U.S. Design Publications ::|
Architecture Education Study, Volume I
CAPTIVE OF LOVE AND IGNORANCE:
ARCHITECTURE EDUCATION PRACTICE pp. 775-801
By Alan Balfour
The main question considered in this essay is the nature of the influence which studio teaching has on shaping architectural attitudes and roles. The corollary question, examined in general terms, is the relationship between design education and the practice of architecture.
The evidence, which forms the basis for the work is from interviews and observations made in a single design studio in each of three university schools of architecture over the course of one semester.
Although the material provides one of the most detailed records of design teaching yet made from the point of view of understanding the preparation for practice implicit in the educational process, it still provides only a limited description from a very narrow and particular sample.
The school material contains, in addition to the structured interviews, recordings of the many aspects of the teaching process, individual criticism, class reviews, and discussions involving staff and students, both together and individually. The evidence covers not only intentions but actions and reactions and adjustments over time.
The author of this paper has intentionally cast a broad net over the material to sort out major characteristics and to simplify the contradictions in the evidence. The objective has been to find robust explanations for the methods of design teaching in relationship to architecture and to the profession, the metaphor for this rationale being that the trajectory of a career is permanently influenced by its launching.
2. ON PROGRAM
An important general finding is that, although the schools studied were geographically far apart and different in character, there were striking similarities in the way studio programs were run and design taught. For example, given that design programs could have specific educational goals which could be typically methodological, programmatic, technical, or professional, in the settings studied, the manipulation of architectural forms was the dominant and almost sole concern of the teachers. To achieve this focus, a fictional program was used in each case as the vehicle for each teacher's particular theoretical or attitudinal position.
In each case, the teacher used a particular fiction within the program and achieved his/her objectives in part by deceit or confusion. For example, one program was presented to the students as concerned with making a social contribution to a minority neighborhood. The deceit in this case was that the teacher, at the onset, implied that the project would show how architecture could be an instrument for social change.
It is hoped that the center will become a focus of activity for the (minority) community and in addition to its daily uses, the design... will encourage its use for festivals, exhibitions parties and neighborhood political activity.
However, in discussions later the teacher admitted to the interviewer that:
They (minority group) don't have very much to do with it, but mixed use has. That makes the problem. To a certain extent it has to do with urban design; the character of the place, the freeway, scale relationships with senior citizen housing, and things like that.
The teacher appears to have practiced this deceit unconsciously, but during the exercise, no attempt was made to consider the characteristics of the particular minority group. He may not have thought through weather or not he intended to imply that architecture could be an instrument of social change, only to then deny the student the opportunity of exploring this position. Further evidence of educational ambiguity is illustrated in one teacher's claim that his project was developed in line with the official state education program only to have this claim disapproved by state educationalists at the mid-term review.
Teacher: I thought that the Children's center...is only preschool.
Expert: No, it is not, in the city it's not, or at any place in the state for that matter.
Perhaps the students had recognized the unreality of the exercise from the beginning since they were untroubled to discover their designs were based on false inadequate information.
In another case, the program was on urban redevelopment. The project involved the relocation of a state agency combined with a complex mix of other uses, all to be situated on a politically sensitive area. The students were given no brief, the assumption being that formal manipulation would be the guide to content. The teacher explained:
Although the program is undetermined except in general terms, the intention is to make the civic center a functionally cohesive unit, and more importantly, an active urban place where the potentials existing in the area are linked into a whole network with new overall symbolic meaning.
This was an exercise in which, through formal invention derived from metaphor or analogy, the content would be implicit. The deceit here arose from the stated intention of running the studio exactly as if it were an urban designing practice. This transformed the metaphor seeking process from a pedagogical device into a professional technique, although the practice analogy seems to have been promoted mainly to allow the teacher to take the students through a series of constrained drawing exercises. During the exercise, the students did not attempt team work, and at no time was there discussion of the relevance of spatial manipulation skills to urban design.
The teacher, however, was confident of the importance of special manipulation. In reply to the question, "can programming skills be taught?" he argued that:
No, I don't think they can be taught literally. I think it is a mistake to make a course deal with the problem, you...only categorize and compound the problem. They (programming skills) can be taught implicitly in the studio, and it ought to be the objective of every teacher.
