Letter writer: City should demand architectural quality in important projects

Graphic by Lori Deaton

Asheville’s beloved art deco buildings were the modern “cutting-edge” designs of their era. They fit in, and at the same time, they also proudly differentiated themselves, adding visual richness and complexity to Asheville’s downtown. They gave voice to the Asheville of their time: its sense of self, its civic pride, its modernity, its extraordinary urbanity in a mountain setting, its optimism.

By contrast, almost all of Asheville’s more recent buildings reflect a seemingly uncaring and submissive acceptance of architectural sham. BB&T’s banal wallpaper facade is just the latest example of the diminution of Asheville’s unique sense of place. In a smaller, less significant building, perhaps such a design might not matter that much, but BB&T’s size and location make it matter a lot. If BB&T’s Las Vegas-like “makeover” is irreversible, then shame on Asheville for failing to grasp a rare opportunity to positively reshape its core image.

Laura Berner Hudson’s impressive article [“Faking It: Why Asheville Needs New Design Guidelines,” Feb. 17, Xpress] is a very thoughtful and articulate plea for more effective design guidelines, and I applaud her for writing it. But new guidelines alone, without the power or the will to enforce them will only go so far. Ultimately, the successful realization of the city’s urban design objectives depends on the talent and commitment of each building’s architect.

For important projects, the city has a duty to demand the architectural quality that it deserves, and to do that it must clearly state and enforce its right to veto the use of any architect whose past work is not in accord with the city’s design objectives — before design begins, not after.

— Douglas Barker


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4 thoughts on “Letter writer: City should demand architectural quality in important projects

  1. Curious

    How would the City or any other design guideline body develop criteria for what is “good” architecture that the majority of citizens could agree on?
    The same is true of public art. Should all our public art be representational? Is abstract, non-figurative sculpture permitted?
    Would Frank Gehry’s masterpiece the Guggenheim Bilbao meet with public approval if it were in Asheville? http://www.guggenheim.org/bilbao

    • hauntedheadnc

      Bears a striking resemblance to the Tubman Museum of Art in Roanoke… where the museum contrasts sharply and beautifully with their historic surroundings. I love juxtaposition.

  2. The Real World

    Curious — excellent questions. Clearly, this is a dialogue that should continue.

  3. boatrocker

    Sadly, as long as Asheville’s mentality is “oooh let’s gentrify ourselves with a thin veneer of noveau riche panache like we want to be Charlotte or we’re hosting the Olympics for tourist $”, our buildings will reflect that ideal.

    And why are we as a city surprised at this?

    We painted a bird on it a few years ago to lure the hipsters here and now we’re using a gold Sharpie on it to conceal the blemishes, much like a toupee-

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