Let’s Not Abandon Hardware

I couldn’t agree more with Kazys argument that the last thing we need is fiction about architects and architecture. Not to mention the fact that this is already going well enough without us. For example, The International, a movie which takes full advantage of famous architectural settings and even transposes Hadid’s building in Phaeno to the shores of Italy. And while I admire Geoff’s writing at BLDGBLOG, and enjoy reading it on a regular basis, let’s not confuse this with the act of designing a building.

I know that this will probably be read as a fairly reactionary position at this time (not to mention hypocritical from someone who is not practicing as an architect at the moment), but it’s lazy to let ourselves off the hook for producing buildings. Yes, let’s expand the architect, but at the end of the day we still build buildings and it’s depressing to entertain the notion that we would simply give up on this endeavor because we’ve become collectively bored by recent architectural output.

Sure, let’s have great writing inspired by and inspiring these buildings, but words on a screen (or paper!) do not a building make. If there’s an architectural fiction, it must be a way of thinking about and designing architecture and that definition of architecture better include at least a few things that could nominally be construed as buildings.1

“Performance,” that ugly word, has dominated architectural discussions for too long — and to what end? If architects are serious about performance we need to do much better about actually measuing the results of such works. Where are the post occupancy studies? Where are the charts and graphs of energy savings that wooed the client into signing the check, now refactored to compare expected and actual savings? As a profession we have largely failed to follow through on claims of performance, so in effect we’ve already arrived at an architecture of lies. That’s a bitter pill to swallow. At least fiction is self conscious of its fabrications, flaunting them as an advantage rather than hiding behind speculative chart junk.

For posterity, I’m re-posting my comment from Kazys’ site here:

might it be possible for architecture to shape our experiences in such ways as to approximate the effects of films or fiction? Or better yet, video games?

this sounds a bit like a theme restaurant to me. what is TGIFriday’s but a space carefully crafted to give its visitors an excuse to engage an alternate subjectivity: the post work flair-wearing drunkard?

it comes off sounding sarcastic, but I’m serious. (it’s also interesting to note that those sports bar type restaurants were amongst the first to start issuing guests pager/coasters while they wait for a table, a brutal and peculiar form of locative media.)

at any rate, the point is that novels, films, video games, and theme restaurants invoke immersive environments by issuing rich descriptions *and* story line. “saving energy” is a boring story (green arch). so are “this is a really crazy space” (Liebeskind) and “Oh, shiny curvy” (DS+R) etc, etc. The story line of contemporary architecture is like jumble spam: poetry without reason. unfortunately, spam filters are not so easy to develop for a world without absolutes. If there’s something that excites me about “fiction” (I think of them as fables), it’s that we may feel comfortable making judgments again. we might actually be able to discuss whether a project was a good idea or if it actually does anything rather than going on and on about the techniques used to produce it. if I had a nickel for every time I heard the word voronoi…

I appreciate the interest in architects making things besides buildings, but it’s also the easy way out. perhaps at the moment these other projects are more appealing, but that does not alleviate the burden to create buildings that contribute meaningfully to our world (in whatever definition you want to use for meaningful). although you may have a point about newspapers being in the deadpool, it will be a while before we evolve beyond the idea of constructed shelters that humans dwell in.

(…and this is coming from someone who still writes software on a regular basis)

Read Kazys’ full post and the rest of the comments here.

1. My insistence that an architecture of fiction must result in more than just words is one of the reasons that I was thrilled to get a glimpse of the BLDGBLOG manuscript and see Geoff’s fictions telegraphing through the medium of drawing. Good stuff.

1 Comment so far

  1. John Snavely on March 4th, 2009

    Nice post, Bryan.
    While I agree that architects can’t be let off the hook (they aren’t artists after all), to me, the key part of what you’re saying is not that architects need to remember buildings but that they actually need to understand fiction.
    It’s really helpful, as you note, to start to distinguish useful fictions and junk (chart and otherwise).
    I think the other big piece here is guilt. Do you think there should be some guilt here? (It seems like you’re feeling a little, but honestly, the work you’re doing now is as valuable as a building.)
    My take is that architectural fiction is not an uncoupling of judgment from responsibility. But I think that’s what you’re saying too.

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