Wednesday, May 25, 2005


I wrote yesterday about how some New-Urbanist retail villages -- such as Durham's Streets at Southpoint -- give some people the willies because they can be fakey and Disneyesque. A commenter compared them to Potemkin villages (although Kim says she loves Disney World).

But I got the willies this morning when I read in the Greensboro News & Record that the Starmount Company, which is developing the West Friendly Avenue property on which Greensboro's Burlington Industries building stood until last Monday, plans to build "a smaller version of Southpoint" there.

It gets even eerier. Ron Wilson, Starmount's spokesman, said, "today's trend in shopping centers is almost Disneylike." Eek!

Apart from the weird coincidence, what's unsettling to me is that Starmount seems to think that building Disneylike, fake downtowns is a good thing.

Actually, the guiding concepts of the proposed center, which include developing an attractive streetscape on Friendly Avenue, putting parking behind buildings, including common areas, and developing two-storey retail spaces, are all GREAT. Far superior to traditional strip or mall development.

But there's no need to make something like this kitschy. Greensboro has plenty of fine architects who know how to refer to and respect our indigenous, traditional designs without falling into phony historicism. Here are a few names:

John Linn. Jerry Leimenstoll. Carl Myatt. Steve and Gina Freyaldenhoven. Patrick Deaton.

Here's hoping Starmount will give some of them a call.

UPDATE: What Not to Build: a fake Arc de Triomphe as your mall's centerpiece, the rest of which is a

jumble of Disneyland and Las Vegas, a shoppers' version of paradise and hell all wrapped in one - [which] will be nearly three times the size of the massive Mall of America in Minnesota. It is part of yet another astonishing new consequence of the quarter-century economic boom here: the great malls of China" (from the NY Times).


The Grunkle Guru said...

Good Points David:

I agree with everything you are saying, and what has really gotten my goat about this is that Starmount is trying to build something that already exists in another city. Why not let the creative juices flow and come up with a concept unique to Greensboro. I'm sure it won't happen, but it would be nice to hear someone say we are going to do something that Raleigh and Charlotte haven't thought of yet.

Greensboro Teach-In said...

I guess I don't understand. A friend of mine wants to open a shop in a "neighborhood" and can't find one, except Southside. She says State Street is a shopping neighborhood (although not a heckuva lot of housing), which is where her shop is now. She'd like a newer, younger neighborhood. If the BI property is mixed use (is it?), won't this be that sort of neighborhood without being a "fake" downtown, which isn't such a bad thing because not everyone can live in/near downtown? When do we in the burbs get to walk to shopping? What's it going to take?

Michael said...

You espouse "indigenous, traditional designs without falling into phony historicism". Why do we need to stick with "traditional" design, especially for this site, which until yesterday had one of the few interesting modern building in town. Greensboro is the least architecturally adventurous town I have ever seen. Public building shouldn't be "indiginous, traditional designs", they should be progressive and inspirational. No one is inspired by a brick, neo-Georgian big-box. Also once man's "phony historicism" is undoubtably another man's "indiginous traditional design". Such as that faux craftsman neighborhood you wrote about admiringly a number of months ago.

David Wharton said...

Sue, let me clarify. Amost everything Ron Wilson described in the article this morning sounded great to me -- as I said, GREAT. The only thing I really don't like is the "Disney" element, by which I guess I mean, it shouldn't try to be something it isn't. It should just try to be a well-designed, attractive shopping center, and I hope it succeeds.

Michael, I suggested that it would be a good idea to "refer to and respect" indigenous designs, because I think context matters in architecture. But that doesn't mean that I think they have to build entirely traditional buildings.

For example, the builders of Smothers Place Lofts did an architectural hat-tip to the Southern Railway station across the street (by adding a turret) while still designing a fairly original, new-looking building. Patrick Deaton was the architect.

Those bungalows I like still don't seem kitschy or fake to me, but maybe that's because I live in a neighborhood full of them, and to my eyes they just look like regular -- and attractive -- houses. And all of them had been modified and updated to fit modern needs and tastes, e.g., some had attached garages, concrete porches, etc.

But I take your point.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Disney and small towns...have you seen this?

Darkmoon said...

Having just come back from a business trip from Columbus and went to the mall area like Southpoint around there, I thought that Greensboro would be great with one. BUT....

My girlfriend brought up a great point. I think this falls basically in line with Dave's point. (not a direct quote):

It would be nice if Starmount built it with local artists providing the statues and fountains that would line the pseudo-streets. This was a big thing in Asheville. If the buildings were designed in the era of the mills, that would definitely be a selling point and tourist attraction.

And this is the reason I love this woman *grin* Putting Greensboro back into something that is modern.

David Wharton said...

Darkmoon, I love both ideas -- using local artists (of which we have plenty) and making some kind of architectural reference to Greensboro's mill heritage.

And as Michael points out, that doesn't mean it has to look old-timey. It can be progressive and inspirational (well, as inspirational as a shopping center can be) and still do those things.

I thought of another example of architecture that refers to its historic context without being fake-historic -- Carl Myatt's house on North Park drive in Fisher Park. It employs lots of traditional Queen Anne elements, but doesn't look anything like a Queen Anne house.

Billy Jones said...

Any idea how much they'll pay me to wear the mouse suit? You know that will be one of the most coveted jobs that bring us.