Down to Earth
I recently stumbled across a book in my library, Form Follows Fiasco, by AIA-award–winning architectural critic Peter Blake. Writing during the mid-1970s, Blake discusses “The Fantasy of Purity”—how some of the sleek creations of the International Style, such as Le Corbusier's early structures and the all-glass building “skins” inspired by Mies van der Rohe, went awry when they met the real world of construction materials. The razor-sharp edges and broad expanses of pure white poured concrete and acres of glass were treated unkindly by nature and, within a few years, required major upkeep. Modern Movement architects had gotten ahead of the building industry, Blake explains, and the result was crumbling, stained walls and insecure glass.
(Blake notes that although some of their acolytes had problems accepting these limitations, Le Corbusier and Mies themselves—a watchmaker and a stonemason, respectively, in their previous lives— understood and adapted quite readily to the practicalities of materials.)
Although Blake argues that architects purveying International Style purity risked drifting away from the real world, readers of HealthCare Design need not worry. Indeed, we have published from the very start of our regular issues a column called “The Contractor's View,” authored by the builders at CG Schmidt Construction in Milwaukee. That view is where “the rubber meets the road” in design. Even the most wonderful design concepts remain no more than paper constructs until engineers and constructors can put their hands to the process and make the building.
We have an intriguing reminder of this truth located not far from our office: the Peter B. Lewis Building at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management, designed by Frank Gehry. Personally, I love its swooping, curvilinear titanium walls and the way taillights of cars leaving Severance Hall after a Cleveland Orchestra performance cast ripples of red along those walls at night. But I often wonder about the engineers, builders, and fabricators who contributed to putting up this beautiful but highly irregular construct. It's unlikely that their names will be featured in Metropolis magazine or any architectural retrospectives. Yet, as all of our readers know, they're the difference between a workable building and a fleeting (and very expensive) artistic statement.
This month's “Contractor's View” touches on this perspective, but we will be publishing several more articles in the near future on the productive collaboration of architects, engineers, and builders. After all, short of a nuclear power plant, there may be no more demanding built environment in the world than the acute care hospital. New design concepts for this setting are flying free these days, and more power to them. But we will do our best to keep them down to earth, as well. The “hard hats” of healthcare design most definitely have a place in our pages. HD
RICHARD L. PECK, EDITOR