The primary import is for the physical forms and circumstances to generate the program. I find that more rewarding in the end, in terms of building up resources to do architecture later on, than playing the game of programming...which is all verbal except for charts and graphics.
Although subjects and approaches varied, all three situations were consistent in making the design exercise primarily a vehicle for the teachers' formal interests. The program was, in every case, a fiction which claimed some basis in fact.
3. ON SKILLS
With regard to skill teaching, the evidence indicates that the teachers had little or no interest in the development of any of the obvious professional skills. Obvious skills, in areas such as technology, construction, management, were rarely discussed and when they were, teachers tended to demean and discount their relevance. The teachers were conscious of their down-playing of the technology and the most articulate and rigorous among them argued that his was a reaction against the legacy of the Bauhaus:
Answers to architecture were supposed to be derived from a very systematic scientific, or "scientistic" rather, approach... that ultimately can be summed up...(by) Hannes Meyer at the Bauhaus, in the drawing that he did which is called \0x2018the plan calculates itself out of the following factors,' and then comes sun, light and all of this. Well, no such thing, the plan doesn't calculate itself out of anything.
In two other situations, the teachers argued that they were reacting against the rationalism and over-intellectualism of the 60's.
The hot things around here (in the late 60's) were a lot of non-design activities, and the design studios have taken a sort of anti-physical, at least anti-visual, appearance, and design work in the school tended to be very analytical and there was almost nothing of visual image kind of idea about architecture. At the same time, all over the world except in this building went on this kind of fashion stuff; the fascination with crazy images and visual things. So it seemed quite interesting to do at that time in this ... school, take and make a critique for fancy pictorial and elegant stuff... It doesn't seem to at the time, but then it (was a) very subversive thing to do. It was very daring and the students put incredible energy into this, they were sort of starved for the stuff.
The attitude toward technology produced by the reaction against rationalism is illustrated in the following exchange:
Student: By the way, with respect to glass, have we observed the Federal Heat Loss and Energy Conservation Act for Buildings?
Teacher: Go ahead. I don't understand it, but if you know what it means, do it.
The teacher then adds:
The fact that you know this little technical detail and want to solve the problem with it doesn't mean that you have a solution to the problem, or even a viable idea.
In another situation, the teacher argued against the type of education in the 60's which had produced people who:
Can identify issues and talk well but when it comes to traditional skills of the architect \0x2013 to manipulate built form \0x2013 they are not only grossly inadequate but hostile to it... A lot of skills have been lost... and people are operating so high on the intellectual ladder that they consider those to be the things that are trivial and unimportant.
To this teacher, manipulating built form appeared to have no relation to construction, or program. The ability to manipulate built form in an abstract, totally unconstrained setting, was for him the essential architectural skill, and to this all other skills tended to be secondary or ignored.
To summarize, the student was taught to discount the relevance of technical skills. He as acculturated into a process which simplified architectural problem-setting and problem solving and made such fundamentals as the program and skills secondary to abstract special manipulation.
4. ON INTENTIONS
Everything in these settings was subordinated to the manipulation of built form, apparently as an end itself. This was achieved by encouraging the student into a "willing suspension of disbelief."
The "willing suspension of disbelief" was a phrase coincidentally used by two of the teachers. In the first case, the teacher described the attitude he desired from the student in this way:
...the student relationship was to be at least willing, in Coleridge's term, to (a) willing suspension of disbelief. To try something, to pick up a suggestion, and give it a chance in as objective terms as he knows how.
The second teacher said:
You are always simulating something which is not real... There has to be a level at which the student is willing to suspend disbelief... a kind of elaborate pretense... suspending disbelief is really very important. One of the great difficulties that many students have is their imagination... does not allow them to fantasize sufficiently to believe in what they are doing.
Coleridge's definition of art \0x2018art is the willing suspension of disbelief'... There is no right way to do it, and there is no wrong way to do it, so you can't put it in terms of right and wrong.
The only way you can really state it is a willingness on the part of the beholder to suspend disbelief. And it is true of education, particularly of education in a creative field, because there is no way you can educate someone without their willing suspension of their disbelief. They have to be able to take something on faith up to a certain point. They have to sort of say \0x2018well even though I don't understand what I am doing, or don't know why I am doing this, I take on faith that it will produce something worthwhile.
