The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his clients to plant vines. — Frank Lloyd Wright
The most depressing part of Star Trek Into Darkness is not the many liberties that the filmmaker takes with some of the foundational conceits and tropes of the franchise. Only trekkers will notice (for example, a starship is not built to enter a planet's atmosphere, much less hide in the ocean, etc. etc.). No, what really bummed me out was the architecture. I mean, this is the 23rd century and we're stuck with taller versions of the insipid buildings of today? At least Blade Runner has some variety and gigantic Japanese-style electronic billboards in its vision of the future. We've got interstellar travel, transporters, phasers — and civilization is stuck with the progeny of John Portman, David Childs and Cesar Pelli. And that's if we're lucky. No art deco revival? No reinterpretations of the Chicago school? Gah! If this is the future, no wonder they want to leave the planet.
That's just movie fantasy. In the real world, there's no shortage of lists of the world's ugliest buildings (see here and here), along with Jim Kunstler's cringeworthy-but-must-see Eyesore of the Month. And to be sure, I'm treading into matters of taste, where many valid viewpoints must be considered. Still, architecture matters a great deal. It is the most important physical testimony about a civilization and its trajectory. It constitutes the built environment that at its best informs, inspires or defines so much of our lives. At its worst, it is, as Kunstler says, a landscape not worth caring about. And unfortunately a stupendous amount of our total buildings have been put up in recent decades, with most exercises in copycat banality or starchitect sculptures with little to offer humans or the surrounding streetscape.