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Polls Are Open: Which Architectural Project is Best in Shitshow?

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Santiago Calatrava

Inspired by England's Carbuncle Cup and the entertainment industry's Razzies, here's a chance to choose 2014's biggest architectural shitshow. But first, lets fondly reminisce on the year, from the political mess that was the Eisenhower Memorial to Calatrava's Spire hole in the ground to the undermining of the One World Trade Tower, with special appearances by Zaha Hadid's Tokyo Stadium and the super well-thought-out (that's sarcasm) "poor door." As they say, it's been a real walk to remember.

Before voting, please keep in mind vital shitshow criteria: how many hands did this shitshow pass through before someone said, "This is a total shitshow," how many thinkpieces did The New York Times pen that culminated in, "This is a total shitshow," how many famous people attached their name to a total shitshow, and how many millions of dollars were sunk into this total shitshow?

One World Trade Center

Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Daniel Libeskind
Estimated cost: $3.8B
Years in the works: 2001-2014

In 2003, Libeskind's original plan for a high-rise garden, arguably the jewel of WTC's initial proposal, was cast aside so quickly that critics questioned whether it had been, from the onset, a veritable trojan horse that allowed the plan into the city. A few short months later, George Pataki christened the project Freedom Tower, a name that (let's be real) seemed unlikely to foreshadow great architecture. By 2005 the base, meant to taper lightly into the ground, was cast aside to meet the demands of the NYPD, who demanded truck bomb fortification, and replaced with "a 15-story-tall blast proof bunker trying very hard to pretend that it's not." By 2010, cost constraints led the developer to nix the project's prism-like windows, a.k.a. the compromise struck by the architects to mitigate the towers desecrations changes. By this time, no one was surprised.

In the end, WTC 1 was a tower made by a series of micro-decisions that, when compiled, stripped the building of its original design—or, arguably, much design at all. The antenna on the top, placed to reach the symbolic 1,776 feet, becomes an architectural version of stuffing your bra. It's not the building that's the issue, but the transparent yearning for size, grandeur, and symbolism. Skyscrapers succumb to mediocrity all the time, but, this time, we were supposed to be better. Michael Kimmelman said it best: "Not so bad should never be good enough."

The Spire

Architect: Santiago Calatrava
Estimated cost: $93M
Years in the works: 2002-2014

The Spire's saga began in spring 2002, with Christopher Carley, a Fordham developer, who wooed all of Chicago with Calatrava's nascent, yet admittedly otherworldly, design. Like Springfield's monorail, all true shitshows are, at heart, a romantic impulse. Turns out Carley just didn't have the money and, in the first pass-off of many, the plans were taken up Garrett Kellehe, an Irish developer, who got as far as digging a very large and impressive hole in the ground before the recession stopped him in his tracks. The project went into foreclosure by 2010, bankruptcy by 2013, and, by Oct. 31, 2014, the Spire—a.k.a. a hole and $93M of debt—was handed over to Kellehe's largest creditor, Midwest Related. In short, died for good.

The Spire has become something of a symbol of the last decade in development: conceived right before the recession, the project is a heavy-handed reminder of the industry's ill-fated dreams to build bigger.

Eisenhower Memorial

Architect: Frank Gehry
Estimated Cost: $207M, tentatively
Years in the works: 1999-present

In many ways, Frank Gehry's Eisenhower Memorial was born to be a shitshow. Financial woes? The commission only raised $500k of the expected $35M. Nazi references? The Eisenhower family openly compared the project to a "concentration camp." A bureaucratic nightmare? Congress and special interest groups have been squabbling for 15 years over the project. Dramatic ultimatums? Gehry threatened to have his name taken off the project. A 9/11 conspiracy theory? Of course.

Susan Eisenhower said "the technology is dictating the concept," others bemoaned the design is, "injurious to public morals," and still others even went so far as to host an alternative memorial design competition for only classical submissions. Frank Gehry, who always seems to have a chorus of "I just don't get modern architecture" following him about, was asked to design what would be the largest presidential memorial since 1996 on four acres overlooking the capitol. It's a sacred space for all things white, symmetrical, and conservative. In short, everything Gehry isn't. Of course there was an issue.

The memorial, originally touted as a "new vision for memorialization," was meant to prove that, yes, modernism belongs on the mall. In 1999, no one could have guessed that this idealistic endeavor would waste 15 years and burn through $41M before even breaking ground.

Honorable mentions go the poor door and Zaha's Tokyo Stadium. You guys did great. Maybe next year.

•A Monumental Conflict [Vanity Fair]
• What's Next for Santiago Calatrava's Troubled Chicago Spire? [Curbed National]
• How Security Concerns And Developers Undermined The Design Of 1 World Trade Center [Fast.Co]
•Previous World Trade Center 1 Coverage [Curbed National]
• Previous Eisenhower Memorial Coverage [Curbed National]
•Previous Calatrava Spire Coverage [Curbed National]