Making Statements For History
Kevin Roche


Kevin Roche, 1984

©Monica Pidgeon

Let's start with a few fundamental questions: What is the role of the architect in society? What responsibilities do we have to our culture? There are many ways that one might answer these questions. The architect can be perceived as simply a social instrument performing a social good, a social activity; or the architect can be perceived as an artist whose ultimate responsibility is the creation of a work of art. Probably the real answer to the question is that he is a combination of both of those things and that he does respond in a particular way to a particular set of circumstances and uses that opportunity to create a building of some artistic merit which hopefully will have a universal appeal and will have all of those attributes of stimulating, being elevating and being a permanent addition to our cultural heritage. In a sense, a building is not just a machine for living in or for working in; nor is it a sculpture for the study of form; or a shelter; or a decorated volume; the expression of an aesthetic conviction. And it's not enough just to solve the problems of use, organisation or structure, or to set a building properly in the country, or to relate it sensitively to other building in the city; or to be relentless in creating variations of stylistic fragments gleaned from the great architecture of our time or the past. I suppose we should believe that each new building offers the opportunity again to make a clear and precise statement in response to a certain set of conditions; and at the same time to use that statement as an armature for a more complex and varied reflection on the state of our civilisation. Now I think I can illustrate all of that by discussing at least four aspects of architecture which concern us among other things. We have, as architects, an age-old responsibility to reinforce the sense of family, the sense of community. This has been expressed of course in Greek times with the agora, in Roman times also with the agora and with the atrium, in medieval times with the square, in Renaissance with the piazza, and in the 18th century with the green, and in modern times with expressions of all of these things. And it seems that in every building, regardless of its program and regardless of its use, there is an opportunity to create a public space, a community space, a getting together place.


Museum Complex, Oakland, California

©Ron Leveri, Roche Dinkeloo & Associates

The first opportunity that we had to make this expression was what was otherwise a perfectly ordinary program for a group of museums in the city of Oakland, California. Our program called for three small museums and as there was a different director for each of the museums, they nationally conceived of their buildings as being three separate little temples on a park. We felt that the greatest contribution that we could make to this was to create a public space, a forum, for the city of Oakland. And after much negotiation with the city we were able to convince them to dedicate four blocks of down town to the entire complex. And as you see here we developed the roof of the museum buildings as a garden. We depressed the buildings into the ground. There's parking underneath, there is a museum of art, a museum of natural history and a museum of cultural history all of which are connected by a kind of an indoor street. There are also auditoria, classrooms, restaurants and so on. But the most important point that I'm trying to make is that the entire roof is a garden for the city of Oakland and it has become not only a very successful museum because of the program it carried, but it has become a very successful space in that city.

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