The third setting also provided confirmation of what appeared to be a jointly shared need by the teachers to have the students suspend "disbelief," or more accurately, perhaps, suspend their critical judgment, "Do what I say, don't ask me why, but let me take you into a world of pleasure without reason."
So the student, it appears, was primarily being groomed in a process called \0x2018manipulation of built form', in order to develop a poetic sensitivity to architecture. This process did not connect with any other tangible skills, professional or otherwise, save those needed to support the manipulation. The student was asked to suspend his critical judgment and be led by the teacher into a poignant visual reawakening. This transformation in the way of looking at the world was presented to the student, in every case, as based on form without content.
This position produced some strange justifications on the part of the teachers. On one setting, a teacher who introduced the "modern movement" to the students in a slide show accompanied by fragmentary and often incorrect comments, confided privately to the interviewer that:
I believe that there is a collective process, a collective thing called the \0x2018modern movement', that is worth something and that students in this school seem to have a contempt towards. Maybe, in reaction, I overemphasize, deliberately, a kind of reverence toward that, because I think it is worth something. I think it is vastly underemphasized. I think it is important... that they start to acquire a kind of literacy and knowledge.
Later, this same teacher, discussing his method of evaluation said:
I put them on the wall and say which are good and bad.
The interviewer asked the teacher if he had given any criteria at the beginning of the course. The teacher replied:
No, I did not... the student know what this is all about. Maybe that is something which evolves over time. I don't think I am a mystery to them. A lot of the skill in being an architect is achieving an internal logic vis-\0x00E0-vis any kind of criteria, it doesn't matter what that is.
In all settings, it was the intention to develop the student's feeling of sensual pleasure towards "high architecture", irrespective of relevance. One teacher summarized the character of the students he was shaping through his teaching:
A real sensitivity to the relationship between a user and a space\0x2014behavior correlations\0x2014has not been a very high point in evaluation (here). They think it is really important that (a building) looks a certain way... and takes certain attitudes towards style and imagery. How all the elements and spaces are put together , in what relation, and what sort of architectural meaning they convey are given a higher priority than whether the spaces are well thought out as to their use.
Any focus other than the sensual delight in past architecture was discounted:
In the statements by both Gropius...actually all the big guys except for Alvar Aalto...architecture is looked at as the instrument of social change...it has proven not to be so, except in isolated cases, and to some degree in a negative kind of way.
In one extreme example, a teacher denied the relevance of building use and function to architecture:
Interviewer: (In this school) No one talks of the social conditions under which the environment is being changed...no discussion of the social implications of different...roles and so on. No discussion of how a user's relation to a space may be achieved through any other medium that the manipulation of form and color. Never discussion about the relationship through ownership or through control of the design process.
Teacher: The one would say, \0x2018Why are you in a school or architecture?'
Interviewer: I think that is about architecture...you see it is about how people use built space.
Teacher: Well, I think that before we get to know how people use built space, we have to (address) the issue of how to build space.
Interviewer: But you must address both.
Teacher: Of course, but I believe for a time they must be separated.
In arguing that the student must begin by learning "how to build the space," the teacher meant by having the sensual experience of manipulating form.
Another teacher, the most formalistic of all, who had previously argued that his teaching program was, in part, a reaction against the pseudo-science of Gropius and the Bauhaus-Harvard legacy which he believed had separated architecture from life, argued that his program had the objective of promoting the reunion of architecture with life:
(The legacy of the pseudo-rational approach to architecture characterized by the Bauhaus) produced an estrangement of architecture from other layers of life. And through metaphor, through the appeal to associations, analogies, even fantasies, I am trying to reinclude other layers of experience, other layers of life into it.
This teacher had developed by far the most persuasive intellectual defense of his program. He argued that, far from being detached from content, the process he advocated introduced the students to the most profound basis of architectural content: the legacy of several millennia of evolutionary development in human settlement in which content is encapsulated in the most complex fashion in a set of universal architectural forms. He viewed his teaching mission as one in which he carefully nurtured the student to become familiar with these essential forms. The content was implicit, the architect merely the agent.
