Thursday, April 05, 2007

Pyramid: Icon, Place or Both?

the Pyramid:  Icon and PlaceAs you might figure from my previous post, I went to the Placemaking workshop last Saturday. I enjoyed it and plan on posting more about it soon. However, in the meantime, I've been distracted by this article by the Flyer's John Branston on the workshop, which was led by Fred Kent, the leader of the Project for Public Spaces.
Their [Fred and Ethan Kent's] big idea is that big ideas for city improvements are often wrong, especially if they're architectural monuments. The Kents think a lot of little ideas from a lot of "stake-holders" usually produces a better result. They call it the "power of 10," as in 10 destinations that each have 10 things to do

Not surprisingly, Fred Kent is no fan of The Pyramid or the proposed $27 million Beale Street Landing with its floating pods in the Mississippi River at Tom Lee Park.

"That will be one of the great design disasters that will haunt you for 20 years before you have the guts to take it out," he predicted. "And The Pyramid -- what a bad symbol for a city. I would tear it down. The only question is, will you do it 10 years from now or next year."

(emphasis mine)

Tear it down? Not again!

Never mind my previously stated belief in the power of the Pyramid, Mr. Kent's suggestion violates his own principle. Tearing down the Pyramid is not a little idea -- it's a Big Idea.

Big, Big, Big.

If construction of monuments is hubris, so is their demolition. Opposition to the building of the Pyramid -- that would have been in line with the little principle. But not demolition.

If his dislike is based on it as a Place, I understand that. I've really never heard of it described as public space, outside of its use as an arena. But that wasn't our intention. Memphis wanted an icon. An icon.

That being written, does the Pyramid keep our Riverfront from being a great Place?

It's hardly in a prime location, so it's not blocking us from the River, not now, not 20 years ago. If it were at the foot of Beale, then Mr. Kent would have a point.

Is there anything preventing the Pyramid from being a great Place, or part of a great Place?

Access to the River. Connection to the rest of downtown via an extension of the Bluffwalk, continuing on its way to the Wolf River Greenway. Increased residential density in the adjoining neighborhoods, specifically The Pinch. A use that draws people night and day, 365 days a years. The use doesn't have to be all inside, but it should use the Pyramid in some way.

We should apply Placemaking analysis and principles to the Pyramid and it's surroundings. But suggesting we tear it down in lieu of this analysis seems to be just another Great Man Idea.

I'm not worried that we'll bulldoze the Pyramid tomorrow because of Mr. Kent's statement. However, he joins other other influential opinion-makers like Frank Ricks and Smart City Memphis advocating or discussing its demolition.

For what it's worth, I think the citizens of Memphis love the Pyramid. It amazes me, especially now, when there is no official love for the building, how many ad-hoc images of the Pyramid you see around town - murals, paintings, photos, logos, etc. There's no doubt it should be a better Place -- and I think it can be as well -- but until then it's still in our visual sub-conscious. The Pyramid is part of Memphis, even if it's not yet a Place.


Anonymous MATAlac said...

This is seriously alarming. Like they've got some inside info that the Bass Pro Deal isn't going to happen, and they can't stand thinking about the pyramid sticking around to remind them.

To think of the embodied energy wasted in such an act, and how casual its tossed around gives me nothing but disenchantment for the design leaders of this city.

12:24 PM  
Blogger bob said...

PPS has no connection with the City. Nobody but Willie & Co has inside info, but it's easy to guess how the BPS deal will turn out.

Whatever was wrong with it in the first place, now that the Pyramid is an established and recognizable part of our skyline, it should NOT be torn down.

I sure think there have got to be better things to do with it than turn it into a megastore. And, knowing how this city operates, I totally discount any idea that BPS will be financially a net plus. That's not this city's track record. We bend over and spread 'em when it comes to negotiating these deals. Most likely, we'll be stuck with a megastore AND debt AND subsidies.

So I say: If it's going to cost us regardless then let's do something more interesting and worthy with it.

5:52 PM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

Despite its official pedigree, the Pyramid is, and probably always was, a mutt. It's now closer to the eccentric, folk culture side of Memphis than the official side. Official Memphis has never been able to deal with mutts. They embarrass our serious efforts at being world-class.

If there's a good thing about the BPS deal (if it ever happens), it's that it would put something in there for a while. There's nothing like an empty building -- even if you can't tell it's empty -- to make Memphis want to crank up the bulldozer and swing the wrecking ball. But BPS would be a placeholder until the Pyramid finds its real purpose(s).

Demolition comments far aside, Fred Kent's placemaking process might help us find the more interesting and worthy uses for it.

12:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Years ago, a certain very talented songstress/stand-up bass player/actress who lives in Memphis suggested slapping solar panels on the Pyramid and exporting free electricity all over the place.

Sharp Manufacturing has a solar panel division out east... Why not?

9:20 AM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

anonymous, that's a Memphis mashup and a great idea. Here's another'n. And they're not mutually exclusive. They can all coexist. But they take imagination and the ability to think of pieces, components, instead of monolithic, all or nothing projects. But official Memphis loves the one massive swoop that's going to fix the problems of Memphis, put us on the map, make us world-class, etc.

11:00 PM  

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