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.