His argument, however, seemed to have as much pseudo-rationalism as the approach he was rejecting:
The aim will be to demonstrate and explain principles of design which are true for different cultures and different building purposes, because they derive their meaning from basic human biological and psychological traits as well as from inherent, and thus stable formal characteristics.
I am appealing to deep structure, and feeling, for tolerance of the surface, which may take any form on a given day, and expect the same tolerance the other way around.
In support of his teaching objective, he had prepared an extensive classification of significant formal universals in buildings. They were presented as having meaning unto themselves, though it was never made clear how in their use or in the use of metaphor, architecture reinvigorated anything other than architectural life.
This problem is whether the student, in being seduced essentially to accept these varied but similar positions, was left with enough free will to be able to adapt to someone else's different needs, or to realize that his pleasure in the most elegantly handled format universals might not be shared by everyone, particularly if they are not understood and he can't explain them.
The effects of such a focus, it could be argued, are potentially very destructive to a novice architect. One teacher did seem to realize the pain and frustration implicit in the cultivation of esoteric pleasure connected to nothing but itself. When the interviewer thanked the teacher for talking with him, and expressed with wish that this teacher had taught him architecture, the teacher replied:
Well, you wouldn't be doing what you are doing now. You wouldn't be half so happy.
The argument so far then, is that teachers prepare the students for the practice of architecture by imposing upon then a fictional program which made some pretense at simulating reality but was in fact a thinly disguised vehicle for the advancement and inculcation of the teacher's architectural theories. These theories focused on the sensual manipulation of built form, often based on unexplained though selective "high art" precedence. In all the examples, to a greater or lesser degree, this approach could be seen as a leading to a view of architectural form as independent from building or program content, not as being entirely separate in an unequal coexistence in which form and content developed out of separate rules, but in which the romantically deduced formal principles governed.
At this point the argument could go one of two ways: we could condemn all this teaching as form without conscience, and propose the need for revision to retrieve architectural education from sliding further into ignorance and confusion; or we could look behind the incompetence and blind romance, and argue that, for all their uncertainty, they reflect the teachers' honest attempts to prepare people to deal with architecture, not through dogma or borrowed methodology, but through responding, tacitly, to architecture's irrationality and its complexity: that teachers were educating students to recognize the architect, not as master of the situation, but as a sensitive medium accepting his limitations, nevertheless, fully informed about what is purely architectural, namely, a pleasure in the shape of buildings. What is clear from the evidence, but unacknowledged by either teacher or student, is that it is the cultivation of pleasure in architectural form, the cultivation of an unreasonable poetic conscience, that is the basis for the novice architect's belief in his/her superior knowledge and \0x2018higher calling' and the formative component of his/her professional make-up.
Although imperfect, the programs of these teachers may represent, in broad terms, the only means of nurturing in the architect that sensual feeling for the shape of buildings which had always been the basis for the architect's belief in his higher calling. It is the imperfections, therefore, which are of interest here.
5. ON BEAUTY
The preoccupation with form detached from content, the apparent disinterest in any values besides elegance and sensual pleasure in the object, seems to reflect a major shift from the rationalism and romanticism functionalism of the \0x201850's and \0x201860's. Architecture, in settings studied, is no longer seen as being an instrument of social change, but merely as something which is pleasure enhancing. In describing his favorite buildings one teacher said:
They all have one thing in common, a relationship between form and space...the other quality I admire is the way they deal with ambiguity...(they) are somehow subjective to a whole range of experiences that are life-enriching.
This shift in values can be viewed in two ways. This idealist may see it as a way of opting out of revolutionary social responsibility with the battle only half won. But both the romantic and the realist may appreciate in this shift a recognition of architecture's unreliability in promoting social change and of the difficulty of trying to induce stable meaning in architecture. One may speculate that limiting architecture to being enjoyable may remove it from the manipulation of ideologies and re-establish it as a service of society, if only to provide the content the architects have lost.
In these studies, students were taught how to make enjoyable architecture, not through the understanding of any physiological or environmental principles, nor through considering popular preference, but through tacitly accepting the importance of a selected set of models and metaphors often based on historical precedents, which the students were led to believe contained the essence of architectural beauty and strength: the significant form. The nurturing of a working appreciation of beauty dominated or underlay the creative interchange between teacher and student.
