for his clients is clearly one of his driving intentions. Conversely, he does not even mention such things as pride of ownership. So he conveys to us the conviction that what is most important in life is getting a return-on-investment, rather than garnering rich and meaningful human experiences.
So what is the kind of person who would thrive inhabiting a condo at the BreakWater? It is a person who values physical comfort above beauty, a person without a strong sense of personal identity, and a person who pursues the acquisition of monetary wealth over emotional fulfillment. These are all characteristics of the materialist. Everything Renner says in the debate reveals that he is an extreme materialist, and he has succeeded in giving us a building that embodies his view of the world.
Anyone who purchased a condo at the BreakWater and does not hold these convictions is a poor fool - a sucker who was duped into buying something that stands for everything he hates. That is the real crime here - not that the BreakWater exists - after all, it is an expression of the values of the architect and the client (i.e., the developer), as it should be. The crime is that many of the customers who purchase condos here, now and in the future, are supporting the propagation of convictions they actually consider destructive. If these convictions were identified, as I've tried to do here, those same enthusiastic buyers would run away from the BreakWater with a sick stomach. Ignorance of the meaning and significance of architecture renders people helpless against buildings like the BreakWater, which I actually don't think expresses the convictions of many people.
In an enlightened society the developers (who own the land) have every right to pay to hire an architect of their choosing and construct a building that expresses whatever values they choose. And in an enlightened society, people have every right to buy homes elsewhere, and to watch the BreakWater rot. The fact that the BreakWater is sold-out indicates that either we live in a society with a large number of materialists, or we live in a society with a large number of unenlightened persons, who don't know what the ugly face of materialism looks like. I believe the latter is true.
Postscript: I wanted to clarify a couple points related to the issue of making money through architecture. In this post it might seem like I'm against profiting from architecture. Nothing could be further from the truth. I question two aspects of Renner's mode of business operation. First, his premise that the way to "make money" for your client is to design an ugly, minimalist box. Notice that Renner never even asks the real Capitalistic question: how much money can I make? Is 0.0001% profit really okay? Certainly not. The goal of every good Capitalist is not to merely make a profit, but to maximize profit. The reality is that minimal solutions never maximize profit. People want more (if given the option), and they deserve to have more. Second, I question the process in which customers buy homes in complete ignorance of the convictions embodied there. It is wrong to sell people a chocolate bunny that's really made out of poop. No architect can be considered an honest businessman when he pursues profit by pulling the wool over people's eyes - obscuring issues of conviction and way-of-life under the disguise of "functionality" or "resale value". Architects have a responsibility to help their customers understand the significance of a place, so the client can make an informed decision.
A Burglar’s Guide to TV
6 months ago