People are talkin’, talkin’ ‘bout buildings.
I hear them whisper, hiding on Facebook,
They think they’re experts, tweeting their two cents
I just ignore it, but they keep sayin’ we
Talk just a little too much
Care just a little too less
We write just a little too long
Maybe they’re seein’, something we don’t get yet
Let’s give ‘em somethin’ to talk about.- talkin’ about architecture…
OK, this could get silly (sorry Bonnie) – maybe we’re beyond silly. With all of the hot air lately, don’t you think we need a good laugh?
Lately in the architectural world, we’ve had Frank’s gestures, Zaha’s…you know, Calatrava’s many problems, Bingler and Pedersen’s criticism that we’re out of touch with the public, Betsky’s critical response in return and then Justin Shubow summing it all up with his bleak indictment that we’re imploding. The rest of us are just trying to make a difference in our own corner of this profession but we’re told it’s probably part of the 98% that is…not so good. I tend to disagree.
Recently I faced my own sharp criticism as I worked on a concept design that will require the removal of a “Main Street” type building built between 1905 and 1909. My client hired me to design a new building to expand their current restaurant in downtown Greensburg, PA (my hometown). It was a challenge to develop an idea that would provide a better response to this existing aging building that has sat empty with no interest, no occupants, and has been neglected for years. The storefront and upper level had unsympathetic changes ruining it years ago. My client spent over a year with another design professional studying a way to renovate it only to find that to merely address the over-stressed floor structure to comply with current codes for any commercial use would require considerable structural reinforcement rendering the basement level useless. There were other issues. The investment would never find a return. This is the reality of architecture as a profession. It’s not just art.
Greensburg has a Historic and Architectural Review Board; I also sit on this board. Could I design a building that meets my client’s needs, that is characteristic enough to capture this corner, signature enough for their investment and business image and one that addresses the key site and urban context issues that justifies the demolition of an old building? Would I vote for my own proposal? After putting in more design time than anticipated (or budgeted), a lengthy presentation, a long deliberation by the board, the HARB and later Mayor and City Council fortunately approved my design. It’s exciting…now for my client to find the funds to pay for it. That’s the reality part again.
The HARB presentation made the local newspaper of course which opened up a flurry of opinion, debate and blunt nastiness on social media. No one cared about this building until they heard it was going to come down. Fortunately, there was much praise and many good comments in favor of moving forward understanding the reality. The discussion it sparked is part of an ongoing discussion that rides on the coattails of at least two other major projects being built in lowly Greensburg, PA. Good things are happening. Beyond that many have told me and my client how much they love the design and hope it gets built. I’m giving you a quick summary, but it involved weeks of preparation, debate and working through the emotion. Nevertheless, people are talking.
Now the HARB is facing another proposal on another site, by a developer with no evident architect or sense of design with a project that falls far short of its potential (in my opinion) to address the key issues. I’ve had an ongoing email discussion with a fellow board member about it. We’ll vote on it Tuesday.
So we have talk on social media; I have talk in my own world. People are talking. I credit a good friend of mine for opening my eyes to this simple truth. It’s when no one is talking that the real problem occurs.
Next month I will get the chance to be interviewed on a monthly radio put on by our local chamber of commerce. What do I want to talk about? I am preparing questions for the chamber president that revolve around the simple question of why should we be talking about architecture. We can talk about it on a macro level as well as a micro level. Hopefully people will keep talking and they’ll see how important it is to them and to our cities, and the need to engage actively with it.
Make your voice heard. Do it in a civil intelligent fashion. Don’t throw darts hiding on Facebook. I wrote about this just a few weeks ago here.
People are talking – though no one can agree it seems. One person writes a response to the last article who will find another critic writing about theirs. Are we imploding? Are we in trouble? Is architecture in trouble? Not as long as we keep talking and keep them talking.
So let’s give them something to talk about.