Message - Re: Theory

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Posted by  Paul Malo on October 03, 2002 at 07:22:46:

In Reply to:  Re: Theory posted by lavardera on October 03, 2002 at 06:09:35:

We're zeroing in on some design fundamentals here. You're right, and the distinction needs to be made between being "intuitive" (merely expressive of some unconscious urge), and finding one's personal voice. That's not the same thing.

There are intuitive designers who really are derivative--which is to say that their intuitions recall familiar images of works seen. There are also more consciously rational designers who develop a personal voice. We're talking about the difference between Gehry and Mies, at two extremes. No one would call Mies "intuitive," probably, but surely he developed his own voice (in the sense of the term previously discussed in a thread here).

So when you mention the "personal approach" to design, you may want to clarify whether you mean simply being "expressive' of some unconscious urges, in the manner of Gehry or Hadid, or you mean evolving a personal voice over a period of time, by carefully selecting and winnowing your priorities and preferences.

You suggest, "Go back to a basic question - what is the use of theory in design, or what do these ideas have to do with what we are designing, how do we use theory?" Theory is not so much were the rational architect starts, but is more what the rational desiger develops as a result of Corb's "patient search." Theory is not a recipe from a cook book. Theory is the sound of one's voice.

Take the case of Cezanne, perhaps the pivotal pianter of the twentieth century. He didn't set out (like Eisenman) to invent a new theory. He simply painted. He didn't even paint well, in the critical view of the art establishment. But he continued painting, until he painted like Cezanne. He found his voice. Then a whole new theory of painting developed on the basis of what he had done.

Yes, there are some general "rules" that we may learn about orgnanization (or "basic design") that can be conveyed to students, and those generalizations may be fundatmental to the way we approach design. That's "theory" certainly, but only a very basic sort of common theory. Architects go on to develop their personal theories, largely from experience. This results in their consistent and recognizable "voices."

So, to try to respont to your question, we really have different kinds and uses of theory. The notion that there is "a" theory of architecture, or that we can select theories like garments from a rack in the mall, seems fatuous. There are more general theories, more commonly held by architects regardless of place and time, and then there are more particular theories, those of certain architects, sometimes developed collectively as a movement, or individually as distinctive voices.

Yes, theory is basic to design. What sort of theory, though? Decent buildings can be done by architects who simply acquire a ready-made theory as a tool and use it intelligently, content to follow the recipe. Other designers have what the Greeks called the '"devine discontent," and continue to seek new answers to new questions. They may also produce decent buildings--more interesting to some of us, or less accesible to others. But interest and accessibility don't tell us much about any theory the work represents. One can produce challenging and difficult--"interesting"--work simply by being irrational and random, producing architecture by chance. This is my opinion of some of the things we see today, passing as "intuitive."

As a graduate student I wrote a defense of Pollock's paintings, which I viewed as based on theory, but my mentor could not be persuaded that there were not mere paintings-by-chance--or "expressive" of intuitions so idiosycratic as to have no general meaning.

This is what makes criticism interesting--but may not be much help to students.

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