And maybe we don't want that. Maybe we don't want our school to look like every other school. But we have to ask ourselves on what grounds we would argue that repetition is a bad thing. I can think of a few.
- that our landscape becomes placeless, that a high school in Missouri looks exactly like a high school in New Hampshire, set in the same suburban context of culs-de-sac and asphalt five-lanes surrounded by Denny's and Chevy dealers.
- that our work becomes careless, old jobs pulled out of the drawer and filled in with a new client's name.
- that our work is complicit in carrying forward inequitable social relations or unsustainable environmental practices.
So let's think about what the opposites of those three conditions might be.
- that our work speaks in powerful ways about its immediate and its regional context. Boston's Commonwealth Avenue, for example, is unlike anything one would find in Phoenix or San Francisco or Minneapolis. It reflects its origins through scale and materials and proportions, and silently insists on newcomers' adherence to the pattern language. This is a distinctly Bostonian place, reflecting both the value of urban land and the New England Puritan conception of appropriate civic behavior.
- that our work reflects constant decisionmaking in every single detail, from gross form to materials selection to the choice of bugle-headed or round-headed screws for the baseplates of the hallway lights. To return to Comm Ave, the "rulebook" hasn't resulted in unthinking uniformity. The differences in brick detailing, entry framing, stonecutting, roof finials and glazing make each of those rowhouses a unique event. You can stop at each one along the street and spend a few minutes seeing the care with which they were assembled.
- that our work actively promotes social justice and environmental stewardship. If, as Jeff Stein insists, the basic function of architecture is to mark relationships, then we have the responsibility to make certain kinds of relationships more likely, and to intervene in those we see as inequitable. Think of The Met, the high school I told you about in Providence RI. They weren't just designing a different kind of school building because they wanted it to look cool; they were designing a different conception of what it meant to be a student, an adult, a family member. They were designing to disrupt old habits. Likewise, if we know that our buildings consume vast amounts of energy, produce vast amounts of waste, and drag in materials on boats from Indonesia, we have a responsibility to disrupt that behavior as well.
I use the word "joy" a lot in my writing to mark that state of being immersed in something you care about. I think that joyful objects are as engaging (and as rare) as joyful people.