Since the open­ing of the Guggen­heim Bil­bao two decades ago, cities have been bet­ting on flashy cul­tural at­trac­tions to re­vive their brand, re­vi­tal­ize their neigh­bour­hoods and bol­ster their “cre­ative class” cre­den­tials (à la Richard Florida). Mean­while, ma

Azure - - CONTENTS - Text by Ni­cholas Hune-brown Pho­tog­ra­phy by En­rico Cano

Star­chi­tec­ture’s dead. Now what? By Ni­cholas Hune-brown

In early 2001,

Richard Florida came to Mil­wau­kee and – be­fore the eyes of the anx­ious lo­cal busi­ness­men who had in­vited the ur­ban guru – pro­claimed the city “cool.”

At the dawn of the new mil­len­nium, be­ing told you were cool by Richard Florida wasn’t just a boost to a lo­cal city builder’s ego: it was a prom­ise of sal­va­tion. In those years the aca­demic celebrity barn­stormed across the con­ti­nent push­ing a com­pelling vi­sion of a way for­ward for strug­gling me­trop­o­lises. In the new econ­omy, Florida preached, a city’s suc­cess de­pended on its abil­ity to se­duce the “cre­ative class” – those artists, coders and de­sign­ers who needed to be pam­pered with hip cof­fee shops, co­pi­ous art gal­leries, world-class ar­chi­tec­ture and us­able bike lanes. And Mil­wau­kee, Florida said, had the right “peo­ple cli­mate” to suc­ceed. It was the kind of place where you could “go sail­ing, hang out in a cof­fee house and live in a ren­o­vated loft of an old ware­house.” They just needed to sell it.

Lo­cal boost­ers took Florida’s words to heart. As ge­og­ra­pher Jeff Zim­mer­man re­lates in his ar­ti­cle in the ur­ban plan­ning jour­nal Cities,

Mil­wau­kee’s elite be­gan a pro­gram to re­shape the city in Florida’s cre­ative-class im­age. Ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns em­pha­sized the city’s “cool­ness com­po­nents” and “fun fac­tors.” A “tech­zone” was cre­ated to pub­li­cize the for­mer man­u­fac­tur­ing city’s new iden­tity. In or­der to sell the new Mil­wau­kee, its slo­gan – “The Gen­uine Amer­i­can City,” paired with a vaguely in­dus­trial-look­ing logo – needed to be changed. And boost­ers knew ex­actly the right im­age to re­place it: the bold sil­hou­ette of the re­cent ad­di­tion to the Mil­wau­kee Art Mu­seum, de­signed by San­ti­ago Cala­trava.

The Cala­trava was an ar­chi­tec­tural won­der, its mov­able brise-soleil un­fold­ing like an ex­otic bird perched on the shores of Lake Michi­gan. The au­da­cious, $Us122-mil­lion ad­di­tion promised to re­vi­tal­ize a sec­tion of the city’s down­town. And it rep­re­sented the very best of what Mil­wau­kee could be – mod­ern and sleek, a bea­con to at­tract cre­ative-class glo­be­trot­ters.

Mil­wau­kee wasn’t the only city hop­ing to rein­vent it­self through a mix­ture of high-class ar­chi­tec­ture and savvy mar­ket­ing. Af­ter Frank Gehry’s Guggen­heim in Bil­bao opened in 1997 and seem­ingly trans­formed a scrubby Span­ish port city into a tourist-friendly me­trop­o­lis, cities around the world com­peted to build the kind of au­da­cious ar­chi­tec­tural cre­ations that would bring in tourists and re­newal. Ac­cord­ing to a study from the Univer­sity of Chicago, be­tween 1994 and 2008, 725 new arts fa­cil­i­ties were built in Amer­ica at a price of more than $US15 bil­lion. Even the 2008 re­ces­sion couldn’t stop the boom: from 2007 to 2014, an anal­y­sis by the Art News­pa­per found, $US8.9 bil­lion was spent on mu­seum ex­pan­sions world­wide.

