Jenga Architecture

Pixelated towers, rotated cubes and stratified cliff’s are all the rage. 

What’s wrong with that building? As architects break out of the Miesian curtainwall grid of modern architecture they started designing with patterned mullions, colored glass, external fins, and sunshades to great creative effect. These are essentially surface treatments used to create scale, pattern and texture on a facade. Recently however there’s been a more aggressive manipulation of building form including the erosion, extrusion and rotation of building elements. Sometimes referred to as pixelated towers and colloquially known as Jenga Architecture after the popular wood block game. In the game participants try to make the tower increasingly more precarious and unstable as the tower grows. Unstable is a good description of how these buildings look in our cities skylines. With protruding bays, recessed cavities and stepped terraces the buildings do indeed look pixelated from a distance. 

However, not all buildings should be attention grabbing statements. When dealing with the public realm most buildings should be background buildings, well designed, well detailed and artfully integrated into the urban context,  but not necessarily unique one-of-a-kind buildings screaming for attention. The name Jenga is derived from the Swahili word Kujenga which means ‘to build’ and building is a serious endeavor.  Jenga architecture however is anything but serious, rather it’s the pop-culture version of building. Serious architecture shouldn’t try be hip because hip is a style and style is fleeting.  Style as in fashion or interiors has a shelf life of maybe a decade. However architecture, as a more permanent art form needs to be viewed in decades. Is what we are designing today going to look like a fad in 10 years?  Jenga architecture looks precarious, off balance and unfinished but it will soon look tired and dated. While having a moment now, in an Instagram moment sort-of-way, it will ultimately not be timeless. 

Bottom Line: Architects should leave the pixelated patterns and Rubik’s cube rotated forms in the virtual world and design authentic buildings, representative of our time and place, that will stand the test of time. 

Buildings: 1) Valley, Amsterdam-MVRDV Architects 2) 56 Leonard,Tribeca-Herzog & DeMeuron 3) Waldorf Astoria, Miami-Carlos Ott 4) CSL Behring, King of Prussia-ZGF Architects 5) 799 Broadway, Perkins & Will. Cover) MahaNakhon Tower, Bangkok-Ole Scheeren Architect


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