Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Corner Broadcasting Company

[Since the opening of the High Line in New York City, James Corner Field Operations has been going gangbusters gathering big commissions across the continent, the most recent being a 2.8 billion dollar green infrastructure project in Atlanta and the new civic space in Santa Monica, California. FASLANYC recently moderated a discussion on these projects as well as the other recent commission won by Field Operations, the Cleveland Public Square. Drawings have been released for the Cleveland project and so it is the subject of more criticism. Also discussed is FO's expanding influence and trends in their portfolio of built work.

The critics are our very own Don Roman de la Mancha (DRDLM) and a guest critic demanding to be called Big Smoove (BS).]

[James Corner, 1996, just before vomiting]

BS: Field Operations is literally exploding all over the map right now, and they've recently won major commissions in the Southeast, Midwest, and the West Coast.

DRDLM: Es verosimil que estas observaciones hayan sido enunciadas alguna vez y quiza muchas veces; la discusion de su novedad me interesa menos que la de su posible verdad.

BS: Have you seen the Cleveland project? That rat bastard!!  1996 James Corner would never stop vomiting if he could see that proposal. He would fill up one trash can and then grab the next and just keep going. Jesus God!

DRDLM: Cotejado con otros libros clasicos, el Quijote es realista; este realismo, sin embargo, difiere esencialmente del que ejercio el siglo XIX.

BS: Oh-ho, Buddy! It's a mean bastard of a park, a ge cross between bad modernist design and a parametric wet dream from sophomore year. There is no context, no acknowledgement of the constant shade on the southern end or the larger connections within the city. The river? The lake? Who cares?

[Cleveland's Public Square with cloudy sky and misty buildings,
rendering by Field Operations]

DRDLM: Joseph Conrad pudo escribir que excluia de su obra lo sobrenatural, porque admitirlo paracia negar que lo cotidiano fura maravilloso: ignoro si Miguel de Cervantes compartio es intuicion, pero se que la forma del Quijote le hizo contrponer a un mundo imaginario poetico, un mundo real prosaico.

BS: And the renderings? They show Cleveland badly photoshopped in a surreal and dreamy state!! Mists arising from the bio-morphic hill with a backdro of beautiful buildings!! Jesus GOD!!  It's the glossy manifestation of the most heinous theses of DeBord's Society of the Spectacle (#'s 59, 169 and 170).

DRDLM: El plan de su obra le vedaba lo maravilloso; este, sin embargo, tenia que figurar, siquiera de manera indirecta, como los crimenes y el misterio en una parodia de la novela policial.  En la realidad, cada novela es un plano ideal; Cervantes se complace en confundir lo objetivo y lo subjetivo, el mundo del lector y el mundo del libro.

BS: Field Operations has really mailed it in on this one. Jesus! And the papers and critics are all too happy to give them a free pass based on the recent success of the High Line. Never mind that the High Line had a construction budget of 130 million, accomplished architects Diller, Scofidio, and Renfro, planting design by master gardener Piet Oudulf, the full support of the affluent community of Chelsea, and is a tightly controlled and highly maintained public space. The architecture critics of the LA and NY Times (and most others) gloss over this in their relentless boosterism of the shiny and beautiful, but it has to be considered in a place like Cleveland.

DRDLM: Tambien es sorprendente saber, en el principio del noveno capitulo, que la novela entera ha sido traducida del arabe y que Cervantes adquirio el manuscrito en el mercado de Toledo, y lo hizo traducir por un morisco, a quien alojo mas de mes y medio en su casa, minetras concluia la tarea.

BS: This weak offering stands in contrast to their work out on Staten Island at Fresh Kills. Also, it is the opposite of the small, thoughtful and elegant project recently profiled here on FASLANYC, the CHUBs project located on the Cuyahoga River running through Cleveland just a few blocks away from Public Square. There are other wonderful initiatives taking place in Cleveland such as those over at the Cleveland Land Lab where they are proposing models for building cities that aren't based on growth. Corner's is not one of them.

DRDLM: Ese juego de extranas ambiguedades culmina en la segunda parte; los protagonistas han leido la primera, los protagonistas del Quijote son, asimismo, lectores del Quijote.

BS: The Atlanta Beltway project is more difficult to critique as there are not yet any substantial design documents released. However, based on the fact that this project more closely resembles FO's Fresh Kills Park and not the High Line, it is promising. The processes taking place over on Fresh Kills are unique and it is there that FO is doing significant work.

DRDLM: Es conocida la historia liminar de la serie; el desolado juramento del rey, que cada noche se desposa con una virgen que hace decapitar en el alba, y la resolucion de Shahrazad, que lo distrae con fabulas, hasta que encima de los dos han girado mil y una noches y ella le muestra su hijo.

