I am an architect; I make art. Let’s not kid ourselves, many architects do; it’s not just me. Don’t ask where this came from, just roll with it.
Before I am disparaged for missing the obvious, I do know that architecture is a service industry, therefore it’s a false dilemma to exclude it as also being art or offering the opportunity for architects to express themselves. I don’t see it as an either-or proposition and the occasional alleged narcissistic response from a well-known architect doesn’t eliminate the benefit gained from the architect arguing to retain a creative component of their proposed design. Stay with me now, I am not advocate for recklessness and I’m aware we need to continually promote the vast benefits and offerings architects contribute to the built environment. We read those daily – but not today.
We often indict the architect (from afar) as being negligent when we see audacious visual gestures when the news reports an aspect of their project that appears to be adverse, harmful or unethical. I know, I’ve been guilty and will likely be guilt again because architecture demands critique to move it in any direction. Architects are licensed because of standards we are expected to uphold or achieve. However, only meeting standards often ignores our human needs beyond shelter.
Pardon the ramblings of my opening statements, if you’re still with me. Let’s look at how the artist can emerge from their work of architecture. I suggest we independently assess results on their merit as architecture separately from the service aspects. Self-expression that is integrated with or derived from building performance is generally the avenue I pursue, but there are other ways these things are manifested.
Self-Expression – This is often dismissed rapidly as being irresponsible and selfish. How dare the architect spend someone else’s money to express themselves when they ought to be working to meet the needs of their client and the users of the building? What is often overlooked is the mere expression itself is the very thing that brings life and emotion to the space which in turn is shared with the public. It does not follow that the existence of the creative output breaches the responsibilities of design. In fact, I submit this ought to be an expectation.
Independent motives – Albeit closely linked with self-expression, an architect might have other or higher motives than fulfilling the client’s program or spatial requirements. Without this, we might not see a public or communal benefit to architecture; we may have mere shelter. In addition to that, architects learn from each project. Innovative technologies, new visual arrangements, or developing relationships are made with each project. Can an architect take on a project for other reasons in addition to offering a service and fulfilling it competently?
Altered standards – This is where people get all “Howard Roark” accusatory on us. In the pursuit of the expression or the artistic or qualitative goal, the architect may press towards a standard above and beyond the needs or requests of the client. Since the architect’s name and reputation is closely associated with the work, it seems obvious that there be a standard defined and protected by the author that must be retained and respected. It doesn’t take long to cajole an architect into endless hours of stories of a client that expected only this or a client that would only pay for that. Try it sometime when you’re bored and have time to kill.
Let the criticism rain, but before we judge an architect solely from the few images we are privileged to see online or in print, we would be better served to enjoy the expression, critique it on its merit and if it can be known that an architect acts incompetently or irresponsibly, then let the chips fall. After all, we have all seen ugly buildings and realized someone paid for them too.