Architectural Projects That Seemed Like a Great Idea at the Time


Architecture! At its best, visionary, innovative, mold-breaking. At its worst, cheesy, overwrought, and ill-timed. The recent architectural follies of Dubai present a fairly good case for prudence in the building arts: a Marvel superhero-themed park is a questionable expenditure even in boom times; as for the world’s largest LED structure, a new opera house, a revolving “dynamic” tower, and an experimental resort dubbed “The Cloud,” well, it’s beginning to look like Gomorrah in Abu Dhabi. But as we know all too well, the current financial crisis is a global situation, which is why we’ve rated six new developments and their associated levels of what-were-they-thinking-ness. Follow along after the jump.

Building: Crystals

Site: Vegas.

The Lowdown: Crystals is the retail center of the MGM Mirage CityCenter development, a $8.5 (or $11, depending on who you ask) billion-dollar central-Strip starchitecture collection that also boasts a Vinoly hotel and a Pelli Clarke Pelli resort on its 67-acre site. Designed by Daniel Libeskind (once of Freedom Tower infamy) with interiors by typically playfully theatrical David Rockwell, Crystals is also home to Eva Longoria’s new steakhouse, Beso.

The Icing on the Cake: Dubai World stepped in with additional funding for the project after its initial backers, MGM, ran into a bit of trouble. Then Dubai World sued MGM. They totally worked it out, but things were pretty hairy for a hot second.

The Writing on the Icing on the Cake: Built as an urban infill project in a landscape where everything brand-new and farther away from itself tends to be seen as better, particularly if it’s bigger, CityCenter is likely to be the most forward-thinking urbanism Las Vegas has seen in, well, ever.

Level of Offensiveness: 3.5/10

Building: Villa D

Site: Dellis Cay

The Lowdown: Pritzker Prize winner and all-around all-rounder Zaha Hadid designed this contribution (as well as the entire masterplan) to the mysterious Dr. (OF WHAT???) Cem Kinay’s Dellis Cay development down in the Turks & Caicos. After rounds of press conferences and architectural conversations — downtown gallery Storefront for Art + Architecture even got involved — the entire project is currently on hold as Kinay seeks out alternate sources of funding.

The Icing on the Cake: Everything about Dellis Cay — from its other Shigeru Ban-designed villas to the Lost-iness of the enterprise — screams 2006.

The Writing on the Icing on the Cake: Kinay may well have been underserved by a leaked report suggesting “adverse references” in terms of his work, dodginess that was later found by the Supreme Court of the Turks and Caicos Islands to be “unlawfully made.”

Level of Offensiveness: 5.0/10

Building: SFMoMA Expansion

Site: San Francisco

The Lowdown: After opening a 225,000-square-foot structure designed by Mario Botta in 1995, plans to keep expanding the museum were on the boards. Now that they’ve run out of money, they’re in the awkward situation of having to figure out how to build something new that doesn’t look like an afterthought.

The Icing on the Cake: Botta’s design isn’t exactly something you can just stick a shrinking and violet wallflower next to – museum director Neal Benezra says Botta’s design “talks about the museum’s ambitions in 1995.”

The Writing on the Icing on the Cake: This could be the chance for SFMoMA to show that it’s truly awesome – and not just a west coast version of a beloved New York staple.

Level of Offensiveness: 6.0/10

Building: Federation Island, Sochi

Site: Black Sea, Russia

The Lowdown: A Russia-shaped luxury island (remind anyone of Dubai’s World?) slated for the coast of Sochi and designed by Dutch architect Erik van Egeraat, the project was announced in September 2007 with the idea that it would host the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The Icing on the Cake: The last update on the official Federation Island website comes from June 2008, promising that construction will start in 2009.

The Writing on the Icing on the Cake: Van Egeraat filed for bankruptcy earlier this year and had to re-start his firm as Designed by Erik van Egeraat.

Level of Offensiveness: 7.0/10

Building: Goldman Sachs Headquarters

Site: Battery Park City, New York

The Lowdown: Designed by Pei Cobb Freed and Partners, this under-construction skyscraper dropped a bunch of glass panels from the thirty-eighth floor all the way down to the West Side Highway.

The Icing on the Cake: This comes after a piece of steel fell onto a soccer game and a whole bunch of girders onto a construction trailer.

The Writing on the Icing on the Cake: Without even going into the whole new-stuff-for-Goldman-Sachs-now thing, this just isn’t the first time the firm’s been behind a dangerous building: they were also responsible for all 10, 344 window panes needing to be replaced in Chicago’s Hancock Tower.

Level of Offensiveness: 9.5/10

Building: Hydropolis

Site: Dubai

The Lowdown: Billed as the world’s first underwater luxury hotel, Hydropolis is a German-designed cross between the ship in The Abyss and Star Wars: Episode II.

The Icing on the Cake: Um: underwater luxury hotel. In Dubai.

The Writing on the Icing on the Cake: At least it’ll come in really handy when we’re ready for Mars.

Level of Offensiveness: 10/10