jelly donut architecture

jelly donut 01

Yesterday was National Donut Day, and yes, I had a donut, OK it wasn’t a jelly donut. Nevertheless, this post is not what you think it’s about. But writing about donuts is cool.

If you’re eating a donut right now, that would be kind of freaky, but it would also drive home my point. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good frosted donut with sprinkles. I like color, flash as well as taste (and it had better be fresh). Yet there is something about a simple looking donut with a really good filling. It kind of catches you by surprise. It could be jelly or if you prefer custard cream. In fact chocolate cream is also really good. Don’t waste your time on that nasty white cream nonsense. There is a local supermarket that sells these strangely good yeasty donuts. My wife and I found this chocolate frosted donut with custard crème one day. We were really shocked because the quality of the donut was well above the quality of the store. The well-known donut chain in our area can’t touch the quality of this donut. I know I’m off topic again right?

jelly donut 02

Last month a few of my colleagues at CMU and I were discussing our students’ work and I made a mention that I felt several projects were too much icing and needed a bit more cake (as in a cupcake). In other words, they had too much formal splash and not enough substance or base to carry the splash. One colleague said he’d prefer to see a good jelly donut even though he agreed with my cupcake analogy. After that, I promised I’d quote him in a future blog post. The overall point I believe was to focus on architecture that was much more than a series of formal gyrations which are striking from a distance yet have little substance and no strong (interior) spatial qualities.

If we judge good architecture based on the frequently published big public works, we often see projects with big moves and tremendous expensive formal gestures. However, when we see the interiors (the occupiable spaces – the raison d’être) they often fall short on spatial quality, detail or any sense of ‘place.’ Dynamic form and quality interior spaces are not mutually exclusive. Yet when so much effort and expense goes towards structural gymnastics and an overly complex envelope something has to give. I understand the temptation, but as I age and mellow as an architect, I am far more impressed at great interior space with just a handsome exterior. (I can’t believe I just said that.)

jelly donut 03

So what is substance in architecture? I don’t know if I can pin that down to be honest. In fact I’d rather not define that for you. However to begin, I’d like to think that there is a “there” there once you get there. (Say that 3x fast). Can the owner truly afford it? Does the building solve the functional relationships in clever or thoughtful ways? Does it make sense to people other than architects? How well does it integrate all of the building components and systems? Does it carry the theme of the exterior through the interior? Do people enjoy being in it or around it? Is it more than a “one trick pony” so to speak? Will people “love” it well into the future so its life is long and it is not torn down in a decade or two?

As the obvious criterion these days, I’ll avoid the sustainability card right now because “all that glitters is not gold.” William Shakespeare didn’t think so, but Led Zeppelin’s lady was sure it did.

Not every building needs to say “look at me” yet as architects we are expected to make them look good. Cities are made from a variety of buildings including many background buildings with room for an occasional unique entry. I also appreciate a building that gets better the closer you get to it. Seeing more detail and another level of information and craft up close is something I am beginning to expect. Buildings are for people and seeing good architecture at a pedestrian scale is a great means for judging what is good. Again, we should reward architecture that has spaces in which people want to be in or occupy not because they’re weird, but because they are good. Buildings need to be more than functional, they ought to heighten our mood, contribute to our well-being and make us want to return. They should be memorable. What do you think?

So if you’re looking for examples, I’m not going to give you any. Sorry, but I’m avoiding the temptation. Also, it’s hard to give an example without having been there. Photos don’t cut it when you want to gauge the experience. They’re just the photographer telling the viewer how to see the building with the real context cropped.

Nevertheless, I’d love to generate a list of buildings that are good jelly donuts (or cream filled if you please). Please send me yours…but you have to have been there. Don’t cheat now. It would make a great follow-up.

Now go get a coffee and a donut. I know I’ve made you hungry.

jelly donut 04

photos are from multiple photostreams on Flickr (used under the Creative Common License)

photo 01
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jelly donut architecture

2 thoughts on “jelly donut architecture

  1. William J. Mello Jr. says:

    Mr. Architect, what do you think about the design of St Peters in Rome?
    Mr. Everyman, I don’t know I haven’t used it!

    1. William, good example for starters. However, I haven’t been there myself. I’ve only seen photos. I’d have to make an assumption about its quality. My thoughts when I wrote the blog were more focused on contemporary architecture so its a bit hard to draw a parallel. Architecture of that vintage is rather ornate inside and out. However, good space is good space regardless of when it was built.

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