WHAT may be the biggest architecture event of the year ahead has not yet been scheduled. But when it happens, it’ll be a doozy: MGM Resorts International recently announced its intention to demolish the Harmon, a tower by Norman Foster that is a prominent component of the new CityCenter development in Las Vegas. Construction flaws were found years ago, and the building was never completed or occupied. Still, the spectacle of a boom-time project by one of the world’s most celebrated designers razed by a controlled implosion is sure to spark talk about the state of architecture today.
The fate of Mr. Foster’s building is a timely metaphor. Institutional work, with its longer project timelines and steadier financial supply, is continuing apace through the recession. Some ambitious commercial plans, like the development of the West Side rail yards in Manhattan, are moving forward. But the days of true extravagance, exemplified by CityCenter and its collection of flashy buildings by big-name architects, is over for now, in Western nations at least.
The months to come will offer few grand openings of the kind that merit front-page coverage and spotlights on the street. Most major projects that were in the construction pipeline before the 2008 financial crash have either been completed or indefinitely postponed; ambitious new buildings, like the crop of 1,000-foot-plus towers planned for or under construction in Midtown Manhattan, are years away.
Preston Scott Cohen’s interesting new building for the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, important as the first major work of a theorist who has garnered a lot of critical attention in recent years, may stand out as something of an exception, even an anachronism, when it opens on Nov. 2. So too may the Military History Museum in Dresden, Germany, designed by Daniel Libeskind as a brutal insertion into an existing structure and set to be unveiled on Oct. 14. Renzo Piano’s large but sensitive addition to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston is scheduled to open its doors on Jan. 19, but Mr. Piano’s light modernist touch is less likely to invite comparisons to the past decade’s architectural excesses in the way Mr. Libeskind’s and Mr. Cohen’s museums, with their more aggressively convoluted forms, seem ready to.
As they are completed in the months to come the many buildings under construction for next summer’s Olympic Games in London may turn the conversation back to formal experimentation in the building arts. Until then there is a reprieve. We are starting to see a natural turn toward substance, an interest in engagement with the world via architecture — and examinations of architecture’s place in the world — that goes beyond daring structural innovation or crowd-pleasing surface effects.
In April the Museum of Modern Art in New York announced an initiative to research architectural responses to the foreclosure crisis, in partnership with the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University. Five interdisciplinary teams have been imagining better-built futures for the country, and the resulting projects will be shown in an exhibition, “Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream,” opening on Feb. 14.
The Canadian Center for Architecture in Montreal seems to be moving along similar salutary lines. “Imperfect Health,” organized by Giovanna Borasi and Mirko Zardini, is a look at how the architecture of our cities contributes to pollution, anxiety and illness. The show opens on Oct. 25. Those wishing to know more about the state of architecture in our uncertain times should mark the entire month of October on their calendars. Archtober, a program coordinated by the Center for Architecture and the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects, will fill the city next month with exhibitions, film screenings, tours and lectures on our buildings, our cities and where we might go from here.
By PHILIP NOBEL