Ad Hoc Architecture
John Johansen


John Johansen, 1983

©Monica Pidgeon

My parents were both painters and I was to be a painter, as I foresaw it, before going in for architecture. I also used my hands well, and I constructed things, so the combination led me to be an architect, and since then it's proven a good choice. I see architecture as a service art and not as a fine art, or pure art. I think it's a people art and I think we're dealing with people's needs and so on. And if we do cleave to fulfilment of some need or service, we are perhaps well on our way to creating a building of some architectural merit. If you lose sight of that, I think you're off the track and it is impossible to then deal with architecture. In other words, the closer you cleave to pure art as pure sculpture, the-further you're getting away and the less chance you have of doing a successful piece of architecture. Lewis Munford says of course that without performing a service, there can be for architecture no purpose, no value and no reward. That I truly believe. The reward is from the response of the occupants, not from critics or those who judge you on a professional basis. I am not a sculptor, then, because I'm interested in creating spaces that one can get in and experience them as enclosure, or "to be environed", as they say, as the word means to be enclosed by spaces which then get to you some particular meaning. What that meaning is of course is a matter of dealing with the psyche, quite separate from the physical needs of the building. Recently I've come to canalize architecture, and in this very confused time of change and uncertainty I have come upon what I call three imperatives for architecture. Sounds rather pompous but I've done this very thoughtfully. In over a year's time I find that there are three; there're not two, they're not four. These three to me have been present in architecture since Man started putting stone upon stone some 6,000 years ago. It's so in the present and will be forever in the future. These three imperatives, as I see it, are: technology which is certainly here to stay, and you can see it in the caveman's efforts, you can see it in high technology now. Every period used the highest technology known in its time to express its way of life; and to discard this at any particular time in favour of something else is rather strange. The second imperative is the organic imperative from which I reasoned that, since we are all a part of Nature, we perform in Nature's ways, or should. If we don't, then we are running against Nature. It is almost a sacrilege against God, in a pantheist sense. But then organic architecture to me is essential in the ordering of a building, as in the ordering of a city. And the study of Nature and how she organises herself is the essential thing we learn from Nature. The third imperative is what I call the psycho-social which might be interpreted as the collective soul. We're not talking about beauty or aesthetics particularly now. In our psycho-analytic age we're more apt to put things in terms of the psyche. There's something about the psyche which governs all human animals in their relationship to their environment. To be in touch with this is, then, to understand what, for many thousands of years and into the future and the present, Man expresses as his way of life in forms of rituals, myths and symbols. The Post Modern group of architects, in a very strange way, have cast aside technology and Nature as well, in favour of a pursuit into the psyche and which seems to me they don't really fully understand. Ornament and trappings and personal expressions and a little idiosyncrasy and decorations and so, which we see so often done now, really have no connection with mythology as we know it today, and what are the true symbols. In architecture of course the true symbols are spatial symbols and most consistent with architectural language. Some of these of course we know are the bridge which is a leap from a known base of operations or a reality as we know it, and then being suspended for a moment in space and then put back to another reality on the other side. The airport of course is the current updated version of that. The tower is another one which is an assertion of an effort to get away from the mundane and the earthly experiences in search of greater knowledge or the Divine. The updated symbol of that is of course the rocket. So we are reliving symbols and rituals as we always have before. For an architect to be ignorant of these things is preposterous.


Oklahoma Theater Center. The Building Complex

©John Johansen

I like to talk a bit about the Oklahoma Theatre Centre, known most popularly as the Mummers Theatre. An interesting fact was I think at the very start that I was chosen as architect for this, among others interviewed by the director of the theatre, having first chosen a stage designer. So it worked from the needs of the director as he conceived the performances in the theatre, to the concept of a staging device, and then outwardly to the building which would enclose it. I think this is a proper way to select an architect in this case, and I'm very pleased to have been part of that process. The site is an open site close to the centre of city so that it could be an independent building quite separated on all sides from anything around it. It is in a public park. So I had the latitude and freedom to design a free-standing image there which is beautifully surrounded by planting.

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