Can Architects Predict the Future?

fortune teller.jpgIs avant-garde architecture truly a harbinger of buildings to come? Will the urban landscape of 2100 be filled with whirls of titanium? Nope, says architect and professor Witold Rybczynski in Slate. “Even if a building succeeds in breaking the mold, that is no guarantee that it is showing the way, for innovative buildings rarely anticipate the future,” he writes.

While noting some exceptions (such as Frank Lloyd Wright‘s Usonian House foreshadowing ranch houses of the ’50s and ’60s), he offers a nice hey-I’m-still-waiting-for-the-life-promised-by-The-Jetsons roundup of the avant-garde architecture that never really caught on, including Le Corbusier‘s U-turn from white boxes to raw concrete and the architectural flash in the pan that was New Brutalism. “The truth is that buildings belong firmly to their own time,” writes Rybczynski. “This is especially true of architecture that self-consciously attempts to predict the future.” But that doesn’t stop him from looking into his own critical crystal ball:

One day, say in 2050, people will look at Herzog and de Meuron‘s bird’s nest, Andreu‘s egg, and Koolhaas‘ twisted donut, and think, “Pretty good for its time,” or, “What was all the fuss about?” or perhaps, “How quaint.” For whatever the architecture of the day, it almost certainly will not include bird’s nests or titanium eggs or twisted donuts. The real question about new buildings should never be “Are they cutting edge?” but “Are they good?”