An old college friend passed through town a while back. And, in doing the catching up that everyone does when extended periods of time have passed, I noticed the beginnings of our personal evolutions, the nascent formwork being laid for how we each might approach the practice of Architecture. Shit, we were growing up.
As a whole, Architects have a hard time not talking Architecture. Conversation eventually steers itself back to the thing consuming us, even if we try to avoid it. Maybe it’s habit, the residual of student life, when escape from studio was nigh impossible. Regardless, Architecture is bound to come up.
Our conversations dealt with extremes, partly because, while I flounder away in my little world of academic confusion, my friend is out there, as I see it, really practicing. I mean, the guy has stuff being built. I’m a far way off from being able to say that. So, his perspective makes a good counterpoint - makes me take stock of the rhetoric I have been swimming in. I’d like to think it was the same for him.
There is an uneasy dialectic between Architecture, The Profession, and Architecture, The Education. Undoubtedly, they are in constant dialogue, each influencing the direction of the other. But it isn’t always a nice, settled union. Sometimes, it is down right abusive, bloody, dysfunctional.
Broadly separated, on one end, you have architects whose priorities lie in the building, the execution; that is, for them, the ultimate aspiration. Realization is key, and it is in the construction, the detailing, the materials, where their research is performed.
On the opposite end, you have architects whose interests lie in the possibilities, in the questions, in the Ideas. Building is one possible tool, but others have the same validity. Drawing, writing, performance, sculpture or installation, all are equal - as long as the Idea has been given form, placed into the world for debate and discourse.
These are not exclusive categories, more like the extremes of a continuous spectrum. And as we get out there, do our things, we eventually find ourselves a place to hangout. We may experiment, moving up and down the spectrum until we find something that fits. It’s politics without an elephant or a donkey as potential mascots.
The problem with anything political, however, is politics. The clash of ideologies. It’s hard to get one side to talk about the other without disdain. Because, who wants open dialogue when you can just make fun? And so, in my time both in and out of school, I have yet to find a comfortable place, one where I don’t feel attacked by one side or the other. And that’s what I felt, in a way, when I was talking to my friend, or when I talk to other architects, in general, from my current state of neither here nor there.
If nothing else, my experiences in architecture have, to this point, shown me the many varied ways one might practice. For me, that might be the most inspiring aspect of the field, this opportunity to find a personal niche within the world of architecture. The problem is that, while you can have your own niche, you have to be damn certain what it is you’re doing. And then, you have to make sure everyone else understands why you’re there. You’re on the defensive, legitimizing your reasons for staking a claim where you have.
It makes it hard to have open debates when you’re feeling defensive. And, sometimes, I wonder, if this is why architect’s get the labels they do. You know what I’m talking about; the “artistic” temperament, the uncompromising arrogance, the Fountain Head mentality. Is this why personal explorations sometime override the ability of an architect to execute? In trying to prove the worth of the ideas, the visions, the ideologies, do we become so insular, so individual, that we effectively remove ourselves from the world, making our visions inaccessible to the world?
I’ve wondered about this a lot while working on my thesis. Well, thinking about working on my thesis. Well, reading about stuff that might help me think about working on my thesis. See, the more I read, the more I realize how much has already been researched, questioned, written. All these ideas, floating around, being drawn upon, appropriated, transformed and reapplied. All in the quest of expanding knowledge, expanding architecture, coming up with the latest new trend, new idea, new fad.
But, call it the pragmatist in me, I still find myself, at times, question the point. What am I doing here? How is this in any way beneficial? Am I really adding to the discourse of Architecture? Or is it nothing more than some images and pages of text, important only to me, its creator?