Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Writing Day 2

So yesterday I turned my attention to likely the most contentious element of my entire argument, and the one that I started this blog with three months ago — that architecture is not an art. I still feel confident about that assertion, and worked yesterday with a little bit of aesthetic theory and philosophy in order to make my terms clearer.

But one of the things that became immediately apparent, and that I remember from prior research projects, is the need for extensive library resources. When I was at Duke, I had access to over five million physical books and bound journals, and nearly 400 academic databases. The library's budget was larger than the budget for my entire college now (and also employed nearly as many staff, and occupied significantly more square footage). Now I have access to one and a half databases — the Avery Index of Art and Architecture, and a subset of ProQuest.

First off, there's something already incorrect about Avery's linkage of art and architecture, but I won't go there. The more important thought is that most disciplines rely on a restricted body of knowledge that their practitioners feel to be "at its core." And that conception of core knowledge is terrifically constraining. As we increasingly imagine scholarship to be interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary, we need to make connections across a broader range of disciplines, in ways that each scholar will map out for herself or himself. My first major research project resulted in a degree from a school of architecture, although my committee members were an architectural historian, an environmental psychologist, a cultural geographer, an art historian and critic, and a novelist. When the book appeared, the publisher catalogued it under Cultural Studies/Sociology, and it was nominated for a book award through the American Sociological Association. It's now been used in college classes in (at least) architecture, youth studies, anthropology and education.

This range was only possible because I was able to use the work of anthropologists, architects and architectural theorists, compositionists, consumer researchers, cultural geographers, economists, educational theorists, historians, material culture researchers, media theorists, nonfiction authors, philosophers, psychologists, public policy researchers, sociologists, women's studies researchers, and urban planners. When you study a topic, you find that lots of people have had lots of great things to say about it, and those people come from a lot of different backgrounds.

Architecture is like that. We're all surrounded all the time by the built world, so it's no surprise that good thinking about buildings comes from almost any discipline you can imagine. If we were to do a good job of educating architects, we'd ensure that their instruction reflected this breadth of knowledge.

1 comment:

Allison said...

Nice blog! I wanted to chime in on the art vs. architecture post. I don't believe there has to be a sharp divide between art and architecture. Architects err when they concentrate more on art than on the needs of users, but they also err when they concentrate only on functionality.

Art is what brings joy and humanity to the architecture in which we live, work and play. It is one of the ingredients that help us to identify with architecture and have positive emotional reactions to it.

Architecture can be art, but it is a special kind of art that is bound to criteria that make it be livable, usable and inviting.