Editorial- The State of Architecture
Posted on February 5, 2015
In 1857 a small group of architects got together to form The American Institute of Architects with the goal to promote architecture and the profession – “to promote the artistic, scientific and practical perfection of its members; to facilitate the good fellowship and intercourse of its members and to elevate the standing of the profession.” As a Fellow in the AIA, it is an ambition that I believe in; the power of what architects can bring to our communities, as well as the meaning to which we can bring as a profession to our culture and lives.
In a recent article on Forbe’s blog by Justin Shubow – “Architecture continues to implode: more insiders admit the profession is failing”, Shubow quotes the rising sentiment of critics today expressing that the profession is “increasingly incapable…of creating artful, harmonious work that resonates with a broad swath of the general population, the very people we’re, at least theoretically, meant to serve”. The AIA’s disappointing response amounted to, “Let’s stick together.” In other words, “let us remain in our bastion of piety and avoid the larger issue at hand.”
As a long standing member and Fellow in the AIA I feel compelled to contribute on this issue. There is no doubt that buildings shown in architectural journals today strike little resemblance to the world we live in. Even as an architect I hardly ever pick up a professional journal to glance through its pages, simply because I am unlikely to care about the buildings illustrated within- the buildings shown as models for our industry have no interest to me, nor anyone I know- with the exception of a few architects. Yes, I said a few. What the profession seems to celebrate among themselves are the trends of the unusual and the bizarre- the more bizarre the better. Innovation has become the profession’s god, clothed in the assumed humanistic veil of “sustainability”.
As a profession, it appears we have been misguided, for innovation, for the mere sake of novelty is meaningless- and sustainability merely fashion, if it is never to be integrated into a tradition. Tradition is in itself defined by its sustainability, since only when something is loved and accepted as meaningful to our lives could it ever become lasting and sustained. By being innovative without meaning (or at least meaning to someone other than an architect) we are doomed to be continually hitting the reset button; buildings, no matter how cool, or how technologically advanced, will be torn down to be replaced by an even cooler, more technologically advance edifices- and people won’t care. We won’t care. Our neophilia will have already taken us to the next next thing.
We should be asking ourselves how to build buildings that people care about, for that is the only way in which we can build truly sustainably. As architects, we pride ourselves as problem solvers- if something doesn’t work, we redesign until it does. I urge us to look at the larger issue at hand: what we are selling hasn’t worked. In fact, our arrogance as a profession has destroyed our reputation as the purveyors of our culture. Instead of saying, “they just don’t get it”, let us realize that we haven’t been solving the problem. We need to stop and start over- and listen. I fear if we don’t, the least sustainable thing we will have designed will be our profession as a whole.