To tour the mu­se­ums and art gal­leries of the last two decades is to take in a whim­si­cal menagerie of iconic cre­ations: curls of Frank Gehry– built metal rip­pling through Cleve­land and Seat­tle; neo-fu­tur­is­tic Zaha Ha­did mon­u­ments alight­ing in Azer­bai­jan and Guangzhou like so many glossy alien moth­er­ships; Daniel Libe­skind shards pok­ing out of her­itage build­ings from Dres­den to Toronto. The ex­plo­sion of build­ing wasn’t limited to wealthy cities like New York and Lon­don. In Biloxi, Mis­sis­sippi, Gehry was brought in to build a mu­seum that could help trans­form that stretch of the “Red­neck Riviera” into a cul­tural hub. In Roanoke, Vir­ginia, the am­bi­tious Taub­man Mu­seum was con­structed with the hope of el­e­vat­ing the strug­gling for­mer coal town in the eyes of the world. Ac­cord­ing to Joanna Woronkow­icz, one of the au­thors of the Univer­sity of Chicago study, the peo­ple be­hind these build­ings all had some­thing in com­mon: they had read Richard Florida and ab­sorbed his mes­sage. Build­ing a large, eye-pop­ping mu­seum wasn’t an act of hubris; it was a civic duty.

To­day, 20 years af­ter the open­ing of the Guggen­heim in Bil­bao, the fevered claims of this age of mon­u­ment build­ing look in­creas­ingly em­bar­rass­ing. In an era in which ev­ery city seems to boast a spec­tac­u­lar mu­seum, build­ing eye-catch­ing icons has had di­min­ish­ing re­turns. Tourists have not flocked to Roanoke, and Biloxi has failed to be­come the Bil­bao of the Mis­sis­sippi.

More than that, we’ve be­lat­edly changed our opin­ion about what a suc­cess­ful “re­vi­tal­iza­tion” looks like. Even in cases where an am­bi­tious project has spurred neigh­bour­hood growth, the peo­ple who ac­tu­ally live there have not al­ways felt the ben­e­fits. The High Line, the el­e­vated lin­ear park that stretches through Chelsea in New York, is by many mea­sures one of the most suc­cess­ful projects of the past decade. Last year, eight mil­lion tourists marched cheek by jowl through the beau­ti­fully de­signed park, snap­ping pics. The neigh­bour­hood has been trans­formed, with gleam­ing con­dos tow­er­ing over the for­mer el­e­vated rail­way. But for the res­i­dents of

Chelsea – a third of whom are peo­ple of colour, and many of whom live in the two pub­lic hous­ing build­ings that but­tress the park – the High Line’s ef­fects have been less pos­i­tive. The flip side of re­vi­tal­iza­tion is dis­place­ment. The peo­ple who use the park are both tourists and, ac­cord­ing to a City Univer­sity of New York study, over­whelm­ingly white. Ris­ing rents have pushed out the bode­gas and butch­ers and re­placed them with stores cater­ing to vis­i­tors. De­spite the crowds, one of the High Line’s de­sign­ers, Robert Ham­mond, re­cently de­scribed his cre­ation as a fail­ure. “We were from the com­mu­nity. We wanted to do it for the neigh­bour­hood,” Ham­mond told the web­site City­lab ear­lier this year. “Ul­ti­mately, we failed.”

In Mil­wau­kee, the Cala­trava ad­di­tion was greeted with in­ter­na­tional ap­proval. It was

Time mag­a­zine’s “de­sign of the year.” New tow­ers sprang up in the area, and news­pa­per ar­ti­cles chron­i­cling “Mil­wau­kee’s re­nais­sance” pro­lif­er­ated. But while the area im­me­di­ately sur­round­ing the wa­ter­front gallery pros­pered and ex­pe­ri­enced ris­ing prop­erty val­ues, the rest of the city strug­gled. Fifty thou­sand jobs dis­ap­peared in the years im­me­di­ately af­ter the Cala­trava opened and Richard Florida vis­ited. To­day, the city, which had al­ready been po­lar­ized, has be­come the most seg­re­gated in Amer­ica, with one in three black res­i­dents liv­ing in ex­treme poverty.

Of course, no sin­gle build­ing or civic brand­ing ex­er­cise can hope to counter the eco­nomic forces that have rav­aged Rust Belt cities. But pub­licly fund­ing de­vel­op­ments aimed squarely at af­flu­ent cre­ative types has only ex­ac­er­bated the eco­nomic po­lar­iza­tion ex­pe­ri­enced by so many cities. In ret­ro­spect, the idea that fund­ing a new art gallery for the wealthy could, through eco­nomic os­mo­sis, im­prove the lot of a city’s work­ing class al­ways had the whiff of trickle-down chi­canery.