In cultivating passion and empathy for a \0x2018significant form' the teachers claimed that content was implicit. They did not help the student to understand the content, only to love it.
Common to all settings was the encouragement of unfettered invention, of fantasy, derived from any source or metaphor, coupled with the ability to derive the essence of the concept and display it in graphic ways. The student's ability to diagram the essential idea was viewed by all teachers as fundamental to learning and communication in the studio. But beauty or elegance, rather than function or need, were the critical references for design development.
I regard as a good student (one) who picks up to my diagrams and is able to come up with an extrapolation in a new form...to convert for himself...then there is dialogue which can develop and without dialogue you cannot teach.
Communication between teacher and students and students and students was filled with talk of \0x2018graphic finesse.' Comments like \0x2018(that) God damn scheme is nice,' the space is exquisite,' \0x2018elegant arrangement,' peppered the discussions and offered the students the only measure against which to judge their progress. Often, this proved to be a most unsatisfactory measure, and certainly a paradoxical one in its confusion between form and use. As one teacher expressed it:
The hardest guy to deal with, intelligent, articulate, comes up with something that works, but architecturally it is horrible. Now what do I do?... He is the kind of guy who precipitates the weakest kind of response, because he has not internalized some of the covert things... I come and say \0x2018Look, that is horrible,' and he says, \0x2018What is horrible about it?', and he just feels good and reasonable and suggests, \0x2018Look how reasonable I am, it works, where and why is it horrible?'
The student who thought he had solved the problem found he had solved nothing. He, perforce, had to enter into the quest for beauty and elegance demanded by the teacher or the teacher could not teach, and the student would fail. The student had to learn to produce what another teacher describing his favorite scheme, called "lovely sequence of spaces that are surprising," and added, as an afterthought, "that work."
The teacher quoted below seemed to recognize, if not the irrationality of such a process, its unpredictability. He views the process of acquiring a sense of elegance as being similar to that of acquiring wisdom, a process which is not teachable. A sense of elegance is developed slowly, and only to the receptive mind and eye.
When you experience it finally, how often do you wonder why, no matter how familiar you are with it, through its history, lectures, slides, books, publications\0x2014when you finally experience it, you think why didn't anything that I have ever seen tell me what suddenly turns out to be the most crucial thing about it?
I do believe that intuition is the basis of it...The intuitions (in school) become more informed, they are developed to be able to be tuned more readily to dealing with certain kinds of problems, it is not just a skill, has to do with acquiring ways to look at things.
Once a student was engaged in this quest, he was forced to suspend not only disbelief, but common sense. The discussions between teachers and students were filled not only with talk of elegance and sensual pleasure, but with abstruse and often inchoate attempts by the teacher to stimulate the student's vision:
Student: Wait a minute, now. Let's get our prejudices clear. What am I supposed to like about the big one?
Teacher: About the big one? Well, what I like is the way the little thing pulls out of the big thing, and it lies...you know...grows into all kinds of things going around the corner.
The thing I don't like about the left one is that it just, it's almost, it could be any old ice cream parlor.
The process clearly called for not only the willing suspension of disbelief and an emotional predisposition to the matter, but an emotional and intellectual surrender to the teacher's game, and only the teacher's game. Said one teacher:
It is a pedagogical objective to turn them on to architecture on a number of levels; the formal, the social, or whatever...you the teacher have that job, but without personality, you can do nothing, but best curriculum, without personality, won't work, while no curriculum, with personality, will.
This game pleasantly lulled the student who accepted its rules, but turned serious when he became its captive, as evidenced by the harsh remarks made in a final crit at the end of a hard worked semester.
There are a number of schemes...really involved with a love and passion, of a kind of involvement of what the student saw and felt. In your case, it is stillborn, it is blind, it is a kind of mathematical exercise that you have gone through in order to get a grade...
Perhaps all architectural theories are Procrustean in some respect. The search for significant form has always been present; but when it lacks any acknowledged relationship to objective criteria (be it social change, giving pleasure, or whatever), and when it is dependant on the unexplained values of models, metaphors and unrelated historical examples, it appears to hat the compound effect on the students of both stimulating their senses with the headiest stuff of the architectural experience, while depriving then of any objective criteria with which to assess their actions. They have no escape. They are double captives of love and ignorance.
