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 11:55:18:

In Reply to:  Re: future WTC :a giant office building-a memorial park or a creative mixture of functionality+spirituality? posted by BRUTUS on September 16, 2002 at 09:56:18:

What a list of questions! This agenda would keep us busy for quite a while. Here are some general observations:

Most people (including clients and prospective users) only dream of what they have seen or experienced. What the architect brings is "imagination" in the literal sense of having the special ability to imagine the unseen.

Most people, however, are motivated by their own dreams, not by the architects', and the designer, to function, must appreciate and respond to the motivation of users and clients. This, obviously, does not allow imposition of the designers personal dream, to supplant the visions and intentions of users.

This was the failing of polemical architects like Wright and Corb, who functioned as elitists, serving only a marginal component of the culture. This is the same limitation of radical designers today, like Eisenmann and Gehry, although (I hope) they have less effect than Wright and Corb, who have had great influence, of course, indirectly affecting the course of architecture through the filtering down process.

I think that architecture to be relevant (which is not quite the same as being "authentic," as we have discussed that quality recently) can't be merely the idiosyncratic "dream" of the designer. That may produce art--and some of Hadid's work surely qualifies as art--but if the work is to be "significant" (in the literal sense of being a "sign" that conveys meaning) the designer's personal vision must resonate with others. Dreams must be compatible, if not exactly identical.

Clearly, then, the designer must have some awareness of, and appreciation for, the more common, shared dreams of the culture. This is why I find avant gardism inherently of limited value--hardly being more that labratory experiments or pure research. Architecture, in its fullest sense, is not pure science, but applied science (and applied art, of course).

The architect, then, ought to relate to the consensual dreams of the culture--not be opposed to the culture as a radical innovator. The designer should not disdain the popular culture, but should work with it, supplimenting it rather than trying to supplant it. This Venturi understood.

There was a recent exchange here about "plastic shutters" on American houses (which image probably means little to many of you in other parts of the world--but you must have your equivalent tokens of local cultural tradition). My response was rather peevish, because I know so well the sort of elitism that regards the popular taste as ignorant and boorish. But we ignore what is common to our culture at our peril. The result is the marginalization of the architect that we see today, with the impression conveyed by the media that architects are a bunch of crazies (to wit, the Dream Team proposal for WTC redevelopment).

To get back to your central, or initial point, however: I think that the architect, if successful, gives people what they want, but more than they bargained for. Most clients have no anticipation of how a building will affect their lives, in the most intimate, day-to-day way. The architect, however, has the ability to enhance living in unsuspected ways--for better or for worse.

Whether at the scale of the individual house, or of the city, design affects use. The design ought to accommodate the use required by the prospective users, but may encourge unanticipated uses and interactions between people and place. Have you ever observed, for instance, how even a rowdy group of people may suddenly be quieted, or begin to speak in hushed tones, on entering certain places? It need not be a religious shrine; I've seen this happen in certain houses, where the qualities create a certain mood. Who, for instance, could burst into a traditional Japanese house, loudly bantering to companions? The very quality of the place overwhelms even insensitive visitors, who suddenly seem more keenly away of the quality of the place. The Japanese garden, of course, represents the epitome of this sort of reverential, contemplative quality--but all great architecture does something of the sort, although the mood may be different. I'm a great admirer of French gardens, for instance, which are very different in intent from Japanese gardens. The French create more of a sense of the observer being "on top of the world," exhalted as master of the environment, rather than as humble contemplator of the environment.

So if a client tells you, "I want a garden," there is considerable design latitude in what you may give the user. It may not be what the client originally had in mind, but the users may be thrilled to discover how much more they got than was originally envisioned.

Your post contains many more good issues to be discussed. The point to be made here is that design ought to proceed from user's needs and wants rather than from a disdain for preference of others, on the supposition that radical innovation is "creativity." In the end, the client should get far more than anticipated, which is the contribution of the architect's special ability to envision the unseen or, in a word, "imagination."

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