Designing for the Modern World //
As a 5th year Graduate Student with a summer’s worth of professional experience and an excitement for the future, I am fascinated to find out how to design for the modern world. I am going to talk about two articles that our instructor, David, had sent us over Christmas Break to ponder. They both get at the relationship between architect’s and their impact on the built environment.
The first article calls for architects to stop ignoring public perception of our work and no longer dismiss it with such astounding ignorance. The biggest question the author raises is “At what point does architecture’s potential to improve human life become lost because of its inability to connect with actual humans?” It is a bold question to ask, and one that I feel architects haven’t answered in my time in school. I still feel like a lot of new projects and buildings fail to connect with the environment and the everyday user. The second article/author replies to the first, and boldly criticizes its naiveté and closed-mindedness. It claims that architecture doesn’t have to succumb to the public’s opinions and design for the average 80 year old grandma. Architecture doesn’t have to please everybody. It goes on to say that good architecture and a quality built environment is the result of experimentation, hard work, and the desire to do better.
I found both of these articles to be incredibly interesting and thought provoking. Since I have been in school, I have been very curious as to whether there is a right or wrong way to design good architecture and how to go about doing so? I do agree with the first author/article that architecture today seems to be ignoring the public in the design process more and more. I also find myself agreeing with the second author though that sometimes architects shouldn’t cave into public perceptions and compromise design integrity. However, what I find most interesting about the public‘s role in architecture is that they really are the only ones that matter. They are the people that visit, use, and interact with our designs every single day. Architects spend all this time designing, researching, and perfecting every little detail of a design, only to complete a project, have a happy hour, take some pictures for a portfolio, and then move on to a different project. We essentially leave these projects behind and hope for the best. It’s only on rare occasions where ignoring this key human factor of design, that someone designs a masterpiece. This is where we discover and learn from architecture in ways we never thought possible.
When looking at Sagrada Familia, the famous Church designed by Antoni Gaudi, it is easy to see that it tends to ignore architectural norms and “play it safe.” Gaudi claimed to be inspired by God when he designed this magnificent Church, which seems to transcend public opinion no matter who you are. While it may not be the most “beautiful” looking building, nobody thinks to question its intentions and what it has accomplished. People don’t look at this building and think “how ugly,” but rather, they react with an intense desire to explore the inside and figure out how Gaudi could have possibly imagined all of this. It is a building that took some risks that paid off in the end and appeals to everyone. It is a rare mix of both architectural bravery and some good fortune. In the end, you have a building that we can clearly learn from as an entire community and admire its success. Gaudi didn’t aim to please everyone, but instead tried to inspire people to think differently about the possibilities of architecture. To me, this is a great example of a building that goes beyond perception and becomes a learning tool for future design.
The biggest problem with buildings like this though is that “Sagrada Familia’s” don’t grow on trees. Not every building ever designed is going to connect on a human, emotional, and architectural level to the extent and success of Sagrada Familia. As architects, we all want to design or be a part of designing the next timeless architectural wonder. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen every day, and instead it should be our duty to design with the peace of mind that we are simply making a positive impact through good, solid, design work. That we aren’t settling for mediocre design and are instead trying to connect with the clients we are designing for, the sites we are building on, and the urban environment our buildings will impact. Architects have to a better job at designing to a human scale and really try to make a difference in the architecture world from a professional and everyday perspective.
While I must admit that “starchitect’s” design “cool” things from time to time, in today’s world, I think it is time for them to take a hard look at their projects and realize that there aren’t helping the built environment. These buildings they design test the limits of materials, bend the rules of architecture, and attempt to reimagine how buildings should look, but they all seem to be doing so at the cost of the everyday user and the general public. Their buildings in the end, really just look ugly. How is it possible that you can type into Google “Frank Gehry brown paper bag” or “Frank Gehry paper airplanes” and actual buildings come up?! That simply should not be a thing in today’s world. While they may have some architectural merit in the grand scheme of things, they simply don’t integrate well into their surroundings or even attempt to humanize architecture to fit the needs of the average user.
In the end, I do think architects are hard pressed to successfully please everyone with a design, but we have to do a better job at trying to satisfy as many people as possible. We have to design for humans and think about the impact these building will have in our world. It is no longer acceptable to design and not keep these things in mind. We cannot afford to ignore everyone and anything to design what we see fit. Architecture is a unique profession in that we design buildings, parks, furniture, and homes that people use every day! That is not something to take lightly. I believe that in our world today we have to continue to challenge what is good and bad about certain architecture. We have to make a more controlled and effective effort to keep design integrity at the forefront of the design process, but not lose sight of where these projects will eventually be built or the people that will use them every day. While we cannot get tied down by the public perception of our work, we have to keep them in mind and aim to improve what architecture means to people. Every profession is subject to criticism and ours is certainly no different. For architects, we constantly receive opinion after opinion on what we design and create and we have to use that to our advantage. People love to talk about architecture and what it means to them. We have to do a better job at being the conduit that attempts to tie these opinions, both professional and non-professional, together. The ultimate goal is to design something that can transcend a projects goals or aspirations and at the same time fit into the built environment in a practical, efficient, and successful way. In this way, the world of architecture can continue to move forward and progress, while the buildings we leave behind become a part of everyday life as inspiration and successful projects.
Written by Brandon Eversgerd