The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. - Wm. Blake

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

An Architecture of Ideas

David Sucher addresses the (to him) dubious notion that ideas can or should drive architecture.
Maybe I am just too dense -- maybe too SSB [Sensible Shoes Bourgeois - jr] -- but this "architecture and ideas" business seems contrived and forced and does not ring true for me. Buildings create effects, impacts, etc. But they don't express ideas.

After some vigorous discussion, he acknowledges the value of "organizing principles," but in the process I suggested that ideas are part of architecture on a couple levels, neither necessarily bringing in archibabble.

First, I think that many buildings have an organizing principle that could be considered, loosely, an "idea." To wit, a visitors' center that (mentally and physically) reorients the visitor away from quotidian life and towards whatever is the subject at hand. This reorientation may be expressed formally through spatial compression/expansion, axial relationships, vistas, and other architectural tools (including materials, light, sound, etc.). Now you might dismiss this as mere programming, but I think that at that point it's just denying the question itself. Such a building clearly has an idea at its heart in a way that, say, a generic urban mixed use building does not. Furthermore, you could drop in a Quonset hut and fill it with display cases, and you'd have a functional visitors' center, but without the "idea," it would be a less worthwhile building.

Second, I think that the architect may have an idea that guides his design choices, but that is not necessarily the point of the building as such. Architects often use metaphors - building as ship - that may lead to specific decisions, but walking in, you don't think, "This building's a ship!" But the theory is twofold - a better, more harmonious and consistent design will result from a single, powerful metaphor, and an appropriately-chosen metaphor should lead to a building that impresses users/visitors with the appropriate metaphorical emotion ("Boy, this building is clean, uncluttered, and cozy.").

A third aspect, a bit more elevated (or precious), is an underlying philosophical idea. Wright and LeCorbusier are the obvious exemplars here, Wright with his specific notions of home, hearth, and landscape, and Corb with his machines for living in. These end up being more grandiose in conception, if not in execution, than either of the first two. Certainly the SSB type would say, "Whatever Frank, just make sure the roof don't leak," but I would argue that, if the architect's philosophy and vision accord with your own, the end result should be optimal.



Blogger David Sucher said...

I think the issue revolves around the use of the word "idea" and I suggest that architects use it way too loosely. I have (many times) heard archibabble such as "this house expresses the idea of home" or the (even worse) "this buildind 'celebrates'..."

Ugh. :)

7:26 PM


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