I boils down really to one simple thing. The traditional well-trodden path taken by Architect after Architect over the past 100 years has been this. (You referred to this in saying it is hard not to go with the flow) The natural flow is:
1. Architect meets with a client willing to build.
2. Architect builds a building for that client.
3. Architect then draws concept sketch for the building and proceeds to talk to other Architects and to post-rationalise what (s)he has done. That is when the cheques have all cleared and the Architect has some spare time to waffle and debate. Everything looks rather different in hindsight. The Architect doesnâ€™t really discuss his/her work with the client, but with other Architects.
4. Architect then publishes their words, opinions and photographs of their work in a magazine.
5. Architect then becomes famous and a household name amongst circles of rich clients and other Architects.
6. Architect then perpetuates the myth, their very own celebrity status as a media creation. But the actual person is ultimately lost in the dog and pony show of meetings, pin-stripe suits, laptops, contracts and money earning.
7. Then Architect has to become a father figure to the whole profession, and digs deep into their souls for something really cool to describe what they actually do. How many lectures like this have I attended now?
Where is the need to interrupt the above process with a VIZualisation? If the system isnâ€™t broken then why try to fix it. The most it can hope to achieve, is to simply interrupt the REALisation process. That is really why I invented this artificial client-driven idealistic fantasy world, where clients could just come into Architects and have a virtual home built online, and invite all their friends over etc. I am really tired of people describing architects like Louis Kahn, as late bloomers. That Kahn never built anything in his life, and then suddenly started building all of these buildings. Perhaps Kahn had just gotten to know himself and others better at that stage?
One person said to me recently, â€œGo and build something and then you might know what Architecture is all aboutâ€. I wonder is that the problem, that Architects are in a mad rush to build something? I think that Louis Kahn has left behind him, as many UNBUILT great projects as REALISED great projects. And what he actually built seems to have this timeless quality about it. It does not look like something built in the 20th century often, and I believe he actually liked it like that. Having attempted to do modern glass facades, and slim columnar 5 points stuff. Yet in the current profession something, which is un-realised is deemed to be inferior. As if most Architects actually got on planes and taxis to visit that much Architecture anyhow. As if looking at the real photography of a new building in a magazine, was any different from looking at a VIZualisation. You see the blatant hypocrisy? I am a bit of a Conrad Gallagher I suppose, an Irish chef who worked in plenty of PLAZA, four/five star Hotels in Manhattan, before returning to Dublin and eventually ending up broke to the sum of millions.
He still cannot see the problem with that, and most of the people who did work for him are now owning/running their own restaurants, while he is broke. Nothing moved fast enough for Conrad, and that is the problem with the Architectural profession too, if you are the Conrad Gallagher type. You will try to force it to change and ultimately fail I suppose. I should be a very respectable, professional, delegating Architect here in Ireland. But somehow, I managed to take all of my enthusiasm, training, ambition, skills and talent â€“ and throw it all away for some kind of crazy ideal. I will be 29 years of age in November and I still havenâ€™t a clue where the last ten years of my life actually went. So fighting against the system, and insulting/criticising other young/old professionals in the process is about the best recipe for a disaster I know of.
Text book example nowadays, Frank Gehry. (Even though I could have chosen Rem Koolhaas, but he is more the Urbanist/Architect and fills the shoes of Le Corbusier) I think Gehry fills the shoes of Mies nowadays. I really donâ€™t know who fills the shoes of Kahn anymore, if anyone. Frank Gehry would have said, the Architect is the child in the process and the Builder is parential. If you straighten out this wall, it will cost you 1 million less. The Architect is NOT necessarily looking after the clients interests, the building contractor is. On the other hand, Frank employs a system of computerisation, which does a lot of the builders work. The builders trust, know and love Frank Gehry. Now the Architect is the one who is parental in the design process. But in the United States, the insurance companies, or the lawyers havenâ€™t actually yet defined where Frank stands in relation to all of this â€“ this brand new definition of the role the Architect plays in the building contract proceedure.
I would like to compare Frank Gehry to Mies van der Rohe, and the Master Builder concept. And Frank designs with cardboard models, etc and pencil sketches. He is always very proud to show his sketches for any project, and often how little they changed in the final CATIA model. Like Mies van der Rohe, sat down one day with a young student at MIT and just looked at a drawing for an hour without saying anything. Then went out of the room, and none of the students said anything either. But they knew exactly what he meant â€“ to look at what you are drawing! I guess the Chicago School education style, and the one I received (Prepare to receive the true Lord, as in the film Gangs of New York) in Ireland, while at Bolton Street D.I.T. was like that.
No reading or discussion, only drawings and their perusal by myself and the staff. I think that the Chicago school, from what I understand of Werner Blaserâ€™s books on the subject anyhow, was all about learning to feel the building through the weight of your pencil. To distinguish between a heavy line, or a light line and what have you. Even in the 1:20 detail profile, showing the steel sections for the builder to actually use. A lot like the way Gehry uses CATIA Technology nowadays to become parential to the client in the building fabrication process. I am sure the computer visualisation is a very good tool, because Mies allowed his students to make photorealistic models of all their thesis projects.
