Slob Art

One question to the City Council, and the architects who did these designs:


What a way to start a day folks.. this one nearly had my cereal bowl flying off the table.

Seems to me we have been here before, friends. Anyone remember the idea for a concrete staircase descending into Market Square from.. oh, what - about a year ago? Artist's concepts and all?

In a conversation a year ago, with a recently departed person from a very important Downtown organization, I clearly remember bringing up the idea of the stone staircase (which I had read about in the Times). The reaction was not quite so supportive. But still, the more I thought on the idea - the more I came to like it.

A sweeping stone (or concrete) staircase descending from the pedestrian walkway, depositing people neatly at the base of the city market area would not have been a bad thing. With appropriate lighting and railing, it might even blend with it's surroundings.

Plus - sweeping staircases have a way of becoming public meeting spots. Hang-outs for the local "youts," places for "arteests" to practice their craft, and even a simple place to squat and gobble lunch on a nice day.

But no... not this.

What brains we have leading us, what grand vision for the future of our fair city. To have the foresight to allow the "Wreck of the Hesperus" monument and Art Museum to be built, so it would not look so out of place alongside this.

I guess we should re-name Salem Ave. between Jefferson and Williamson "Slob Art Row."

Of course, this is being done in an attempt to create a European-style Plaza. But whats being missed (and this is an issue I take mostly with the architects, and only deride the council for not being better educated on the subject) is that most Euro-plazas are.. how to say it, vintage? They are simple in design, fairly open with one or two large features. A staircase and fountain, or a statue and seating. The artists, concessions, and all the rest come in time - they aren't programmed in.

To be honest about it - the best example I can think of for a true Euro-style plaza in the USA would be Washington Square Park in NYC. It has a mix of both concrete and green space, and the population one would expect of Greenwich Village. A population which supports the park, and gives it life.

These are things you cannot program in, you cannot pre-plan for.

But far and above, my favorite moment from the article is the sudden redefinition of the "buzzword du jour" for the City Council. Amphitheater. All 3 designs displayed for the council have "amphitheater functions." Well, that and the sudden appearance of a fishing pier in the midst of Downtown Roanoke (see the $3.5 million dollar concept if you wish).

I do appreciate the fact that Hillary Burcham is advertising in advance the "healthy discussion on the markets future in December", but Alfred "I'm not Carlton" Dowe let loose a head-scratcher.

"In general, I really do like the concept" said Councilman Dowe, "but frankly, the balance that I and the rest of the council will have to deal with is wether or not the timing of the use of the funds is the most expedient thing versus the enhancement of, say, the actual market building itself or incentives to lure another hotel downtown (?!? -rf), or a grocery store - some of the things we already know we need versus something we'd love to have."


And our Vice-Mayor and Vice-President of the Vague and Confused branch of the City Council, Mr. Trinkle added this: "I'm a supporter of the concept of doing something that creates more usage of that space and funnels people into the market area, wether this should be done before or after the Market building is something we should probably all need to address."

And some of you folks voted for these people? How did you understand them?

But kudos to Bus-Drivin' Bev for laying out in the open. The Plaza "is a public space that never had any focus. Any way we might go here we're way ahead of where we've been."

I'll provide further clarification on the "Slob Art" concept, should you need it. Just ask. But between these designs and the AMWV - I'd say that pretty much takes care of everything.

I need to go take some Rolaids now, my stomach is still churning.

I wonder if the council realizes the light at the end of the tunnel they seem to see is really New Jersey?


Anonymous said...

While I agree with some of your points. I don't agree with your comments on the architecture. While I don't believe the design is progressive or really anything new than what we see all over the US I don't think it needs to be vintage. We are not as old as Europe and therefore our built environment should not look that way either. I don't want to live in a new urbanist style town where we are making new structures to look like old ones. Many of the building techniques are no longer the same and therefore neither are the results. More often then not when you try to build a structure to make it look old you end up with something more like Disney Land. In other words you lose authenticity. I want to live in a place that celebrates diversity and artistry and art has always been about pushing boundries. Architecture is a form of art and should be looked at as such. Therefore the joy for many architects is to try new techniques, materials and ways of designing. Therefore I agree with you in that I don't like the style of the design but for very different reasons. I'd like to see something edgier and different, something that shows Roanoke is moving into the 21st Century and not back in time. I like the old juxtaposed with the new, it tells a story of how a place developed. Europeans understand this better than most Americans and if you traveled to Europe you would see many examples of "vintage" and new styles side by side. They understand the story much better we do and we could learn a lot from them.

RoanokeFound said...

I am not disagreeing with you outright.

But I have traveled overseas, and have seen the new next to the old. And in some cases, it does work. But Europe is very much a place of novelty, where people are easily impressed by such things - not so here in the States.

I am not saying that the plaza needs to be "built old" - what I am saying is that the plaza cannot be what they want it to be simply because they design it that way. These things grow, organically and rightfully so.

If you wish to live in a place that celebrates art, diversity, and all the rest - well, thats fine. But even you have to admit that is not something that can be legislated.

Normally, new architecture is die by private concerns, businesses and the like - not by the governing bodies. Much like Old Southwest encountering strife when it attempts to legislate appropriate paints for homes, forcing designs on citizens (as with the Art Museum) "in our best interests" is always a bad choice.

And with it being the 21st Century, rather than worry about aluminum siding thats supposed to rust, why not worry about the technological value of the structure? Even old structures could be rehabbed into technological wonderlands, and that would impact life in the Valley more than any museum or amphitheater could.

Want to see the city shine? Then we need to start throwing some switches.

But thanks for the comment.

Philosofik said...

So, international consulting firms aside, is the thought really, sincerely, that a plaza is the thing that will bring all these throngs of people to the market area? Really?

This is like giving the guy with tuberculosis a cough drop.

It's great to want people to come downtown. People already do that. People have since the market area was re-conceived twenty+ years ago. If you don't believe me, try to park there between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm. The problem isn't that people aren't coming to the market, it's that they aren't coming to Roanoke.

Roanoke's fortunate that it's the only thing of note this side of Richmond. If it weren't the only show in town, so to speak, it'd be empty every night. Disorganized attempts at re-invigorating vigorous areas are a waste of time and money. The five ideas from the consulting group that the council adopted? They're like putting new drapes in a house with a bad foundation. They address the symptoms, but not the cause.

$3.5 million on a plaza. What's the city school system's graduation rate again? How safe are the policemen patrolling one-per-car? Where can I buy groceries if I live downtown? $3.5 million well-spent.