Pure And Applied Arts

People complain that architects do not have to work or live in the buildings they design. They might as well complain that artists do not take up residence in their paintings, or that composers do not make tents out of their scores and pitch them in the garden. It isn’t about a place to live or work, it’s about Art. Architects who hope to win prestigious international awards are practicing an art-form; they are creating concepts and sketches and models that are rewarded for conforming to certain aesthetic canons and formal languages understood by the participants, if by nobody else. Few of the architects or juries seem to care whether the prize-winning apartment building becomes an instant slum or even begins immediately to disintegrate, any more than the theatre audience cares where the stage-hands go to eat their dinner. Sometimes the design only makes sense from an aeroplane, or as a cerebral jeu d’esprit. In the same way, the more outré confections on the Paris catwalks are meant to be works of art, sometimes insider jokes, and no one is expected to wear them to the supermarket. The designs only become a human disaster when some idiot misunderstands and lets someone actually build the damn thing. Rather than compelling architects to live in the buildings they design, therefore, we should create two separate castes of architect: one to create high art – in the form of drawings, models and suchlike – and win prizes for their Dynamic Contrasts, the other to build actual places for people to live and work. With no crossover whatsoever; students must then pick a profession and stay with it.

Posted on June 21, 2009 at 08:14 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: CULTURAL ODDS AND ENDS, The Futurist Fever-Dream

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  1. Written by Urban Djin
    on June 21, 2009 at 14:07

    That sounds like a sensible plan. Those who define architecture as “frozen music” or some such could indulge their creativity without needlessly complicating everyone else’s lives.

    I have mixed feelings on this question as the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Here in Chicago we have a Frank Gehry Bandshell in Grant Park, between Lake Michigan and downtown, which, whatever you think about its look, and many consider it outlandish, does sound superb. It’s an outstanding outdoor music venue which is almost a contradiction in terms. For all the aesthetic whimsy, Gehry did understand and care about what his creation was for.

    On the flip side, a few blocks away stands Helmut Jahn’s State of Illinois Building. True, the cavernous atrium is breathtaking, but that’s small consolation for the appalling, seemingly fast food restaurant inspired exterior and the fact that nothing works very well. No consideration at all seems to have been given to how it was to be used by either the citizens or the bureaucrats. I can appreciate all of that as a cynical metaphor for our governance, but I would tear it down and start over.

    Speaking of metaphor, Santiago Calatrava’s “Spire” is on hold after the financing evaporated. They got as far as a giant circular hole in the ground before abandoning work on the project. It’s a very impressive (and expensive) hole.

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