But there is another kind of Architect too, the one who develops the client relationship a lot more. I talked a lot about how VIZ can teach you to see the world around you. Louis Kahn was very aware of how people experience and use his buildings. From all points of view, like how we use a room, a corridor (or sneak passages as he called the modern equivalent in high-schools etc), how natural daylight is the giver of all presences. Which does lead me to think if Louis were here today, he would expect to use Computer visualisation technology to see how a space might in fact work. Even though his many models and sketches are all excellent vechicles of his understanding about clients/sites/briefs etc.
Unlike the Medical industry becoming really client oriented, the Architecture profession treats those same well off clients very poorly in my view. I have seen company execs and rich house wives being practically shoved around by Architects. I mean the doctor is a professional, but that doesn't prevent him showing courtesy to good clients. The doctor develops a real relationship to his/her client I think, and that helps him to diagnose the problems, notice mood changes etc.
Architecture might change some time in the future though, and become more of a fully-grown service to the client rather than a contract supervisory sort of thing. BTW, the architectural salon and cafe are just like the George Orwell 1984 fantasy, not really what I think will happen, but no one knows what could happen. Louis Kahn was an architect who showed us how to become deeply related to the client, rather than the building contractor. Without allowing the client to diagnose the illnesses for you that is. He managed to show us, how Modernism with a little help from Beaux Arts times could in fact be more than what Mies had shown us.
In the â€˜How Designers Thinkâ€™ book by Bryan Lawson, Michael Wilford who was a partner with James Stirling explains how difficult it is sometimes to deal with clients on larger master planning projects. Because sometimes the client is a large council or board, which can often change many times over the course of a longer design process. Indeed sometimes the Architect is the only remaining individual who began the process at the start. For a students final thesis here in Ireland, students are asked to develop a real relationship to a client.
I remember one young man who wanted to design an Airport and took his motorbicycle out to Aer Lingus, to get a brochure from a receptionist! (Crash helmet under his arm) But at least he made an effort! Most students bypass that stage of the ordeal completely and draw, draw, draw. Walking the site as opposed to looking at an OS Map of the site, is another point I would like to talk more about. But for the sake of simplicity at the moment I will omit this discussion.
The client isn't always the user in Architecture either unlike medicine. At the very moment, the Architect is like the hired bulldog, who goes for the builders. A big hired artillery, a bit more like a lawyer I suppose in that respect. This temperament doesn't quite suit the client relationship thing as well though. And I honestly do wonder, how much of the client/Architect relationship has indeed become watered down â€“ through this insistence upon directing the builderâ€™s operations from an office/contract. The reason I am just curious, is mainly owing to the fact, that my Bolton Street education has been so dogmatic about the building technology side of things.
I have at the very end of all of this, come up with one single lasting truth. It is simple, and was staring me in the face for years before I eventually saw it. Someone said to me the other day, not everything in life comes to you on a plate. It is funny I didnâ€™t actually know what that person meant by that statement and I casually brushed it off initially. That is, until I was chatting to a very knowledgeable music type of individual. He asked me to explain Architecture to him, as best as I could. I proceeded into my normal long effort of what I think Architecture is/is not. But suddenly I drew back and said, lets wait a minute here â€“ perhaps things donâ€™t always come handed to you on a plate. So I suggested that I e-mail him a few hyperlinks, to some of my deeper discussions about the topic at Archiseek.
I mean, isnâ€™t there something in the effort of reading? Isnâ€™t there some sense of achievement when you have finished that page, and worked yourself to understand something relevant or important? I mean if I give it straight up on a plate in a pub/cafe, to some guy who thinks he knows everything (and possibly does too) about music, did that person have to work for that? No. So my question is precisely this, why isnâ€™t Architecture education about students learning how to read AS WELL as learning how to draw? I mean to say, why does Architectural education teach young people to be like puppy dogs, lapping up just any old mess that is thrown in front of them, in the form of rhetoric, buzzwords, slang and drivel?
I think there is a triple wammy in Architecture, you have to walk quite a lot of ground to understand the site. To read quite a lot to develop skills of debate and criticism. And to draw a lot to understand what you draw is eventually read by the builder who fabricates what you draw. But is the reading part gone? Is information just tasty bite sized chunks now? A seudo, pre-processed version of the real thing, and are we all like puppies? Until the Architecture profession does learn to be a thinking, a probing, a questioning profession, it will perhaps never ask the right questions about itself. Not to mind find any of the right answers. And I go back to my friend Louis Kahn once more: â€œA good question is always much better than the best answersâ€.
I donâ€™t think for a second it was so sad how Louis Kahn died in a toilet cubicle in some foreign airport, on the way back from Pakistan to the United States. It just explains what a great affection the man really did have for his clients, his site and the whole rich process of designing Architecture. I imagine more young architects nowadays would just say to hell with that. E-mail me over some digital photos of the site, and a schedule of accommodation â€“ I will have something for you by Friday. That is I suppose the biggest criticism I have of projects like the Egyptian Museum one in Cairo. At least the winning entrants actually flew over and drove around the dusty roads, in some Egyptian guys Taxi!
Brian Oâ€™ Hanlon.