the artistic possibilities
of designing with nature
Design and construct the man-made environment to be in harmony with the natural environment.

Words for Robert

author: Charles Brewer

It has been rare that a professional education in architecture includes an opportunity for investigation into "What is architecture and why should we do it." Who benefits from what we do; and why do so few people think that they are advantaged by what we do?

When architectural investigation does happen in an academic institution it is usually devoted to history, construction techniques or materials; not to a philosophy nor to a value system into which we might fit.

Architectural education often is based on what leading practitioners are doing currently (Frank Gehry) which can be enlightening if we were to understand what lay behind the product, or on a formulae as it was in the Beaux Arts or the Bauhaus, or Public Acceptance i.e., Las Vegas is "almost all-right" - more "au courant: rather than: avant guard." Sloganering has, at times, half instructed or, at least, been helpful in defending one's work, good or bad: "Form follows function," "less is more," "architecture as art," " good plan good elevation,"etc. But this is again not looking forward or even providing any thoughtful elevation of the educational statement.

Some sporadic inquiry has been made in the classroom. Architecture has always had an environmental mission with architects' considering themselves "Nature's Noblemen," but, again, any real research was a personal persuasion and support within the architectural community was on the rise or decline depending on the price and the availability of fossil fuel.

The best of current, meager, architectural investigation is being done by individual practitioners using their clients' money. Louis Kahn probably best exemplifies this experimental spending: so much of his fee on design development (an AIA contractual phrase that describes a small percentage of the fee) that he had to depend on the next projects to get the last one finished. A foundation devoted to making a difference in architecture by expanding the time spent in creative thinking would do well to paraphrase Louis Kahn:

"What does architecture want to be?"

What's missing seems to be an opportunity for talented people to have a opportunity to experiment with ideas more philosophical in nature, people who have an interest in broader issues of architectural responsibility, ethics, environmental, energy come to mind.

The bombing of the World Trade Center Towers has brought to light an interesting cultural phenomenon. Architects who in the past have provided a cultural history of the civilization are likely to outlive their monuments and now it appears that written history may be the only available description of our cultural past; History more than likely preserved in cyper space.

Some questions fro the future:

  • What is architecture?
  • Who needs architecture?
  • What difference can architecture make?
  • Is architecture necessary?
  • What determines architecture?
  • What is the architect's responsibility to society?

Finally: The people who would benefit from such independent study MUST be selected with great care. Students present themselves to the educational institutions and to other sources of creative study for many reasons. It is nearly impossible to determine the contributors of tomorrow by any standard measurements. An institution's success in matriculating leaders in our field can only be measured much later in their working lives. Guess right or perish.

Not my most profound statement but hope it at least prompts some discussion.