written september 2007

Dear Architects…I am sick of our shit.

“When you point to a glass cylinder and say proudly, hey my office designed that, I giggle and say it looks like a bong. You turn your head in disgust and shame. You think, obviously she does not understand. What does she know?...... And then you say now I am designing a lifestyle center, and I ask what is that, and you say it is a place that offers goods and services and retail opportunities and I say you mean like a mall and you say no. It is a lifestyle center. I say it sounds like a mall. I am from the Valley, bitch. I know malls.”

Everybody who worked at an Architecture firm whom I kept in contact with, and some that didn’t, received the article in an intra-office email sometime in August. I received it twice. At first glance it seemed basically harmless and pretty accurate. The stereotypes were painted almost perfectly. Architects wear black, own cool eyeglasses, have crazy hair, keep long hours, and obsess over architecture, regardless of the appropriateness of the situation or the company.

But at second glance, I became more aware not only of how the world perceives us as architects, but how accurate that perception is. And that realization bothered me, not because I take offense to noting an artist’s dark attire, but because it means that we’re subconsciously yet intentionally distancing ourselves from the society that we claim to represent. We’re exactly (or at least fast approaching) a category of professionals who will be only seen to the rest of the world as black-wearing fashion-forward sleep-deprived design junkies.

So what’s so bad about this? Nothing I suppose. But in my mind it’s counterproductive to what architecture as a profession seeks to do. How can we hope to sell design to a society who feels disassociated from the idea of an architect functioning on a normal social level? It certainly isn’t impossible, but intentionally distancing ourselves from our clientele isn’t something we should strive for. What’s worse, is when society adopts the idea that architects, like artists, are too far outside the social norm to acceptably function in society, our role as designers becomes less legitimate. Perhaps the reason that there’s so much Wall-Marchitecture is because we epitomize the stereotype that supports the idea that hiring an architect to design something will only result in a formally misunderstood, budget destroying mess, rather than a functional and reasonable design solution.

I suppose our dichotomous architecture brains are to blame. In school and in life, you can either be the black wearing, A-earning, program-ignoring, conceptual artist, or you can be the methods loving, firm-working, get-A’s-in-everything-but-studio pragmatician. As a community of designers, if we hope to break this stereotype, we should strive to be more aware of a multi-dimensional role in architecture. Conceptual designers should not ignore the practical and buildable aspect of design, and Functionally-Grounded designers should open their minds to new design and building concepts.

And when we interact with society let’s try to step outside our personas and leave the architecture double-speak behind. Maybe, despite our conceptually infallible interpretation of our own work, there’s not much difference between a lifestyle center and a mall, and to our peers, our “transparent beacon of sustainability” really does just look like a bong.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank God, screw archispeak