Given all the unevenness and shortcomings aforementioned, it is a remarkable aspect of the process that teachers and students jointly succeeded in producing, in all three settings, attractive, excited buildings, when judged subjectively; as well as elegant drawings showing charmed invention, formal competency. And as no other criteria was given against which to judge the results, one must, in respect to its primary intention, pronounce the process effective. Whether this view would be shared by those outside the architectural culture may be questionable.
A process which can produce charming, witty (if unwitting) architectural jugglers, ready to entertain and brighten any life by some magic they don't quite understand but are very passionate about, might well have value, provided they can find an audience.
One limitation of the study is that in all the settings teachers and students appeared to be doing roughly the same kind of thing. We have no evidence based on what happens when a studio claims to offer some tougher architectural theory\0x2014scientific, technical or social.
The teaching appeared to have had the effect of constraining the minds and behavior o the students. They became, in a sense, captives fo a poetic vision. They were taught to be dissatisfied with commonplace, to treat the past selectively, and to disregard context. Although the poetic vision may be seen to form the basis for the students' future belief in their higher calling as professional architects, because it was used in a seemingly manipulative way and clouded with disguised objectives and uncertain values, the students remained unaware of it, or of its underlying moral principle.
The cultivation of poetic vision may have had to effect of keeping the student a novice throughout his/her education. The evidence indicates that because the vision offered changed with each studio teacher, the evolution of the student's personal vision was a fragile, continually interrupted and redirected process. The students, year after year, appeared to have subjected their emotions and their intellect to a process that, for all they knew, might be circular and which at no time confirmed that they reached an acceptable level of competency or of understanding. Nor were the gains that they may have felt in themselves ever reinforced and confirmed.
One can speculate that this failure in helping students to establish competence prevented them from, at any time, taking competence for granted and learning ways of manipulating it in professional and social contexts. Every year the students were only as good as their last studio, and the process was only as productive as the students' emotional relationship with the teacher. This presumably would be true every year, right to the end.
With regard to the use of models and metaphors, despite the undoubted importance of the architectural models used by the teachers, habituating students to such styles and to seductive formal language might be expected to cause them later frustration in a world which does not share these pleasures (much as architects have it otherwise, they are still pleasures shared by very few). In any case the process offered no means for critically assessing the effect on others of the \0x2018language' and there is no evidence of the teachers addressing the implications of architectural styles and their relevance to popular or informed taste.
use of models and metaphors appears to represent a major shift in architectural
theory, from design determined through rational principle with its emphasis on
originality, to a recognition of the body of knowledge contained in
architecture from all times.
Perhaps a major problem facing the teachers was the complexity of this
newly discovered knowledge, its uncertain relation to rationalism, and the
difficulties if talking about it in other than intuitive terms.
As to the professional implications of the process, in none of the settings was there a direct attempt to cultivate professional responsibility, either towards man or society. Ethical and moral issues were not discussed, nor were they raised by the students. The issue of architecture, as an instrument of social change, was raised in two of the settings, but with unresolved ambiguity. There was no political discussion. The process was paradoxical: the teachers viewed the students as empty vessels to be filled, yet offered them architectural forms without content. The process was to be primarily concerned with developing a manipulative pleasure in architectural form, independent of value; the design issue was merely a clothes horse for their concern. In other words, although unacknowledged by teacher or student, each of the processes, in their own way, was dedicated to architectural romance, the search for the sublime.
Given that architects have always closely aligned themselves with sources of money of power, public or private, and that their role has, most often, been to identify with, and clarify, the tastes or the aspirations of the rich and/or powerful (singly or in mass), it is surprising that the teachers focused on architectural style as a primary concern rather than on the users. In the conduct of the program, there was little interest in the role of the client. All clients were public agencies, and in two cases, the studio teachers made it quite clear that nothing could be learned from talking with them. The process appeared to be based on the conviction that the architectural forms being manipulated had transcendent value and universal significance.
While the process aimed at stimulating the sensitivities of the individual, it seemed to nurture an arrogant disregard for the implications of his/her actions on others. Architecture appeared to be taught, not as a social art, but as a personal indulgence. The process seemed to be based on the premise that architects' super knowledge comes not from an assimilation of external information, by wholly from an internal dialogue between the individual and his inner self.