BS: It will eventually be seen as one of the great travesties in early 21st century landscape architecture that FO is garnering more praise for the High Line as opposed to Fresh Kills. As noted over on mammoth on their influential "architecture of the decade" piece, it is at Fresh Kills that FO is constructing new urban ecologies and putting into practice their influential theories of landscape urbanism. Their work on the High Line however, is nothing more than a modern mashup of 1980's landscape theory- the landscape as image.

DRDLM: Las invenciones de la filosofia no son menos fantasticas que las del arte; Josiah Royce, en el primer volumen de la obra The World and the Individual (1899), ha formulado la siguiente: "Imaginemos que una procion del suelo de Inglaterra ha sido nivelada perfectamente y que en ella traza un cartografo un mapa de Inglaterra.  La obra es perfecta; no hay detalle del suelo de Inglaterra, por diminuto que sea, que no este registrado en el mapa; todo tiene ahi su correspondencia.  Ese mapa, en tal caso, debe contener un mapa del mapa, que debe contener un mapa del mapa del mapa, y asi hasta lo infinito."

BS: The proposal for new park in Santa Monica is also unknown at the moment. LA Times critic Christopher Hawthorne is obviously pleased that Corner will be working out there. But the scope and scale of the project is closer to that of Public Square or the High Line and for me that strikes an ominous note. There is, of course, a learning curve to anything. It is not surprising that he is proving more adept at large scale planning and design given his prior scholarly work. Perhaps he will quickly learn the intricacies and nuance of specific site context and realize that conceptual ideas are merely an organizing principle for any given project and not an underlying truth; the landscape is not reducible to a concept.

DRDLM: La obra es perfecta; no hay detalle del suelo de Inglaterra, por diminuto que sea, que no este registrado en el mapa; todo tiene ahi su correspondencia.

BS: However, hubris is the enemy of learning, and while long renowned for his pretentious intellectual attitude, it is now reaching a new level. In a phone interview he and Mr. Hawthorne were discussing the new Santa Monica project. When discussing the budget, Corner had the temerity to remark of the 25 million dollar budget that "it's hardly generous, but it's not bad". Well, excuse us, Mr. Corner. Excuse us for not having 130 million to throw at a project!! Excuse us for putting only 25 million toward the park in the middle of the worst recession in 80 years when forced furloughs, state budget crises, home foreclosures, and long-term unemployment are all common place.

DRDLM: Ese mapa, en tal caso, debe contener un mapa del mapa, que debe contener un mapa del mapa, y asi hasta lo infinito.

BS: Maybe you won't be able to use glass railings and weathered steel extensively!! Oh, Jesus! What will you do if you can't bring on Piet Oudulf and Liz Diller??? Sorry we can't roll out a phalanx of high society patrons for every project that you do. Jesus, God!!! I'm all for spending money on public space, but whining about project budgets for public spaces, especially when your only significant experience is designing for the elites in the rich cities of the world, is weak sauce.

DRDLM: Por que no inquieta que el este incluido en el mapa y las mil y una noches en el libro de Las mil y una noches? Por que no inquieta que Don Quijote sea lector del Quijote y Hamlet espectador de Hamlet? Creo haber dado con la causa: tales inversiones sugieren que si los caracteres de una ficcion pueden ser lectores o espectadores, nosotros, sus lectores o espectadores, podemos ser ficticios.
["Stranger than Paradise", Jim Jarmusch, 1984.
Hip New Yorkers out of place on the shores of Lake Erie]

BS: The dichotomy in Field Operation's portfolio is striking. The quality of his smaller projects do not measure up to the larger projects, which show show real promise (based on previous academic work and the initial stages of Fresh Kills Park). I don't fault FO for going after various kinds of work; in fact I applaud the initiative to move towards a general practice encompassing various typologies. But, lord, I hope their work doesn't keep getting a free pass. They are obviously a well-connected and capable group, especially Mr. Corner. But they are lined up to do a huge disservice to Cleveland, and the locals seem to be naively excited about this weak sauce being served them.  Field Operations is doing some excellent, significant work.  But they are also doing some bad work.

DRDLM: En 1833, Carlyle observo que la historia universal es un infinito libro sagrado que todos los hombres escriben y leen y tratan de entender, y en el que tambien los escriben.

[The above was edited for clarity by FASLANYC]


  1. Wow, a dual-language design blog - well done FASLANYC! I could only read about half the article, and the tone was pretty snarky, but it was also hilarious. Good points made about "James Corner Field Operations" getting a free pass by critics. I'm glad that someone has taken it upon themselves to fill in for them. Has anyone talked about how the firm name has subtly changed recently? The arrogance is remarkable.

