I recently visited the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. I went to Bilbao only to see the Guggenheim and it ended up that the Guggenheim was not the highlight of Bilbao. Bilbao itself was the highlight and I would highly recommend anyone to go to Bilbao. The Guggenheim is spectacular to look at (see some of my photo’s of the exterior of the building, I took quite a few others also), but it is spectacular as a sculpture, not as a building. In my opinion, the Guggenheim fails as a building.
Whilst wandering around inside the Guggenheim, I had the overwhelming urge to write some of these feelings down about how this building affected me, and how disillusioned I was with Architecture as a whole after being inside this building. So this post is not specifically about the Guggenheim but about my feelings about Architecture in general.
However, some of the things I spotted at the Guggenheim were:
- Construction markings still on the glass after 10 years
- Glass that has never been cleaned and cracked glass
- Gaffa tape as a waterproofing feature plugging the joins between the glass and steel
- Construction joints that are ugly and not finished well
- Exposed wiring or conduits from new retrofitted camera’s, lighting etc
- Dust, grime, cobwebs, weathering of surfaces
- Patchy maintenance – eg can see where the walls have been painted over
That is a very short list of all the things that I spotted. The Guggenheim does not allow photos to be taken inside, which is a complete joke, and I was not interested in any of the artwork in there, just the building itself, so I could not take any pictures of the things I spotted, so I just had to write down how seeing all this affected me.
Is it the Architect’s job to design a building that is spectacular to look at and gives the Architect great kudos, or is it the Architect’s job to design a building that functions well as a building throughout the full life of the building? And why can’t both of those objectives be achieved? I’m talking about all Architecture, from a simple office fitout (which I’ve had a lot of experience with), to a residential home, to the current architectural masterpieces such as the Burj Dubai or the BMW-Welt Centre, or any of the buildings in this year’s World Architecture Festival.
Things that are often not thought through enough when designing and constructing buildings are:
- How to keep the building clean and well maintained
- Structure, joints, construction details – how will things look like when they are put together
- How the building will age and weather
- Dust, grime, cobwebs etc – where will it form and how to clean it
- Safety and Access – where are the anchor points for safety and access (eg Roof harnesses), so they do not just look like an afterthought
- Waterproofing – where are the joints or materials likely to fail, and can they be repaired or replaced (this is a tough one, I know)
- Storage – there is never enough – think of what you want and double it
- Surfaces – painted gyprock walls in most commerical applications does not work – I know it’s cheap over the life of the building is it really going to be cost effective, and do we have any real alternatives?
- Furniture and equipment – what furniture and equipment is required, will it fit, can you get it into the building, will it allow for future changes
- Pictures and Signage – how are pictures, signage, whiteboards etc going to be attached to the walls, can they be changed later
- Future proofing – eg installing new wiring for the latest technology
- Location and quantity of power outlets and other services
- Fire Services – so they don’t just looked like they are tacked on as an afterthought
- Movement and crowd control – how are people going to be moving through the building, where are the bottlenecks, what damage will they do to surfaces
- Sun – how will the people in the building be affected by the sun – does there need to be more or controlled shading
- Ventilation and location of AC outlets – either it’s too hot or too cold – how can we get the balance right
- Spare Parts – will parts be available to replace, and will they be the same as the existing, or is this part something unique that has been created for this building
And this list does not address some of the big issues such as sustainability of both the construction and the building, and the lifecycle of the building – ie what happens to the building at the end of it’s life.
So who’s responsibility is it to think of all these things, is it the Architect’s job to think all this through? Is it the Owner’s responsibilty to insist upon these things, and if they don’t well then let’s not bring them up? Is it the Builder’s job to work out all the little details? is it the building manager’s responsibility through the life of the building just to manage how the building works? If a building can’t be cleaned properly is that the Architect’s fault for not designing it to be cleaned, or the building operator’s fault for not figuring out a way to get it cleaned?
Does the Architect’s job finish after the building is designed? Does the Builder’s job finish after Handover? Or should the Architect and Builder be on hand to manage the transition of the building through it’s first few years of life and teething problems? Who’s job is it to teach the building occupiers how to live in the building (eg learn to put a jumper on if you are cold, rather than turning the themostat up).
I know this does not work in practice, due to the economics of the situtation. The Architect has probably burned all his fee up front on the design, and can’t afford to keep a close enough eye on it during construciton. For the Builder, time is money so the quicker he’s off site, the more profit he makes, and the Building owner wants to keep costs down and can’t afford to fix problems created by either the design or construction. And commercial considerations always mean that the building needs to be opened, operating and making money before it is fully complete, but it is easy then just to forget about the finer details of completion.
So there is no quick fix to this issue, but is there some way we can improve things? How can we get all parties working together to a common purpose? Do we have to have such grand “statement” architecture or should we put more of the cost of the building into making it sustainable through the life of the building? I have no answers, just questions.
Sidebar – Defects
On the subject of handover, buildings are handed over to the owner at Pracitcal Competion, which means that the building is fit for purpose, barring a few minor defects. These days most Builders and Owners will insist upon Defect Free Construction, which is the builing is handed over complete, finished and ready to move in, with no defects. But some people’s ideas of Defect Free construction are vastly different than mine.
The old concept of the Architect specifying a quality finish and having the Architect or superintendant to approve that finish in situ before work can continue has gone. If the concrete surface is stained, or marked or has nails sticking out of it, or has construction markings on it, then it could be completely satisfactory, but in my “old school” opinion it is defective and must be cleaned and repaired before completion.
I was in a newly completed train station the other day and was quite taken aback by the state that it was in when it was seemingly “complete” with no construction signs or construction personnel anywhere to be seen. Yes it was functioning but it was no where near complete.
Again, I don’t have any answers about this, just a general feeling of dissolusionment about the direction the Construction Industry is taking in not taking pride in getting things finished properly. I don’t know, maybe I am being too critical. Maybe it’s just me that sees these things, and since no one else sees them or seems to care, it’s ok? Just puting it out there.