Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Architecture As Public Servant

In May Threshold published a four-part series on the community oven built by students and faculty from the College of Design and staff and supporters from Casa De Esperanza. The community oven is a brilliantly simplistic integration of real world construction experience and community service. Students build something with their hands and the community is nourished.

I could not help but think of the community oven while on my recent visit to Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. The problems of reflected light and heat that the concert hall imparts on its neighbors and surrounding environment has been well documented. The undulating forms are clad in stainless steel and create enormous parabolic mirrors that bounce glare and heat onto neighboring buildings as well as the public space that surrounds the concert hall.

Before the stainless steel skin was sanded and dulled in 2005 the surrounding public space experienced temperatures of 140˚ Fahrenheit. I’ll grant you that this is not enough heat to cook food, but it is close. I bet if Gehry had pushed the CATIA. a little harder he could have gotten there, and I’m only half joking.

I am not advocating bouncing heat and glare around downtown Los Angeles, but concentrating it for public purpose could help lessen the perception that the building is by and for the elite.
This is not a perception I am creating for dramatic flair, nor am I bashing the concert hall. I interviewed a passerby during my visit. He lives in Orange County only 40 miles away, and he has never attended a performance at the concert hall. It wasn’t that he did not like classical music or theatre. He simply felt the venue was too foreboding from a financial standpoint. However, tickets for the currently running Spamalot show start at $40. Though it is true not everyone has $40 to spend on an event like this, the price seems reasonable.

Imagine how the passerby’s perception might change if he walked by the building one day and they were cooking food for the less fortunate with heat given by the sun and concentrated by the forms of concert hall. Image the poetry of a piece of architecture feeding people both the nourishment of food and culture.

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