Sigh… I try not to complain too much on this blog, but I’ve got some vitriol brewing in response to this project under construction downtown, the Great American Tower designed by Gyo Obata.
A frequently repeated tidbit about this project is that it was inspired by Princess Diana’s tiara, as mentioned in this press release:
The legend of the tiara says that HOK founding partner Gyo Obata had an image of Princess Diana’s tiara as an inspiration to create the top of the building. One of Cincinnati’s nicknames is the Queen City, so there is a link to royalty.
Really, boo? You’re lazily capitalizing on a pop cultural coincidence? Why not just say, “Due to Cincinnati’s conservative reputation and its apparent discomfort with sexuality, I thought it would be funny to design a giant phallus to loom over the skyline.” Because that’s essentially what you’ve done.
Actually, that’s not the root of my issue. Obata is no starchitect, but his firm, HOK has built up an impressive body of commissions over the years, including projects like the new Indianapolis airport and the National Air and Space Museum in DC. The Great American Tower, though it’s significant for Cincinnati, is surely not one of the firm’s defining projects. For a career spanning 60 or so years, this may be a drop in the bucket for Obata.
My annoyance has more to do with Obata having studied at Cranbrook, my alma mater, under the great Eero Saarinen, no less. Saarinen’s own body of work was innovative and visionary but, unlike some of the recent starchitectural commissions, his structures manage to be very context-specific. What’s context-specific, or innovative, or visionary about the Great American Tower? [Don’t mention its LEED features — that’s great, but I can’t really see them.]
To be fair, my understanding of Saarinen’s work has been shaped by the simplifying filter of history. I don’t really know what he thought or taught, how impactful the academic experience may have been for Obata, or the long-term influence it may have on him now. I’m projecting when I imagine how seriously Obata might have taken his studies, and the deep philosophical link between him and his mentor. In fact, even the word “mentor” is a projection on my part.
They hired a distinguished architect, and all I got is this lousy phallus.