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Rejection Hurts: a Tour of Recently Scrapped Starchitecture

As Frank Gehry demonstrated last week, a Pritzker Prize on your resume is a meager shield against public opinion. With the National Capital Planning Commission voting 7-3 to "oppose the current design" of the Gehry's thoroughly-derided Eisenhower Memorial, it looks like it's back to drafting table for one of the most renowned architects practicing today, and if he wants to keep the commission, he'll probably have to do more than add a few trees to the model. Of course, this is all part of the game: architects practicing at the whims of fickle developers, sharp-tongued critics, and mayors with axes to grind. As long as the high profile ones are still being sought for projects, as architecture critic Paul Goldberger recently suggested, the "way some women will only spend $3,000 or $4,000 on a dress if it has a famous designer's name on it," the design world will continue to be haunted by unbuilt renderings with big names attached. Up ahead, a look back at the last decade or so of high-profile proposals that didn't make it, and the players that kept them from breaking ground:




Renderings via Arch Daily

↑ When fresh-faced it-boy Bjarke Ingels' revealed his plan for a twisting, timber-clad addition to the Kimball Art Center in 2012, it prompted strong objections from the resort community of Park City, Utah, which deemed its aesthetic too far afield from the city's very Victorian downtown. Though BIG's original design was approved by museum administrators, it was widely criticized by residents, leading to a recent redesign that saw it replaced wholesale with a rather unremarkable-looking gray box. Ingels attributed the revision to the need to "stay within the existing regulations," stating that "we simply had no other alternative than to take a step back and deal with the new situation. The Kimball and BIG did the only thing possible, and now I think we have arrived at a design that can be just as striking a contribution to Part City's streetscape, if only a lot more intimate in scale than our first sketches." If by "intimate in scale" he means that the new design is "anonymous enough to appear anywhere," then yes indeed; maybe that's what Park City wanted all along.

↑ In a somewhat surprising move, given the seeming ubiquity of Zaha Hadid buildings, and the increasingly likely-looking future where architecture and product design alike are reigned by curvaceous, exoskeletal, spaceship-like forms, the citizens of Basel, Switzerland rejected the Hadid-designed entrance hall for the Neues Stadt-Casino back in 2007. The proposal was approved in 2003, but Swiss voters have the final say on large projects that involve public spending, and they deemed the bulging, polka-dotted development unworthy of their tax dollars.

↑ For a while, the city of Miami Beach could not seem to make up its mind about Prada-loving Pritzker-approved starchitect Rem Koolhaas. After selecting Koolhaas' firm OMA over Bjarke Ingels to design the city's massive Miami Beach Convention Center redevelopment, which involved leasing out public land to a private developer to help pay for the city's share of the $1B project, Miami Beach put the kibosh on the successful bid over funding concerns. Given the city of Santa Monica's recent approval, rejection, and re-approval of a large public Koolhaas project, it wouldn't have been too big a stretch for Miami Beach to return to the design, but that possibility was put to rest with the tapping of Fentress Architects for the project earlier this month. Distraught Miami-area Koolhaas fans can take comfort in the fact that they still have a luxury residential complex to look forward to.

↑ Swiss Pritzker laureate Peter Zumthor's New City Gate inspired its fair share of derisive nicknames when it was presented to the German town of Isny in early 2012. They called it "glass underpants" and "the molar" for its structure, which had a domed auditorium resting on top of two somewhat preposterous-looking glass trunks. When the issue came to a vote, nearly three quarters of the town opted to pass over the development, which Zumthor attributed to the sad fate of "cultural objects in democratic processes," and a populace that "would prefer a continuation of the proven." One urban development specialist was quoted as saying that the "citizens were not able to realize what they were about to get," which might have been ameliorated if the project was presented with more compelling models. The roughly €20M ($29M) price tag certainly didn't help, despite the mayor's assurances that money would come from sponsors.

↑ Traditionalist maestro Robert A.M. Stern, architect of many award-winning homes, one of NYC's upcoming super-skinny supertalls, and a Hollywood-style Wild West town at Disneyland Paris, contributed last year to an ill-fated redesign of L.A.'s Grand Avenue Project. The megadevelopment was originally planned by Frank Gehry, and was set to include retail spaces, residences, and at least one hotel spread out over multiple blocks next to the Gehry-designed Disney Concert Hall, but that changed when numerous delays led the developer to "adjust its plans to better reflect market conditions" after Gehry's contract had expired. A Stern-influenced master plan by megafirm Gensler was on the table between 2012 and 2013—a blip on the radar of an endlessly foot-dragging project that predated the Great Recession, with only one lone tower having broken ground—but was rejected by L.A. County supervisors, who deemed it "uninspired and overly commercial." As of late 2013, Gehry was back on the project with a new plan that has been hailed as the best Grand Avenue proposal yet.

↑ AIA gold medalist Steven Holl, whose proven track record with residential masterpieces recently netted him the commission of a ridiculously expensive home in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. that's raising some eyebrows, had his proposal for the Maggie's Barts drop-in cancer care center thrown out by London's planning committee in June of 2013. According to the Architects' Journal, members "raised concerns about the proposed glass façade," despite Holl's stated drawing of inspiration from "the deep history of the area."

↑ In no particular order, Frank Gehry's proposal for DC's upcoming Eisenhower Memorial has been described as worthy of "a stock character in a fable or an episode of America's Got Talent," compared to "communist imagery" and "a Nazi concentration camp" (by the Eisenhower family, no less), and characterized as having "as much artistry as an incomplete highway overpass." For his part, the much-bashed master responded to requests for a redesign by adding 74 trees to the model. Originally stalled by congressional budget cuts rejecting the $49M construction bill, Gehry's vision was left dead in the water earlier this month by a 7-3 vote to "oppose the current design" from the National Capital Planning Commission.

· All development coverage [Curbed National]
· All rendering reveals [Curbed National]
· All starchitects coverage [Curbed National]