Architecture is meticulously designed with the explicit intent of expressing a concept; building is the result of economics.
While architecture is more complex than the statement above, I think it succinctly expresses the difference between careful thought and mindlessness. I bring this up because while home for Thanksgiving, I encountered an example of mindless, economic driven construction that has actually made me a little bit angry, though annoyed may be a more accurate description. The building I am talking about is the new drive-through CVS at the intersection of Balltown and Van Antwerp roads in Niskayuna.
There has always been a CVS at this location, but originally it shared a building with Blockbuster Video and later Hollywood Video. The original building wasn’t great but you could tell it was specifically designed for the site, the front or main entrance faced the major intersection, the shape of the building conformed to the shape of the site and maintained the edge of the existing streets, all basic principles of good design.
As a result of the Internet and Netflix taking over the world, Hollywood Video went out of business, and so for a while that part of the building was vacant. Eventually CVS acquired both the vacant portion of the original building as well as an adjacent property on which a single-family residence stood. They demolished the residence and the original building in which it occupied and constructed a brand new building to house themselves within.
The new building is horrendous; unlike the original it does not take its specific site into consideration. I am almost positive CVS has something like three or four stock designs from which they choose. This makes constructing a new store really cheap and easy. Once a site is acquired all they have to do is pick a plan, orient it on the site and then do some minor site design, like deciding were the parking spaces will be and how the drive-through lane will circulate cars.
In this scenario, there literally is no design; it is simply a result of economics. Stock plans eliminate the need to hire an architect. There is no cost in producing construction documents, and coincidently the same design for every CVS in the country is good marketing.
The result in Niskayuna is a building which has a scale slightly larger than the scale of the surrounding buildings, a shape with no relation to the streets or site, and a front entrance that doesn’t face anything! To top it off, I don’t think it is that much bigger than the CVS that was there before. It is my suspicion that the entire project revolved around incorporating a drive-through window. This hardly makes sense to me because one shouldn’t be driving on certain medications.
I’m mostly upset because it is my opinion that buildings like the CVS I have just described damage communities. Wal-Mart, Lowes, and Christmas Tree Shops all fall into this category. Architecture is important, design is important, it connects with us internally and I believe as human beings we need this connection to live a healthy life. Even before humanity conceptualized money, people were adding art to the place in which the lived; not because it was directly necessary to their survival, but I suspect it was necessary for there psychological survival. As a society we have a choice. We can choose between “buildings” or “architecture.” I hope we stop passively allowing buildings to acquire more space in our built environment and start actively demanding architecture.