Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Question 2: Near Architecture and "Architecture" Proper

A homeowner built a prefabricated gabled metal shed behind his house used to store lawn furniture and a work area. The shed is not painted, nor altered from the manufacturer's standard specification.

What if an identical prefabricated shed was used as a house of worship by a church who believed that the metal, reproducible shed embodied their metaphysical, cultural and religious worldview.  To the congregation the metal shed was the most, spiritual building in the world.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Question 1: Can there be two buildings, exactly the same in every aspect, but one is Architecture and one is not?

What if a homeless man built a shed for himself in an alley way out of recycled materials that he found on the street.  He built it slowly over time and had no plans or architectural designs. It had walls made from wood palettes, mis-matched windows, wood plywood for floors and a metal roof. For insulation he used bundled newspapers. Being homeless and without money, he had to build everything by himself.  He used an oil drum to collect water on the roof and used a series of hoses to supply water to a sink in the kitchen and a shower. He set plastic containers with water in the sun to heat it.  The house had no electricity and no toilet.

What if at the very same moment, an architect built a cabin for himself out of recycled materials that he found on the street and it was e x a c t l y, in every way, like the homeless man's house. The architect built his cabin based on precise dimensioned construction plans and elevations. During the design process, he used sketches and wood models to study its shape and aesthetic. He built his cabin in a plot of land in the country. It had walls made from wood palettes, mis-matched windows, wood plywood for floors and a metal roof - again every thing was exactly like the homeless man's house.  In order to understand his craft better he decided to build everything himself.  He supplied it with running water exactly as the homeless man and for environmental reasons did not include a toilet or electricity.  Once it was completed, the architect published the pictures of his cabin and won several professional awards.

At the same time two boys, again independently of the homeless man and architect,  built a tree house that was an identical copy of the architect's cabin and the homeless man's shed.  The boys built it by themselves with some help from their father, in a large oak tree behind their house.

Simultaneously, a large manufacturing corporation, Eco-fab, decided to sell, prefabricated micro houses made from recycled materials which could be delivered by flatbed trailer and installed by a team of workmen on site in 2 days.  A specific manufacturing process was developed which combined materials from hundreds of recycling and demolition companies in order to produce and deliver identical micro cabins to every customer.   The micro cabin too was exactly like the homeless man's shed, architect's cabin, and boy's tree house.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Anti-government ideologies, the Shrinking Middle Class and the Death of Architecture: Part III

 Architecture as a commodity

When the community is replaced by the individual there are psychological social traits which are enhanced for the better and those for the worse. Personal efficiency, responsibility, competition and shear effort, it's argued, are increased when driven by selfish entrepreneurial motives.  Viscerally this makes sense in that personal success is common to the human condition.  We hear it in language "keep up with Joneses", we see it on the road with luxury cars, we see it with clothing brands and fashion we feel it at our high school reunion.  One hears this in the antidotes of the self-employed who express  the freedom and ease which comes with working and  building ones own business. The idea that individuality creates accountability and in turn efficiency has found it's way into everything from the military subcontractors, to NASA, to schools, to prisons, to roads.  The private sector can do it better mentality is a near truism in American society.
I would argue (supported by numerous studies) that this not supported by fact and is instead a political myth.  Even though efficiency, it could be argued, has less to do with  the owner, public or private, more to do with size and culture, it's mythos as a truism has dramatically affected the quality of the built environment. To this point it's validity is irrelevant but it's effects are clear.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Non-tactil experience

At what point can architecture exist only as an image?  If a building can only be experienced from afar, such as a skyscraper, then how is it different from the picture of a building? How is the photo, the movie, post card of a building any different from a real or actual building? Is it the empathized act of experience that we relate to (we can't be there but can imagine ourselves there), or it's physicality of location?  As in all art how much of it's acceptance depend on it's authenticity?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Anti-government ideologies, the Shrinking Middle Class and the Death of Architecture: Part II

Architecture is a public act (we can get into this later) and key to it's enjoyment, its definition, is its ability to embody the human condition  One of the main differences, for example, between mere building and Architecture is its ability to mean something to the community which experiences it.  The richer that connection - the stronger its beginning , as the ancient Greeks would say, the more significant the physical material becomes.

The physical mass however, isn't simply a means to an end, a corporal mass that because transcended during the some mystical act of "architectural transmigration" where suddenly bricks become meaning. The physical parts of Architecture's essential characteristics, its phsyical construction never leave it and in fact enabling its ability to mean. 

It is both of these essential qualities of Architecture that are threatened by anti-government attitudes, the individualism which replaces it and the diminished middle class.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Anti-government ideologies, the Shrinking Middle Class and the Death of Architecture: Part I

The coupling of anti-government and pro-business ideologies of the American right are leading to qualitative change in the nature of American Architecture.

The reasons for American anti-government sentiments are many; the roots even older than the idea of America itself.  The firs seeds were sown with idea of discovery, of beginnings that the new continent, the "new world" embodied. Far away from Europe, the Americas were separate, special and, if not free from autocratic rule, had to at least go-it-alone for long periods of time.  Government was far away and not tangible.  Second, like the Pilgrims, many of the first colonists who came settled specifically because of religious freedom, using America as a place of refuge from governmental persecution. Many also settled for economic freedom because Europe also lacked economic freedom. Next with the revolution, those social sentiments became manifest in a revolt against government (government, at least as the world at that time knew it).  Replaced with a quasi Anti-government, anti Autocratic, form of government, democracy, each citizen (at least in theory) being of equal voice controlling their local community. After independence, the idea of one larger government again was tested.  However, the idea of a federal, centrally localized government was still very much in doubt and hotly contested with the presidency switching from one camp to the other (only ending with Lincoln). Much to Jefferson's dismay, slowly, but eventually Hamilton and the Federalist's ideas of a Federal community held the majority. All the while, however, the Southern politics of class and regionalism fired the  anti-government furnace by continuing to use the ideas of the revolution as a vehicle to argue and perpetuate oligarchical power.