Chapter 1 of 24
There are two kinds of architects. Some architects devise theories, sets of ideas that they think are important, and write about that, and most usually build buildings to suit. There are other architects, among whom I number myself, who have some chemical urge to do buildings when it comes into
their minds, what they should be like and how they should be made, and then afterwards we invent reasons why it was proper to do them that way, and even pile those reasons up into theories about them.
So what you hear here are theories that are in large part excuses for buildings that I think I would have built anyway. I've, in the course of the last thirty years, invented lots of theory/excuses and have enjoyed taking from other writers, other fields, ideas about what we're doing, where we
stand in the sweep of history.
One of my favourites is T.S. Elliott's quote written about playwrights, but I think it has to do with architects as well, that 'the function of the playwright' (read 'artist, architect') is to give you some perception of an order
in reality so that the viewer can make for himself a construct of the order of reality'. That definition has in it, most importantly, not only order which is what architects of my generation were brought up thinking was the most important thing of all, but also reality; that is, the kind of world
we live in that is filled with people who inhabit our buildings. I like to think that if there is a counter to, an opposite of, rational (Rationalist architecture I was describing) that counter is not the irrational, which is
sort of soggy and not useful, but rather is the real, the complicated messy life that goes on among us and around us. That leads me to three, let's call them, populist principles:
- The one, that buildings can and must speak and, in order to speak clearly and usefully to us, must have some kind of freedom of speech. I realise that buildings don't themselves speak, that 'buildings do not become what they want to be' as Lou Kahn used to say. It's rather their architect who gives them the power of speech and speaks for them. But it is, it seems to me, important that the constructing scene that we have been through for the last half century, in which buildings all had to be important, everything had to be important, messages had to be important, so that it was regarded as very bad form indeed for buildings to be winsome or indirect or even silly; that that set of frights about what buildings cannot say, has to be put aside if buildings are to be allowed to say all sorts of different things for all sorts of different purposes, and to have that freedom of speech.
- The second principle is that buildings are meant to be inhabited. Most of the definitions of architecture include the requirement that architecture has something to do with human beings, and what human beings do with buildings of every sort is to inhabit them. And they have to feel, as they have
often in the past, have to feel good about that 'centredness', (dancers say) so that it's the human who is in charge, in control, some place he knows where he is, and is able to feel as though he is arrived, is somewhere and is therefore someone. The buildings that don't leave a place for a person
to be in their centre seem to me to have failed to meet this requirement.
- And then the third principle, a principle that grows out of these others, is that buildings are recipients of human energy. They have to do with lots of other kinds of energy too. But they receive the love and care that we people have put into them. If they get enough of it, they come alive and
they lodge energy and then they in fact give it back, like the biblical bread cast upon the waters. And in order to be able to do that, they have to receive not only the energy of the architects but also the energy of the inhabitants, the people who pay for them, the bankers who supply the money
to the people who pay for them, the constructors, everybody who's involved with them.
I think that one of the problems of the architecture of the last half century is that the builders, the architects, have regarded the whole scene as rather an exclusive one, in which they saw purity of form accruing to their own very special and often arcane lights, and did not allow for the excitements, the energies, of others to enter. Therefore it seems to me we're in a very interesting role, we architects in the late 20th century, in which, unlike the professions, the legal and medical ones especially, which become more and more arcane and special and essential to other people, and therefore richer, we architects, like the clergy, are in a constant process of
de-professionalising ourselves; of keeping some technical capacities of course but sharing, giving away, the excitement of designing, of shaping things, to the others who are also involved and whose energies have to be sought in order to make buildings come alive.
So the architect is faced these days with alternatives always: the purity of the temple; the desire to be best, or maybe first, among his/her peers; or the energy of the world outside which is needed to make anything happen. We all as architects hedge our bets, or maybe this is the order and reality
that we need both of us in the Elliott quote. In any case, each of us comes with a different mix of order and reality,a nd mine is I suspect fuller of what I think is reality and less full of what I think is order than most architects.
I'm going to show a set of pictures of things I like so as to do what architects always do in such talks, lead from the things I like the most into our own work, with the expectation that you will think that it shares in some of those qualities.