  2. Al leer el articulo,directamente lo he encontrado bastante aburrido e indocumentado,lo siento,sinceramente el exabrupto fácil y grotesco lo único que hace es retratar a la persona que lo ha escrito.
    No conozco personalmente a Corner,pero si sus textos y su obra,y me resulta muy interesante e influyente,lo demás no me importa nada.
    El comentario sobre el precio de un proyecto ,y de que es dinero tirado a la basura me parece absurdo si no lo argumentas bien,no se si te dedicas a esta profesión,pero por lo que escribes no creo que hayas levantado muchos proyectos.Si quieres hacer crítica de proyectos me parece muy bien pero por ese camino lo único q te conseguirás ser es el perez hilton
    de la arquitectura del paisaje.

  3. Aquifer- I’m not actually sure that the official firm name is “James Corner Field Operations”. Some articles and notices called them simply Field Operations lead by James Corner. However, his name certainly is more prominently featured on the website, which is his prerogative, but it’s also lame. And yes, it was snarky- I believe the English saying is taking the piss out of him. That being said, my essential point was that some of his work deserves criticism. Much of his work and writing is excellent and I admire greatly, a point which goes without saying (and if it needs to be said again, just look up almost any review or critique of anything he’s done, including a couple that I linked to).

  4. Querido Pablo, un par de cosas que quizas no entendieras:
    1. La voz que criticaba a James Corner se escribia “BS”, lo cual en ingles significa tambien “bull shit”, asi que ya sabia yo que lo que decia no fuera toda la historia, solamente el “otro lado de la moneda” que usualmente tenemos que leer sobre James Corner. Encima, la que citaba “Don Roman de la Mancha” fue una critica de Borges sobre el Quijote e sus significas.
    2. No dije nada que tenia que ver con el precio del proyecto y si lo merece. Lea otra vez. Yo criticaba la actidud, la manera de hablar del precio del proyecto. Yo se bien que cuesten proyectos asi.
    3. He levantado muchos proyectos de various tipos en varios lugares.
    4. Yo admiro muchos de los proyectos y textos de James Corner. Estamos de acuerdo en eso, y el nos influyo todos. Encima, yo si lo he conocido. Encima, conozco mucha gente que ha estudiado y trabajado con el, y pise la tierra sagrada del high line. La verdad es que lo admiro mucho. Pero ese proyecto en Cleveland y la manera de acercarse al tema del precio en California queda muy fea. Pero, como dije, sus trabajos en fresh kills, Shelby farms, y probablemente en Atlanta son muy muy importantes y buenos.
    5. Ultimo- e esto es importante- yo no quiero ser nadie de la arquitectura del paisaje. Yo hago arquitectura del paisaje, en todas sus formas, de una manera critical, vital, y interesante. Te equivocaste, y te equivocaste mal. Lee otras que escribi aqui.

    Pablo said: In reading the article, I immediately found it boring and poorly researched. I’m sorry, but sincerely the easy and grotesque the only thing it does is to portray the person written about. (note: it is possible that my Spanish is weak on that last sentence but I believe it was as nonsensical as I translated it).
    I don’t personally know Corner, but I do know his writings and work, and I find it very interesting and influential. The rest doesn’t interest me at all.
    The comment about the price of a project, and that it is money wasted appears to me absurd if you don’t argue it well. I don’t know if you are in this profession, but according to what you write I don’t think you have done many projects. If you want to provide criticism of project I think that is good but in doing it this way the only thing you will achieve is to become the Perez Hilton of landscape architecture.

    FASLANYC said: Dear Pablo, a couple of points I think you may have missed.
    1. The voice that criticized Corner was abbreviated “BS”, which in English signifies “bullshit”, so I knew very well that what I was saying wasn’t the whole story, only the “other side of the coin” than what we usually have to read about James Corner. What’s more, the citations by “Don Roman de la Mancha” was a piece by Borges about Don Quijote and its significance.
    2. I didn’t say anything that had to do with whether the project was worth the price. I was criticizing the attitude, the manner of speaking about such a sum in relation to a project. I know very well how much projects like that cost.
    3. I have built many projects of various types in various places.
    4. To be clear, I very much admire the work and writing of James Corner. We are in agreement there, and he has been widely influential. I have met him and I know many people who have studied and worked with him, and I have walked the sacred ground of the High Line. The truth is I admire him greatly. But that project in Cleveland and the manner of approaching the cost of the California project was weak. But, as I mentioned, his work at Fresh Kills, Shelby Farms, and probably Atlanta are very very important and very good.
    5. Lastly- and this is important- I don’t want to be the “anything of landscape architecture”. I do landscape architecture en all its forms, in a critical, interesting and vital way. You are confused. Read again what I write about here.

  5. Is "being confused" a bad thing?