Thursday, May 22, 2008

Learning from the Ads

In this month's ACSA (Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture) News, there are a couple of things of note. The first is that the opening column from ACSA president Kim Tanzer makes note of the professional constitution of Richard Rogers' firm (Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners) as an exemplar of professional culture. You can read excerpts from it at their website. But the preamble language is inspiring. "The practice of architecture is inseparable from the social and economic values of individuals who practice it and the society which sustains it." Yup.

But the other thing I noted was an ad in the back (p.35, if you want to look) for new books from the MIT Press. There are three books stacked vertically on the right side of the page that deliver three very different visions of what the profession ought to be about. It's a miracle that they haven't caught fire from being placed so close together. I'll go through them from bottom to top, because I feel like it.

David Orr, Design on the Edge: The Making of a High-Performance Building. "Allows us to understand why we'll need to cleverly maneuver both the technological and the human track to have any hope of avoiding the ecological abyss we find ourselves approaching" -- Bill McKibben

Alberto Perez-Gomez, Built upon Love: Architectural Longing after Ethics and Aesthetics. "A vision of architecture that transcends concerns of form and function and finds the connections between the architect's wish to design a beautiful world and architecture's imperative to provide a better place for society."

Francois Blanciak, Siteless: 1001 Building Forms. "An attempt to free architecture from site and program constraints and to counter the profusion of ever bigger architecture books with ever smaller content."

So we have buildings as necessary responses to an ecological crisis. We have buildings embodying the tension between beauty and social responsibility. And we have not buildings but "building forms" which revel in their freedom from either place or purpose.

Y'know, if I were a better man, I'd go look for Blanciak's book. I would seek to immerse myself in his argument, to understand the nature of placelessness and uselessness as worthy pursuits. But I'd rather have strep throat again. Just the level of hubris in the blurb -- "to counter the profusion of ever bigger architecture books with ever smaller content" -- is warning enough.

And this matter of having 1001 of them... it seems oddly precise. Mathematically, it seems far more likely that there might be 1,297 interesting forms, or 833, or any other non-centennial number. I mean, I can understand having 101 Dalmatians, because it was written for eight-year-olds. But grown-ups can handle somewhat greater numerical complexity. Chris Alexander and his colleagues identified 253 patterns in A Pattern Language: 94 having to do with community, 110 having to do with buildings, and 49 having to do with details. They didn't see a need to have some pretty number that they could advertise; they named the things they believed in, and stopped when they were done. I think there's a lesson there for us all.

1 comment:

Ken Ballard said...

More about Art vs Archiecture....
We, architectural students, have been taught and evualated for years about how we can translate our work into art. Architecture as art may have been introduced and has been accepted as a way to help inform and define architecture to those who are not in the profession and that defination caught on within the architectural community. Architecture as art answers and offers appeal to others that just dont get it; hanging your hat on the concept of "artistic liscense" has been played out to long and destroyed the art of art. To simply define something as "art" has allowed many to just acept it as "good art". I question what art really is, not what architecture is. The most daming thing to happen to architecture over the last 100 years is to start defining architecture as "art" because it may be diffucult to define or evulate or enjoy... hanging your hat on art is not the answer.. it only makes it more diffcult to expect, create, and define true architectre without the "art" tag.
Now, I have said a lot about how architecture is not art... but I have to contend that it is possible and that architecture can, and is quite often viewed as a piece of art, but I insist that first it must be architecture before it can be art and not the other way around.

I offer this quote by Hannes Meyer the director Bauhaus from 1928-1930,:
"Architecture is a process of giving form and pattern to the community. Architecture is not an individual act performed by an artist-architect and charged with his emotions. Building is a collective action".