Thursday, February 02, 2006

On Quiet Offices (21st Century)

On sweet summer nights, when you catch a lightning bug and put it in a jar, by the next morning its butt no longer shines.

In the same vein, there is something unsympathetic to Architecture in the today’s architectural practice. Practices are businesses. The main actors in such enterprises are like-minded men of skill, whom offer their design expertise for profit. As in all other corners of the business world, architects compete with each other for clients and commissions, necessarily lowering what they charge to stay competitive. For this reason, the business of architecture demands high productivity, and a standardization that delivers quantifiable, measurable product to generate a large enough capacity to stay lucrative. This impulse towards standardization, controllable regularity, and constancy are antithetical to the drive that keeps Architecture experimental, clever, fresh, and alive.

When he wrote the introduction to his book, The Space of Encounter, Daniel Libeskind probably had this conflict in mind. The first few paragraphs included…

“Ever since I began architecture, I’ve had an abhorrence of conventional architecture offices. There was something about the atmosphere of redundancy, routine, and production that made me allergic to all forms of specialization and so called professionalism… The work [his office made] has developed in unexpected directions through a practice that does not mimic existing procedures, but instead attempts to break through into the excitement, adventure, and mystery of architecture. By dropping the designations ‘form,’ ‘function,’ and ‘program,’ and engaging in the public and political realm, which is synonymous with architecture, the dynamics of the building take on a new dimension…The magic of architecture cannot be appropriated by any singular operation because it is already always floating, progressing, rising, flying, breathing. Whatever the problems – political, tectonic, linguistic – that architecture exposes, one thing I know is that engaging in architecture is only exciting because of the intensity and passion of its call.”

… Practice’s undeniable drive towards pragmatism can be stifeling to this passion, a problem that is hard to ignore. This fact makes The State of Architecture at the Beginning of the 21st Century, the book that commemorated the 2003 conference at Columbia University, a bit lacking. The book gathers and summarizes over 60 important architect’s comments on the direction and issues of the profession. (Mr. Libeskind is not represented.) Disappointingly, none of the essays glance at this commodification of creativity, or the manufactured state of most “custom designed” buildings. Many of the 60 essays wouldn’t even appear to belong in the same book, were it not for the broadly worded titles that corral them together, i.e. “Aesthetics + Urbanism,” “Detail + Identity,” or “Form + Influence.” Exception must be granted to Mr. Stanford Kwinter. On pages 94 and 95 Mr. Kwinter details “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Architecture (Long Live Architecture).”

“First, we need to face the fact that architecture is fast becoming part of the knowledge industry. ‘Design’ is becoming increasingly disassociated from simple ‘building’ and increasingly associated with the production of intellectual property: ideas, routines, contexts, entire social and cultural environments. Every social relation is now a target of design, not only relations of humans to objects and also humans to concrete environments but of humans to humans and humans to collective and symbolic enterprises as well. Architects are now the inventors of those intervening ‘films’ that seem to coat everything these days and that one used to call ‘interfaces.’ Now, more than ever, the reshaping of the knowledge system is inseparable from the transformation of the material environment. Architects must adapt to this emerging reality.”

His reflections help reposition architecture outside the service industry that has bound it. For the spirit of the profession, not the health of the academies, let us hope the current battles that are redefining intellectual property, do so to broaden our professional scope of services. And liven up the office.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post! Unfortunately I'm working in a "conventional architecture office". How can we escape if having your own office is still to risky?

7:12 AM  

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