The Architect and Public Perception
Having been an architect for quite some time, I continue to get the same questions from people, namely, "Do you do residential or commercial?" and "What type of style do you do?", or here in Arizona, "Do you do Santa Barbara, Tuscany, Spanish Colonial, _________?" It occurred to me that the public's perception of an architect is that he/she does whatever the client wants.
While it's true the architect must design to meet client needs while also considering site conditions, building codes, etc., what the public does not perceive is the architect as, in some part, an artist. Why? We architects might not be doing well enough in educating the public on not only what an architect does, but who an architect is. Though it seems most architects will do just about whatever the client says, thus perpetuating the perception, there are some who live and work by their own principles or beliefs. They have a distinct "signature" or direction from which they won't stray too far because they believe strongly in the benefits to the quality of the work and to life itself.
In other words, clients might unknowingly be telling a "Picasso" to paint them a "Renoir". I think we all know that no artist of merit would paint like another. So, how can we inform the public that architects can still be artists with very different approaches? It's up to the profession itself through more public speaking, more community engagement, more writing, more school involvement, etc. And just maybe, architects could show more of their own work and ideas in public exhibits and finally taste some of that wine and cheese.
The Environment -- Essential Beauty
This was one of those perfect-weather days that we all cherrish! So perfect, in fact, that it inspires you and elevates your spirit as much as any religion can. It also got me thinking about just how essential a clean, safe, healthy environment is for the sustenance of ALL LIFE!
Exxon Valdez, Chernobyl, Times Beach, The Gulf Oil Spill, Fukushima Power Plant, pollution, garbage "islands" floating in the world's seas, overfishing, the voracious demand for energy, food and water......HUMANS, not anything else, but HUMANS are literally destroying planet Earth. This is not an opinion, it's a fact. So, we have to ask ourselves, if we maintain status quo, how in the world can this tiny planet with LIMITED RESOURCES possibly continue to support this unconscionable behavior along with population growth that will only require MORE food, MORE water, MORE energy???
For the survival of ALL species, we MUST, MUST conserve energy and resources while implementing alternative energy sources. We must stop SUPER-SIZING everything -- waste less food, water and natural resources. We MUST recycle more and throw less in landfills.
If we don't change our destructive behavior RIGHT NOW, there won't be many days like this left. ALL life DESERVES a clean, safe, healthy environment in which to live peacefully. ALL life around the world deserves to enjoy many perfectly beautiful days!
The Invisible Roof
There have been many movements, or styles, in architecture throughout history, from Classical and Baroque to the Prairie Style, Modernism and Deconstructivism, etc. Today’s new buildings continue this evolution in the perpetual search of expressing our time. The one constant through all this change that will always be the basic purpose of architecture is shelter! Shelter has, throughout time, been especially concerned with the overhead, expressed by visible roofs with names like gable, hip, shed and dome, etc. Because these roofs were visible, a variety of materials and colors were used to celebrate this function of shelter.
However, with the Industrial Revolution and the turn of the century, the visible roof began to disappear and give way to the “flat” plane (which still, by the way, has some slope). This “flat” roof plane sometimes still had an eave, but with the International Style and “machine-age” becoming more popular, the visible roof vanished and metamorphosized into parapets and flatter, abstract forms & surfaces. This challenged the notion of what shelter could be while breaking free from traditional forms, which coincides with what was happening in the art world regarding challenging traditional subject matter in favor of a new expression of a brave new world (which I think is utterly essential!). But, this all has raised a question within me – what has “removing” the roof done to much of the architecture today??
Many of today’s more publicized buildings appear to me as “machines”, devoid of the sense of human scale and shelter that generous roofs can help provide. Roofs protect us from the elements (which tend to come from above) as well as protect the exterior building “skin”, which can help reduce maintenance. With flatter surfaces and more box-like forms, today’s buildings do not invoke the same feeling of comfort that can come from a good “hat” to keep the sun and rain off.
Most of the “cutting-edge” structures in the magazines today also seem to depend heavily on new technology for everything from heating & air conditioning requirements (which a good roof with appropriate overhangs could minimize), to electrical and security systems, as well as for the exterior materials. Again, while I encourage R&D for a better future, there is a tendency for the mere celebratory expression of technical prowess, resulting in buildings appearing thin, fragile, temporary objects, separate from nature and the very people for which they were designed.
So, what about the roof? I think it’s important we don’t lose sight of what a good roof represents in architecture for our fellow human family – shelter, protection and comfort. Nature’s elements should and will always play the leading role in how we build in harmonious connection with them (especially with today’s climate issues), regardless of how “advanced” technology may seduce us into a false sense of detachment from an ever-changing environment. What do you think?.....
This got me thinking.......is artificiality OK in architecture or our world in general for that matter? We now have artificial turf and plants, vinyl siding resembling wood clapboard, concrete roof tiles resembling wood shake, vinyl flooring resembling wood plank, plastic laminates resembling about any material you want, etc., etc. We have new buildings that look old and older people that look younger. Brunettes are blond and grey hair is never to be seen. By the way, most of what we eat and drink is artificial. It raises the question if this should be acceptable? Doesn't it just FEEL like somehow or other this is going to come back and bite us?
Of course there are pros and cons to everything. The artificial products briefly mentioned above do have some big positives -- lower financial cost and maintenance, less depletion of certain resources, greater durability and lifespan, etc. But what will be the catch? There is ALWAYS a catch! Could we be poisoning our bodies and increasing certain disease risks with artificial foods or from product off-gassing? Are we building a world where PERCEPTION of truth is replacing truth? What would be wrong with a world where very little is as it seems? It feels like a philisophical question -- one that I've not heard posed, until now. I haven't formulated my own definitive opinion yet, other than it just FEELS like we are headed in a dangerous direction.
The Importance of Planning