Sunday, January 27, 2008

Dude, where's my cherubs??

A friend of mine who teaches urban design once said to me (in paraphrase):
A hundred years ago, we were a poor country, and we didn't have any of the building technology we have now — and we built glorious buildings. Now we're the richest country that ever was, we have technologies that were unimaginable even twenty years ago, and we put City Hall in a tilt-up.
By contrast, we have Adolf Loos writing in 1906 that "The evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects."

And we know which way of thinking won. But if we're aiming at emotional resonance among a broad population, some degree of storytelling will be crucial. Expediency is one kind of story (and one that we can read pretty well). Crisp precision is another kind of story, if it's maintained weekly in perpetuity with that same degree of precision; so is the designer's common creed of "creativity," which can easily translate for the rest of us into "what the hell is that?"

People tie the things they see into a lifetime of things they've seen. Nothing is ever encountered fresh; instead, we read it through comparison and association with "like objects" and "context" and our own histories. We put new buildings into an ongoing story (or let those buildings amend our story, if we can figure out a way to make them fit somehow).

So what kind of stories do you want to tell?


Nick Graal said...

This idea of collective storytelling through a building is fascinating. Modern buildings don't tell a story the same way as they did 100+ years ago. I don't totally agree with the statement that we no longer build glorious buildings, but I do think that the notion of "craft" is dead within the building trades. The story telling of buildings can be compared to music. People today still listen to music, the same as people 50 years ago. What has changed is the medium in which we hear the music (IPod versus record player). In the same way, a building can still tell a story, just in a different way. None of the above answers your last question what kind of story I would like to tell. But can we, the architects, tell the story? If everyone brings their own set of beliefs and preconceptions, can we really tell our (the architects) story? Or do we just provide the frame for a story to happen?

Mike said...

In response to the point in your last paragraph:

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, 'Look! This is something new'? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow."

Ecclesiastes 1:9-11 (New International Version)