Critical Thinking: Architecture Criticism in Unexpected Places

Critical Thinking: Architecture Criticism in Unexpected Places

Critical Thinking is a weekly series highlighting the work of architecture critics and thinkers from around the internet.  Each week we recommend a few of our favorite pieces.  

(Header image: screen capture from the video of the proposed above grade passenger concourse at Union Station.)

This week we’re taking a slightly different approach, and looking at a couple of examples of what Alexandra Lange might call “citizen critics”—the everyday inhabitants of cities, and users of buildings.  These pieces are not what would traditionally be classified as criticism, but it is the kind of user feedback and input that architects, planners, developers, and decision-makers should be giving much greater consideration.

First up, is a reaction to a proposal for an above grade passenger concourse at Los Angeles’s Union Station (pictured above) from Joe Linton at Streetsblog LA.  Video of the new proposal made the rounds on a variety of local architecture and urbanism websites, but the flashy renderings were not enough to quell the valid and reasonable criticism of the new design.  Quoting other commenters, Linton points out that the new concourse proposal would increase complexity and connection times for passengers from what is already a complicated and cumbersome station experience.  The added distance of the proposed vertical separation is only highlighted by a segment in the video that shows an elevator bank ascending through four different levels (not including the underground subway) to reach the new passenger concourse.  In closing, Linton makes a plea for what should have been the guiding principle from the beginning: “The LinkUS project presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make the great Union Station even greater…Keep the rider experience at the center of plans and designs.  To keep and grow ridership, make transit connections as easy and convenient as possible.  Skip the above grade concourse.”

The four story elevators to carry passengers from the plaza level to the proposed concourse.  Screen capture from the video of the proposed above grade passenger concourse at Union Station.

The four story elevators to carry passengers from the plaza level to the proposed concourse.  Screen capture from the video of the proposed above grade passenger concourse at Union Station.

In a similar vein, we have the much publicized “rumors” that some high-level Apple employees are less than thrilled with the open-office plan at the company’s new spaceship Apple Park campus.  It’s important to emphasize that these reports are just rumors, but considering how Apple develops products, it’s not inconceivable that decision makers (*cough* Steve Jobs *cough* Jony Ive *cough*) made plans without much, if any, consideration or consultation with the thousands of people who will actually have to work in the space every day.  And it’s especially telling that these rumors, as well as some confirmed reports, suggest that some of Apple’s most mission-critical teams will not be moving into the big glass donut.  At the same time, there is some reason to question the reports of dissatisfaction with the new space.  As a report on the rumors at—where else—MacRumors.com makes clear, many of the reported complaints are coming from Apple employees who have not yet moved into the Apple Park building.  And the Silicon Valley Business Journal piece mentions that Apple CEO Tim Cook is exempt from the open office environment, but that claim runs counter to the official line in Steven Levy’s feature on the campus for WIRED.  But since Levy seems to be the only journalist to ever set foot in the new building, rumors are the only other source we have to go by.  It would seem that at least a vocal handful of Apple employees are dissatisfied with their new $5 billion workplace, and unlike an iPhone, there won’t be an option to trade-up to a new version next year.

Do you know of a critic we should feature on Critical Thinking?  Send your recommendations to peopleplacesspaces@gmail.com.