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Campbell Sports Center

Steven Holl Architects

Campbell Sports Center
By Yehuda Safran -

Ever since the demise of the classical canon of architecture the analogy between the human body and architecture has lost its hegemony. We no longer theorize or speculate in such terms, and we shy away from anthropomorphism in architecture. And yet a reference to the body will never be entirely absent, even in the most abstract figuration in art and architecture.
Here, in the Campbell Sports Centre located in the north tip of the island of Manhattan, a Manhattan rhapsody, if you like, has emerged against the backdrop of desolation and indifferent building stock.
A playful composition has emerged out of a forbidden analogy. It is as if the human figure with its legs stretched out far below and his head and shoulder far above have issued this composition. An existential equivalent of the life of the body itself has become a reality. Ambiguously at once subject and object, the knower and the thing known, the work is a powerful synthesis and a ludic invention. This Columbia University sports centre is open to young athletes of all levels of proficiency. Here they will be able to take care of their bodies and reorient their minds.
Herder famously said that if a man is upright it is not because he is human. On the contrary, because he is upright he is capable of being human.
It is as if so much of what we are doing in our lives is undertaken in order to keep up with this obligation. The fundamental difficulty of resisting gravity and maintaining balance - a fragile equilibrium at the top of a column of vertebrae does not come to us easily. No wonder it has become a moral obligation: the upright man. Perhaps the fragility of our posture has much to do with the fragility of life and the difficulty of being human. This precarious existence is often sustained with sports and other outdoor activities. In this project Steven Holl has defied common sense and followed his own intuition by giving different parts of the building apt bodily attributes.

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