Message - Re: future WTC :a giant office building-a memorial park or a creative mixture of functionality+spirituality?

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Posted by  Paul Malo on September 16, 2002 at 07:09:24:

In Reply to:  Re: future WTC :a giant office building-a memorial park or a creative mixture of functionality+spirituality? posted by Paul Dremann on September 16, 2002 at 05:20:47:

This is a thread boring into the heart of the matter. There are "dreamers" who become disengaged from the real world, and there are "realists" who forget how to dream. The challenge for the "creative" architect is how to be neither, but combine attributes of both.

There may be room in the world for a few celebrity architects who, like Wright, can cultivate the 'genius' mystique, persuading some clients to give carte blanche to artistic whim. There is not room in the world for very many Wrights or Gehrys, however, and it's irresponsible for educators to present this sort of celebrity architect as a role model. On the other hand, it's deplorable to accept the "businessman architect" as the sole, "realistic" option.

Another recent post addressed the importance of "communication"--both verbal and graphic. From my experience, unless one has the aura of the "genius" (preferably retaining or cultivating a difficult foreign accent), it's essential to "speak the language" of the client in order to gain his or her confidence. Once there is trust, then the designer has more freedom.

But the language of clients is not the language of design, at least as discussed in the academy and in arcane theoretical "discourse." The client cares less about the architect's artistic intentions or "authenticity" than about satisfying user needs--which includes such mundane considerations as available funds and necessary deadlines.

The disparity between the extremes of the architectural issues spectrum is why many architects practice in teams, allowing partners of different inclinations to focus on certain aspects of the practice. However we who have worked in different sorts of architectural practices know the disadvantages as well the advantages of each. In my own view, it's more satisfying to try to be all things to all clients than to be a specialist in a group practice--but individual architects can't undertake large projects for practical reasons, and shifting gears between divergent sorts of concerns can consume psychic energy.

Here's another aspect of the issue: specialists tend to become increasingly myopic, making more and more of less and less. There's no harm, and indeed value in having such specialists. But it's questionable whether design can be bettered by being isolated as a formal problem, or a stylistic concern. I quit as a "designer" for a very large architectural practice because of a sense of disengagement from the real concerns of the problem at hand. In this sort of situation, it's the "realist" partner in the firm who talks to the client, and who then "really" dictates the course of the design as a consequence. The specialist "designer" soon realizes that he or she is merely a "stylist," expected to produce "renderings" in a fashionable mode.

If you want to be a "designer" in the fullest sense, you must learn to talk the language of clients. You can't hide in the "design department" of some large architectural practice and actually do much real designing, in the fullest sense.

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