The argument could be made, of course, that what appears to the observer as a matter of personal indulgence was, to the student, a moral struggle. In every design problem the student was confronted with finding a solution which was either right or wrong; he/she might feel keenly the right order of architectural form, but only rarely achieve it. When he or she failed, the failure was considered to be one of character.
The following speculative reflections offer what might best be described as an anthropological description of the architectural profession, attempting to explain the role of the architect's poetic consciousness. These reflections tend to parallel Ruskin's view of architecture as "decorative construction," though Ruskin viewed such decoration as an essentially humanizing element which converted mere construction into architecture by displaying the values and ideologies of the culture. Though surviving in popular culture, architectural culture often appears unwilling to acknowledge the influence of romance on reason, or of the eclectic mature of architecture's body of knowledge.
The process of matching style with demand, perception with desire, is important to the development of the material culture. There is no law that guarantees support anywhere for any one architect's interpretation of reality. When, at the conclusion of their educational engagement, young architects go in search of a client or a problem, there can be no guarantee that they will find one, and even less that they will find one that is satisfactory. The match between a surplus of talent and a limited amount of opportunities places the young architect, and indeed architecture at large, in an evolutionary battle in which only the fit can survive and where fitness is judged, not in terms of the quality of architectural perception or proven ability, but in a random and irrational process. The stress on the professional is profound, not in terms of job security\0x2014there has never been job security in the profession\0x2014but in the erosion of principle.
In the end, the influential forces in the culture buy what they want, not what architects offer, and architects and architecture adapt. The simplest and strongest defense of the cultivation of poetic vision and an empty love of beauty could be that it supplies architects who have a stimulated sensitivity, who are arrogant in the belief of their superiority, ignorant enough, or open enough to adapt their creative inventions to whatever problems are offered. In this role, the architect is the receiver of the culture's complex transmissions, and as such, does not, or cannot, be over concerned with the reality. The concern is with the future, even if, in representing the popular future, the architect merely promotes the affection of an elite. Architects tend not to distinguish, in their enjoyment of architecture, between buildings that serve some lofty purpose and those that satisfy the whim of an individual. Bad architecture, to architects, is that which, from their point of view, is dull; which fails to fully milk the emotional possibilities of the situation. (If Le Corbusier had designed a sewage treatment plant in the middle of Albania, the faithful would find some way of getting there).
The oversupply of architects, whatever their notions, means that the tastemakers, the resource controllers, and the image conscious, at every level, can find something to suit every need; architecture as an instrument of social change, architecture as a stimulus for jaded palates. To some, the architect is no more, and no less, than a dress designer; to others he is the liberator, the enhancer of revolution. An oversupply will satisfy all these. A concern for form without content, will make the architect ever ready to glorify and enhance the whims and needs of any situation, providing he/she doesn't take his/her forms too seriously.
According to this view, the architect, captivated by poetic vision, arrogant and self-sufficient through a sense of superior knowledge, fails to see him/herself as merely the agent of society, and society benefits in avoiding past confusion between architect's dreams and social reality. The architect, in this interpretation, is the scribe, and the aspirations of society provide the text. Architecture may have a coherent language; the architect may be least able to understand it.
The growth, the change, the evolution of society is not an explicit process, does not conform to expectations, is not controllable, but it is influenced by the structures we build. We enter tomorrow in the fancy dress of the past or the expediency of the present, or, the careless or foolish interpretations of the future. None is guaranteed to succeed, but all will have influence. The architect is a crucial link to this future. If he is unable to dream, then the future promises of any age may never be fully realized. If he is unable to represent the need for an accommodation of the spirit, architecture becomes merely an expedient accommodation to necessity. Perhaps the architect can defend the romantic, the elegant, the unusual, only for their own sake. Perhaps, in such a situation, the only morality the architect should recognize is the rightness or wrongness of the building form, and what may appear a moral vacuum from the viewpoint of society, becomes an intense moral debate from the viewpoint of architecture.
Maybe the specifics of the education of the architect don't matter: merely providing the opportunity for free-ranging, highly stimulated, intelligent exploration may be enough, and the only deficiency in the settings studied was the failure to recognize, or admit, what was being transacted.
» back to top