Speed Bumps and Boxes

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The Wall Street Journal spoke to Rem, Cameron wrote for the Huffington Post, twice, and every other unemployed architect my age is talking over their cups of coffee and ARE exam prep books about this – “The end of Architecture as we know it.” I’m not sure about the full validity of that statement.

Perhaps it’s more of an ending to an architectural era. While we might have come to the end of a period of excess, I don’t think that necessarily means an end to outlandishly thought provoking work.

The ‘iconic’ architecture is a necessary attribute that should be applied to select projects, but not all. There is something to be said for the meticulously crafted, well cared for ‘box.’ Do we always need to think outside of the box? The analogy I would use to describe my focus/outlook  is that a brick is to a building as a building is to a city. On the whole, the brick may or may not be remarkable, but its real worth is seen in how it completes the larger work.

As a profession, we’ve been able to garner great attention with the special objects that have landed and wedged their way into the fabric…but we’ve also endured the backlash for the countless more eyesores that have become the status quo of the built environment. I’m specifically referring to the wasteland of strip centers, Dryvit Walgreens and miles and miles of prefab metal structures that fuel our budget priced consumption. This environment has become the “default building…the everyday rather than the rarefied everyday beloved of architects…a kind of slang architecture.”  Personally, I think the society and the built environment would be much better off if a majority of us focused on the overlooked meat of what is built by simply making better architecture of the everyday. Better boxes.

But in all arts, there is a constant dialogue of action and reaction between that which is viewed as traditional and that of the avant garde. Architecture, for it to be meaningful, needs to exist in a state of contrast. A street of nearly identical brownstones is beautiful partly because it most likely exists as an anomaly to the new and over-scaled residential towers the next block over. But those same residential towers of Battery Park City feel correct when viewed against the canyons of Wall Street. Contrast is good. And I believe that ‘iconic’ is good, but “let us make the extraordinary only when extraordinary conditions demand it.

Although, on a whole, I’m not interested in starting a revolution. I do hope that this speed bump we’ve bottomed out on helps spur on a more focused attention by the media to the traditional craft of what we as architects do. I’m interested in place and space making rather than object making and the attention grabbing aesthetic concerns are secondary in my hierarchy of interest. That is why I was thrilled to see that Peter Zumthor was awarded the Pritzker Prize. There are plenty of interviews and announcements and tributes if you search for them. What I appreciate, admire and aspire to is his decidedly modern view on the built form, but executed in a way that appears timeless rather than timely. For me, Zumthor is one of the true craftsman who build an architecture that is permanent.

An architecture that is more than an image.

I wanted to leave you with something else, in this already link heavy entry. In an interview in the Architects Journal, Zumthor speaks very briefly about the architects and architecture he looks forward to. I always find some of the best education comes from learning what your mentors/idols/role models look to for interest:

Alvaro Siza
Eduardo Souto de Moura
Caruso St. John
Tony Fretton

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