Even within suc­cess­ful cities, the clus­ter­ing of white-col­lar cre­ative types has de­stroyed mid­dle-class neigh­bour­hoods, with re­vi­tal­ized down­towns at­tract­ing wealthy pro­fes­sors but push­ing oth­ers fur­ther and fur­ther out into the sub­urbs

The pro­gram to pan­der to the cre­ative class has suc­ceeded in the nar­row­est terms – mak­ing the al­ready wealthy and com­fort­able feel that much more wel­come, while pro­vid­ing lit­tle of value for any­one else.

Per­haps the most sur­pris­ing critic of this era of de­vel­op­ment is Richard Florida. In his lat­est book, The New Ur­ban Cri­sis, Florida seems to re­verse much of his ear­lier think­ing, though with lit­tle ac­knowl­edge­ment of his own role. The book is the prod­uct of “a pe­riod of re­think­ing and in­tro­spec­tion, of per­sonal and in­tel­lec­tual trans­for­ma­tion,” he writes. Now a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Toronto, Florida says he could never have an­tic­i­pated how deeply po­lar­ized cities would be­come. “In lit­tle more than a decade,” he writes, “the re­vi­tal­iza­tion of our cities and our ur­ban ar­eas that I had pre­dicted was giv­ing rise to ram­pant gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and un­af­ford­abil­ity, driv­ing deep wedges be­tween af­flu­ent new­com­ers and strug­gling long­time res­i­dents.”

The re­sult, Florida says, is a “win­ner-take-all ur­ban­ism” in which ap­peal­ing cities like San Fran­cisco and Lon­don boom while Mil­wau­kee and Biloxi are left be­hind. Even within suc­cess­ful cities, the clus­ter­ing of white-col­lar cre­ative types has de­stroyed mid­dle-class neigh­bour­hoods, with re­vi­tal­ized down­towns at­tract­ing wealthy lawyers and pro­fes­sors but push­ing the peo­ple who care for their chil­dren and tend to their shrub­bery fur­ther and fur­ther out into the sub­urbs.

For Florida, the so­lu­tions to these prob­lems are old-fash­ioned and unglam­orous: bet­ter pub­lic trans­porta­tion, more rental hous­ing, a higher min­i­mum wage. It’s a pre­scrip­tion that is un­likely to in­spire quite as many pub­lic speak­ing in­vi­ta­tions. It’s also typ­i­cal of a broader shift in the way we talk about “re­vi­tal­iz­ing ” a city, a con­spic­u­ous step away from the over­heated if-youbuild-it-they-will-come rhetoric used to jus­tify two decades of mon­u­ment mak­ing. It’s an ac­knowl­edg­ment that there are clear lim­its to the power of ar­chi­tec­ture and of civic brand­ing. To­day, when the High Line’s cre­ator talks about his re­grets, he doesn’t talk about tweak­ing his de­sign. He talks about con­sult­ing with the com­mu­nity and push­ing for more af­ford­able hous­ing. “In­stead of ask­ing what the de­sign should look like, I wish we’d asked, ‘What can we do for you?’” says Ham­mond. “Be­cause peo­ple have big­ger prob­lems than de­sign.”

This summer, the Cen­tro Botín opened in San­tander, Spain. Lo­cated just an hour from Bil­bao, the con­tem­po­rary art cen­tre was de­signed by Renzo Pi­ano, a “star­chi­tect” who is no stranger to flashy, mon­u­men­tal de­sign. The mu­seum is an el­e­gant, strik­ing struc­ture, but its cre­ators have been ea­ger to tamp down any Bil­bao-re­lated rhetoric about civic trans­for­ma­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the foun­da­tion’s pres­i­dent, the mu­seum was built for the peo­ple of the city, not to “cre­ate an icon.” It is nearly in­vis­i­ble from within the city it­self – a “self-ef­fac­ing” build­ing ac­cord­ing to one ar­chi­tec­ture critic.

The build­ing feels like a pub­lic af­fir­ma­tion that the heady days in which we talked about ar­chi­tec­ture sav­ing cities are over. When Pi­ano was asked about his ap­proach to the de­sign, he didn’t mince words. “I sup­pose our strat­egy was the op­po­site of the Guggen­heim,” he said. “How many Bil­bao ef­fects can you have af­ter all?”

The Botín, lo­cated at the wa­ter’s edge, is in­tended as a place for the cit­i­zens of San­tander as much as it is for tourists.

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