Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Every semester ended with the same ritual. After the weeks of sleepless nights, the ten minutes to shine, the brief and rapturous feeling of relief once crits passed, you faced the single heart-wrenching decision: what the hell to keep?

I was a pack-rat. I kept drawings, sketches, study models. I organized them by date, thinking to myself that, by doing so, I could capture the process, the development, the evolution of my work. I had elaborate plans to document it all, archive it for future reference, or store in some fantastic personal library, which I would be able to come back to, perhaps to one day show a future student, child, mentee, who I once was.

Plans like these often go awry. Archiving work gets complicated as the papers, drawing tubes, parti and concept models, add up. There’s always that issue of space, which is inevitably at a premium. Then there is the constant moving of stuff, as is the typical nomadic life of an undergraduate. And other things happen along the way; the storage space that is damp, which yellows trace paper and bleeds ink, the model that is kick over, accidentally stepped on, jostled a bit too hard. In the end, you find yourself throwing out the things you probably should have in the first place.

But, even if I don’t have it all, there are certain things I have gone to great lengths to keep - drawings, and more often, models, which I felt particularly strong about. They have followed me from the halls of CMU to a small garage in upstate New York, and inside a car on a journey west, coming to rest in locations scattered throughout the home of my parents. If my career, my path to becoming an architect, were distilled to only these items, I could at least look back and feel proud for the accomplishment - my limited legacy.

I think that’s one of the most appealing aspects to architecture, the eventual realization of your creativity. For now, mine has been limited to the models and drawings of my education. And, well, my first completed project. But, part of what keeps you going through school is the hope that, one day, your work will dot the landscape. A physical legacy to follow an academic one.

However, even this legacy is ephemeral. Buildings are not permanent things, despite their heft, their weight, their concrete existence. This act is underscored by the numerous historic buildings that have been lost over the years. But, what about recent buildings? Sure, some are destroyed by natural disasters, accidents. But, as this article shows, there is a precarious nature to our work. Can you imagine it, imagine being alive to see the purposeful destruction of your work?

There are so many things that disturb me about this particular situation. As many mentioned over on a discussion tread at Archinect, there seem many ulterior motives driving the call for demolition. Read the article. There are some wonderful quotes for the newsreel.

There are also number of issues brought up about the building itself, which call into question how architecture can and should be evaluated. Should architecture survive as an aesthetic symbol, despite its inability to serve its function? Should architecture be evaluated by function first, dismissing the unquantifiable because it is unquantifiable? It’s a complex and intricate debate that has raged for centuries, so tackling that issue will be left for when I have more room and more time. But for now, I think about what it must be like, to hear people call for the destruction of your work as flippantly as they might the removal of a weed.

Legacies are never everlasting. But, in this rapidly changing world, the fate of what we do falls into the hands of a great number of hands. The civic and institutional clients of the past, who footed the bill for many of our past monuments, are dwindling, becoming increasingly intertwined with commercial and economic interests that have very different values. Stability is traded for innovation, preservation traded for simulation and nostalgia. Architecture has been driven into a world of fad, of image and fashion. It has given our work greater public appeal and consciousness. It has decimated our work’s longevity, lifespan. We are dealing with our potential future and our potential demise. And the legacy, once the record of an Architect’s contribution to the world at large, may be erased while the Architect is forced to watch.


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