Message - Strategy & Tactics

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Posted by  Paul Malo on September 30, 2002 at 07:52:36:

The WTC issue presents a case of a familiar architectural problem--distinguishing and appropriately addressing "strategy" and "tactics." The former is "what to do," while the latter is "how to do it."

Much consternation and debilitating controversy happens in the design process when we get strategists assigned to tactical problems, and conversely, tacticians assigned to strategic problems. In the first instance, the problem at hand doesn't get solved because the designer wants to redefine the problem. In the second case, we get a right answer to the wrong problem.

The first round of WTC proposals was the latter case, providing six solutions to the wrong problem. I fear this is what the next round will produce as well, since most architects tend to be tacticians, craftsmen of buildings, who define the problem in those terms. Architects usually are eager to get at solving the building problem, as they define it--but that may not be the problem that ought to be solved.

What seems to be happening with the WTC process is a failure of stategy. We have available plenty of highly qualified tacticions, capable of producing slick, high-tech buildings. The WTC issue, which is basically a matter of urban strategy, requires more than tacticians. It requires strategists, and that seems to be what is missing.

Surely there are urbanists who think strategically. Perhaps the procedural difficulty is not due a want of capable contributors, but more to a paradigm that favors a "democratic" or "market" determination of strategy. This results in design-by-committee, or in design-by-polling. While that liberal approach may seem virtuous on the face of it, what we have seen, and may continue to see, is an impasse, when conflicting intentions create an immobile equilibrium, so that no proposal can win consensual approval.

While the first proposals were widely regarded as "unimaginative," the intent now seems, simplistically, to seek more imaginative designs. Muschamp's Dream Team proposals, like the much-publicized gallery show, evidenced where that approach takes us--to widely varied solutions to ill, or undefined, problems. Imaginative? Yes. Strategically promising? No.

Most architects are not urban strategists. Meier's silly proposal to place an lovely little school building on that 16-acre urban site was symptomatic--and Meier is one of the prominent architects now on the short list. We might hope that team of architects would find several heads better than one--but look at what Muschamp's Dream Team produced. A bad joke. That much touted initiative certainly went nowhere.

As some of us have suggested before, what there really should have been was a first stage of strategic planning. Surely there was much discussion among the authorities of practical issues of the program, but practicality about what is "necessary" is not a visonary strategy. It results in replicating the past. The authorities, in defining the essential criteria, tend to be tactitions, not strategists.

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