Friday, January 23, 2009

The Long View -- By embracing the city’s industrial past


"As a 20-year-old intern in the London office of Richard Rogers, James Corner could barely contain his frustration. It was the early 1980s, and they were working on the first pieces of the transformation of the London docklands from derelict industrial port to stylish commercial district. But at that scale, on so complex a site, Corner saw only limitations. “All the architects knew how to do was put awnings on existing buildings,” he recalls. “All the landscape architects knew how to do was put trees everywhere. And all the traffic engineer knew how to do was to optimize getting cars in and out of the development.” Over pints at the pub, Rogers and his partners “would complain that they didn’t have the conceptual or imaginative tools or techniques to do the whole thing synthetically.” Corner, who grew up outside of Manchester, left soon afterward to study at the University of Pennsylvania—where he is now head of the landscape-architecture ­department—but he never let go of the lesson: “There is a desperate need for a different kind of professional who isn’t so Balkan­ized, who is capable of seeing a bigger picture and choreographing a bigger team.”

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