31 December 2012
If you watch the video below of Inconvenient Space, you should find Maziar Behrooz very engaging and his talk entertaining yet poignant all the same. I recently met Maziar at our First Year reviews at CMU and found him to be a wonderful person with very strong work. However despite his humor and intentional hyperbole, his video made me think broader about this idea that ‘architecture’ often has had some weakness, Achilles heel, or other flaw in it that today most would find unacceptable at worst, inconvenient at best. Despite this weakness, many works of architecture are excused and remain great in our minds and records. I don’t think that greatness and convenience are mutually exclusive. We can have both.
History, (more specifically the past century), has given us projects that we herald as masterpieces that we place on all of our pilgrimage lists or ‘bucket lists’ which are occasionally the product of large egos and ridiculous expenditures of money. For the most part I am going to excuse projects older than the past century that may also fall into this category for the lack of contemporary building technology. However, if we pick up a book of modern or contemporary architecture we can find buildings whose roofs leak, are poorly insulated, have formal manipulations that cause strange functional relationships, interior spaces that are disorienting or difficult to maneuver, construction assemblies that are hard to maintain and glass boxes that are difficult to use most of the year. Despite our veneration of the architecture and architect, they are simply inconvenient. Is Maziar right in his jesting that the more inconvenient the greater the work?
Architecture is simply not the same today as it was even a century ago and quite frankly it shouldn’t be. Today our clients expect so much more for so much less and apart from a rare eccentric wealthy owner or nonconforming visionary, our projects have little room for anything that can be labeled as inconvenient. Budgets are too tight, owners are too discerning and fortunately technology has overcome many of the challenges our predecessors couldn’t solve.
I am not trying to ‘dumb down’ architecture or relieve it from design features that provide intangible value or unique experience. Nevertheless, how do you evaluate great architecture? Can we overlook projects or aspects that clearly don’t work? Should we hold each other more accountable? Should the media give credit, awards, or print space to work that may appear visionary yet clearly has overlooked something obvious? How should we educate in our schools of architecture? Can we challenge students to think innovatively yet hold them accountable to resolve basic function?
In this time where our profession and the AIA is working to reposition itself, struggling to demonstrate value and securing ourselves a future and relevancy in the AEC industry, should we even suggest an architecture of inconvenience?
I suppose 2013 will reveal a lot about our future as architects.
photo of Guggenheim NYC is from the Wikimedia Commons (used under the Creative Common License)