Updated: Mar 1, 2022
The responsibility of building form often falls onto the architect. However, unless one is a starchitect, the developer generally pulls strong weight over aesthetic decisions. In this light, design is a shared responsibility, and as developers, knowledge of context – cultural, community, environmental and economic – should be accounted for in a project.
Aside from pragmatic financial modelling, traffic analysis, market studies, etc., developers should conduct historical, cultural, socioeconomic, and environmental pre-project investigations as well. This due diligence allows developers to review the architectural proposals comprehensively and provides a more considerate project for the site.
Unsure if the fault lies in the developer or architect, the Astor Place Tower by Charles Gwathmey hunches awkwardly in its namesake neighborhood, oblivious to its surrounding. Called “Green Monster” by architecture critic Paul Goldberger, the luxury apartment building shows no effort in terms of urban cohesion, cultural respect, and environmental sustainability. It was a sign of NoHo’s gentrification, yet a financial disappointment given its slow sales.
In contrast, the Ningbo History Museum demonstrates consideration. Architects Lu Wenyu and Wang Shu emerged victorious in the 2004 design competition with a project that pays homage to the city’s history while expressing innovation. The uneven and layered stature of the museum resonates with its regional landscape of mountains. Most critically, its method of production – old bricks assembled through traditional construction techniques – was a learning process for the architect and craftsmen involved. The team retrieved remnants of the developing city’s past by reusing material from the site’s demolished buildings, conserving history and environment in its construction methodology. Understandably, it was more costly in terms of finance, labor and time. Yet the result was recognized for its situated consciousness as a museum of memory in a changing cityscape and moving population, winning Wang Shu the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2012.
While a museum and a multi-family residence are different real estate categories, it is worthwhile for developers to examine the philosophy of the Ningbo History Museum and similar projects. Shigeru Ban’s apartments, Metal Shutter Houses, along the High Line demonstrates similar thought by responding to the Meatpacking District’s industrial past. Both projects put limelight on the architects, however, the developer deserves merit for realizing such site-sensitive ambitions too. Meanwhile, they provide new guidance for approaching future developments.
By Jialei Tang (MUP '23), Associate Editor
Edited by Emily Johansen (MUP '23), Associate Editor