I usually write about urban issues from a very policy oriented perspective, sometimes urging preservationists to take more seriously the economic costs of their aesthetic agenda. But getting a chance to walk around Minneapolis on Sunday morning, especially in the western part of downtown and the warehouse district, did give rise to another point. Oftentimes the predominant view (at least here in DC) seems to be something like “if there are already some attractive buildings here, then we need to make sure that all new buildings are exactly the same as the ones we already have.” This makes no sense as an economic development agenda, and I don’t really think it makes sense as an aesthetic agenda either. The mix of older-fashioned architecture with modernist glass towers makes Minneapolis a lot more visually appealing than it would be under a regime of uniformity.
I’m not sure that either the IDS Center or the Foshay Tower is actually a particularly brilliant building, but having both of them in the same city looks a lot better than would copycatting of either structure.
Permitting disputes here often seem to take the form of arguing over whether or not some new proposed building does an adequate job of “fitting in” to the existing structure. But why should all buildings look the same? Obviously Notre Dame didn’t conform to the prevailing look of medieval Paris, but that hardly seems like a scandal. Are there other contexts in which we deem conformity to be the clearly superior aesthetic option?