Post #298: The 6/14/2019 BAR meeting

Posted on June 14, 2019

The Board of Architectural Review (BAR) had a work session this morning to discuss revised plans for the Marco Polo/Vienna Market site (44 luxury town houses plus retail at Maple and Pleasant).

You can find my audio recording and Excel index to the audio recording at this Google Drive directory.  Download the two files starting “2019-06-14 …” for the audio and the index.  The audio quality is poor, as most participants did not use their microphones and/or the sound system did not amplify their voices.

I’ll keep this short, because I learned just two things.

First, the BAR is mostly OK with the revised design of the building.  They’d like a few more things, and want to look at the landscaping plans.  But, in general, the revised proposal appeared to meet with their approval, and likely will be formally approved at their July 18 regular meeting.

Second, I clearly have no taste in architecture.  Based on the discussion, this is viewed as a landmark piece of architecture for the Town of Vienna.  But for the life of me, I cannot see what others clearly appreciate.  To me, this appears to be a hodgepodge.

But this is the style that that goes with the modern “stumpies” construction method of timber-frame-over-concrete-platform.  So I guess this is what passes as state-of-the-art architecture in the modern world.

Clearly, when the professional architects have spoken on this, my opinion means less than nothing.  But this is one of the last articles I will write looking “backward” to the MAC buildings approved or about to be approved.  So I’ll take five minutes to point out, from my layman’s perspective, what I find so unattractive about this style of architecture.

In so many words, I think the mish-mosh of different elements makes it look tacky.  And while it may look OK as long as others are building the same thing, my bet is that 30 years from now, people are going to look at it and say, “what were they thinking”.

In some sense, maybe that is the heart of this modern post-industrial style.   Maybe it’s an ironic self-referential statement on what architecture has become.   We have gone from form-follows-function to an era of no limits — you can do more-or-less anything you want with those facades.  And so we have reached a stage of arbitrary-detail-for-the-sake-of-detail. We will have variation of (fill-in-the-blank) because that variation can be done cheaply.

But in the same way that many McMansions are “architecturally confused” (i.e., have no one consistent style),  I find this building to be generally confused.  It’s not a genuine anything, but instead mashes together a bunch of seemingly unrelated detail.

It’s certainly busy, I’ll give it that.

Here are the Maple Avenue, Pleasant Street, and Bank of America sides of this development, below.

Now I’ll list all the things I find so odd about this, when presented as attractive architecture.

  1.  The conceit is that this is supposed to be many different buildings built at different times.  But they all use (e.g.) the exact same windows, exact same bays, and so on.  Just look at the Maple Avenue view:  The exact same bay window appears six times across the front of the building.  Only an idiot would think that these were anything but one building complex, all built at the same time.
  2. The shops on Maple came out of a completely different Lego set than the rest of the building.  Nothing about the shops matches anything else.  And they appear vastly more modern than the town houses above them, and appear to have noting to do with them, structurally.  To me that just emphasizes that somebody slapped a bunch of pseudo-olde-tyme townhouses on top of a concrete podium.  If you’re trying to disguise the fact that this is a modern building, that pretty much gives the game away.
  3. They will paint some of the bricks white, and other colors.  Ask any mason about the best way to paint bricks, and you will get the same answer:  Don’t.  To me, painted brick always looks shabby, and always looks like somebody was trying to fix a mistake.  So the idea of purposefully painting new bricks is just out-of-this-world insane.  Why not break a few of the windows while you’re at it.
  4. The front faces of the town houses along Maple are just for show.  Occupants will actually enter and leave those buildings from the rear.  It will be quite difficult to get to the level on which you could use those front doors.  So, in essence, the entire front of that building is a fake.  It’s there to look like the main entrances to that set of town houses.  But it’s a false front.  Purely for show.  Actual entrance is in the rear.
  5. Some sides have shingle roofs, others do not, but they all have a virtually-flat roof line.  Despite the disguise, nobody will mistake this as anything but a building built all at the same time.

Well, this is just the way the world is, and there’s no sense complaining about it.  The currently-cheapest building technology (“stumpies“) seems to go hand-in-hand with this type of facade.  The current style is to do whatever it takes to attempt to disguise the monolithic nature of the underlying buildings.  And so we get what we get.  One way or the other, this is going to be a landmark in Vienna.