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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Cool architecture

Most homes, office buildings, and other structures in the U.S. follow a mundane design. That's true of my own home and the building where my office is. To be sure, there are very talented architects in this country. When I was an undergrad, many of the guys on the 3rd floor of the Harris dorm were architecture students. I like architects and I recognize that design is only part of what they do. Given freedom, architects can unleash their creativity and build structures that innovate and even startle.

Not everyone likes architectural innovation. One of the better-known critics is Prince Charles, who apparently would have preferred that architectural style be frozen upon the death of Queen Victoria. I disagree, and I believe buildings like the Shard and the Gerkhin are good additions to the London skyline.

Alas, most architects in the U.S. play it safe -- because their clients do. There are exceptions like Frank Gehry and (here in the Triangle) Phillip Freelon. Speaking of the Triangle, a Modernist movement remains active here; its history is significant. The new North Carolina Museum of Art and RDU Terminal 2 buildings are good. But despite these exceptions, I find most American architecture to be exceedingly boring.

Traveling overseas, however, gives one the opportunity to see what architects can do in different cultures. I'm very impressed by a joint Swiss-Japanese initiative to use wood for large commercial structures. It's no accident that buildings in Beijing and Tokyo ranked #1-2 in this magazine's list. Taking the bus from Narita Airport into Tokyo is a feast for the eyes.

I wish that it were that way here.