Proposed New Lafayette Building is James Kunstler’s ‘Eyesore of the Month’

James Howard Kunstler:

Proposed Film and Media Study Facility by Lafayette College for downtown Easton, PA. This off-campus melange of incoherently orchestrated buildings is anchored at the corner by a blank-wall “Borg” cube. Note to planning board officials: the blank walls do not amount to an “artistic statement.” They amount only to a pretension of artistry. In fact, they express zero generosity to the public life of the downtown intersection (the “people” depicted are mere airbrush hallucinations). The “change of materials” trick, which attempts to make the project appear to be separate buildings, only makes the ensemble — and hence the block — appear un-unified. Remember, “diversity” only succeeds within larger orders of unity, absent in this design. The “green” roof of the borg is just an environmental fashion statement, also known as “greenwash.” Water issues associated with it are liable to shorten the life of the building. The “billboard” displaying the college’s name is excessive and is there to make true architectural detail or real ornament unnecessary. The proposal should be regarded as a failure and rejected.

Comments

  1. Dennis R. Lieb says:

    Thanks for posting this link to JHK’s EOTM page. Since the NeighborsOfEaston blog closed down, there has been no legitimate outlet for local policy discussion here in Easton.

    I was responsible for submitting this design to Jim’s website, and did so for two reasons; first, because I – as a member of Easton’s Planning Commission – realize that our “suitability” discussions regarding such projects always revolve around arcane-yet-trivial regulatory rules, like (to pick just one) how much parking is supplied with the project…who the fuck cares – as if car storage is going to be the dominant decision-making criteria in urban environments after gas becomes ridiculously expensive.

    And second, because – whether the other members of the commission see merit in my aesthetic and civic design opinions or not – they will never allow that recognition to rise to the level of actually questioning these projects on their design merit. We had the same issue with the recent Inter-modal project application, for which I was the lone no vote.

    Whether this is because they fear being called out by the city administration, developers, Lafayette College, etc. as (take your pick) anti-progress, anti administration, too negative – as I have often been described – or because they don’t feel “artistic merit” is any of their business, is unknown. I believe it is a little of both. The bottom line is that no one questioned why we would be willing to place a 3-story, windowless, masonry blob on the corner of a major downtown intersection and a major entry point to the city.

    It is this ‘Emperor’s New Clothes” syndrome pervading our discussions of new projects in Easton that will eventually drive me out of any involvement in deciding civic design matters. Unfortunately for our society – one steeped in cultural relativism, where any idea or design is judged to be equal to any other simply by being proposed as such – there can never be a raising of the bar. Higher standards of quality – especially for architectural interventions into the core of our urban settings – can not be achieved without subjective decision-making; that is to say deciding that some things are better than other things.

    I may expand my thoughts on this matter depending on whether I have the stomach to continue with it and/or anyone else feels like listening.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      If you’d like to write a blog post I would be happy to post it. I’ve been thinking about starting an Urban Lehigh Valley site to discuss all things urbanism. I’d cross-post urbanism-related stuff from here, but I’d like it to be a group blog. I’d be happy to do the start up stuff, get a URL, site design, etc

  2. Dennis R. Lieb says:

    Some further particulars on the civic design aspects as related to pedestrian/automobile interaction. The rendering clearly shows the sidewalk veering out away from the building line into the center of the vehicle right-of-way as it nears the intersection of N. 3rd & Snyder Streets.

    Although there are many situations in urban settings where it is appropriate to reduce the street width in favor of pedestrians with such a “bump-out”, in this particular instance it seems to have been presented in the design as more of wishful thinking, creating the “appearance” of walkability.

    In reality Snyder Street is and will continue to be an extension of the off-ramp of Rt 22W…and the intersection as a whole is a constant stream of commuters accessing the highway in both directions at all hours of the day. As much as I dislike this, it will not change by slight-of-hand rendering tricks.

    The reality of the situation is that the existing sidewalk parallels the current building line and subsequently – as it crosses Snyder Street – the current line of the stone wall underneath the highway overpass. There are four lanes of traffic under this overpass, providing for both through and left turn lanes. There is also a very short queuing area here (less than 100 linear ft.) for cars caught between two traffic signals on the parallel streets that border the highway (Bushkill Street to the south & Snyder Street to the north).

    For anyone familiar with downtown Easton it is obvious that a bump-out of the sidewalk places it directly in the right-of-way of the through lane going north on N. 3rd Street. There is no physical way this can happen since the overpass is not going to move to accommodate this design nor will it be reconfigured for one lane of traffic without years-long Pen-DOT studies or massive traffic disruption on the surrounding blocks.

    I am not arguing here for the rights of cars to take over the urban space, but instead – as this blog’s author has previously proposed – for the demolition of the elevated roadway through downtown. Route 22 plowing through downtown was a bad idea when it was built and is an even worse one today as we dump millions into its maintenance as a “thruway” when its design precludes true high speed travel while inflicting noise, vibration and pollution on the inhabitants of downtown Easton.

    When this section of highway is eventually removed a multi-way, multi-purpose boulevard arrangement can take its place, allowing moderate-speed, thru traffic access to the Delaware River bridge and low-speed, local access and curb parking to a rebuilt and reinvigorated downtown neighborhood. Of course, at that point it would make no sense to have gone through all the trouble if what one has to look at as the anchor project of this block is a giant monolith of abstract, cutting edge bullshit as is being proposed at this time.

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