The bad architect is that one who “…is represented without eyes to indicate that it cannot understand the truth; without hands, to signify impotence; deprived of ears with which to listen to the warnings of others.” In contrast, the good architect is an individual that “…is endowed with three eyes: the first to contemplate God and the past, the second to study the present and conduct his work wisely, the third to foresee the future and beware of accusations and slanders that will be directed.” (De l’Orme, 1567)
This way Philibert De l’Orme distinguished between what it means to be a bad architect and to be a good architect. His words primarily refer to the level of awareness each of them has. Consciousness does not usually develop in the first years of becoming an architect. It is, however, a discipline whose most engaged practitioners can follow the most complex paths to understand the world.
Spatial And Material Awareness.
The conscious path in architecture is a long but pleasant journey, and it may start with a perception of the world guided by Gestalt principles. Thus, architects begin to see the world from a more systemic perspective. The world is reduced to Gestalt principles, a group of basic shapes such as triangles, squares, and circles, and their variants, as well as laws such as figure background, the general law of good shape, the law of closure, contrast, proximity, similarity, and many others (Köhler, 1947). This set of “tools” to observe and categorize everything transforms the first steps in architecture into a feeling of meta-understanding of the world.
The logical complement to this expanded understanding of the world is the ability of architecture to deal with these newly categorized “shapes”. It is the primary function of the profession, or as Bruno Zevi described it, “the delimitation of exterior space into a new delimited interior space” (Ferrer, 2020, p. 14). This way, architecture offers a distinct perspective where its practitioners move from observers to modellers of the world. However, when applied to real life, a conceptual understanding of the world is not enough. Eventually, the city and its pragmatic needs drive architects from their world of ideas to create a reality where “modelled space” is no longer an abstraction but an integrated part of a huge system called the city.
Reality, Scale Change, and Multidisciplinary Enrichment.
In this new stage, architecture promotes a more responsible perspective of belonging materially to a society whose culture is materialized by buildings. In these conditions, architecture might still be seen as a romantic action of “completing a landscape” or as Peter Zumthor more metaphorically described it:
“…the new building should embrace qualities which can enter into a meaningful dialogue with the existing situations (…) We throw a stone into the water, sand swirls up and settles again. The stir was necessary. The stone has found its place. But the pond is no longer the same.” (Zumthor, 1999, p. 18)
However, at this stage, architecture can no longer be an obsessive pursuit of form and composition. There is a point of inflection because of the need for understanding cities through a multidisciplinary approach to address social, economic, and political issues. Undoubtedly, under these conditions, the case of Jan Gehl and his change of perspective toward the world is one of the most illustrative examples.
He was able to access other professionals’ opinions about architects’ ways of building cities thanks to his couple. Comments that condemn the reductionism of architectural approaches when it comes to speaking of society. The architect described how different professionals regularly asked him: “Why are you not interested in people?” Why do they not teach you anything about people in school or architecture?” (Gehl, 2017).
Despite the harsh comments, Jan Gehl’s newly acquired knowledge helped him to include different perspectives. This was accomplished by applying ethnographic analysis and many other tools related to the social aspect of the city. In the end, his book Life Between Buildings gave a novel perspective on city living, and together with other authors, a new generation of architects was born.
One example of how the conditions of reality can represent the opportunity to change from an obsession with the form to more responsible actions toward society. This is precisely what a city needs: proper political behaviour from its citizens and especially from those who define its characteristics. Everyone, as political animals —as Aristoteles defined the human being — has the faculty to “…make decisions for the common good, and to establish how individuals and different groups can live together” (Aureli, 2011, p. 14). Thus, there is a higher level of responsibility, meaning that the world requires a much wider perspective from architects.
The Perspectives of the Past, Present, and Future.
Contextualizing architecture involves considering not only contemporary society but also how the current landscape is the result of past decisions. Aldo Rossi and his theory of permanence posit that the city as an artificial object will always allow present society to glimpse the past through the permanent elements of the city (Rossi, 1984). Then, another responsibility of a good architect is to embrace the perspective of time and imitate that well-known Angelus Novus coined by Walter Benjamin (Danche, 2014). A concept that emphasizes the importance of studying the past to develop the most feasible future scenarios.
Today, however, the future is uncertain due to several contemporary issues. The most significant issue is probably the global climate crisis, which was described in the book The Limits to Growth to make people aware of the global issue. In addition, common activities in the construction industry, such as the use of vehicles and machinery on site, land clearing and demolition, and the use of chemicals, have a considerable impact on ecosystems. Therefore, the last and perhaps most critical perspective to be aware of for architects is climate change. Dealing with this global issue means that architects, as political animals, have a high level of responsibility. Because “…taking no action to solve these problems is equivalent to taking strong action (…) A decision to do nothing is a decision to increase the risk of collapse.” (Meadows, et al., 1972, p. 183).
Architecture as a Way of Life.
Apart from the critical conditions described and the variety of perspectives architecture seems to require, there are current global issues that demand a distinct mindset. A way of life where optimistic architects can stay motivated to keep questioning and providing more effective solutions for a planet in perpetual change. However, as Alejandro Aravena pointed out: “there is nothing more tragic than giving the right answers to the incorrect questions” (Aravena, 2015). Thus, a perspective of constant curiosity and a deep understanding of the world is essential. In summary —taking back the initial concept of this text— this referred mindset is well-described in the quoted allegory: “a good architect has 4 ears and 1 mouth, because he needs to listen and learn more than speaking and making mistakes” (De l’Orme, 1567). Constant discovery of the world and an updated perspective of its complexity will enable architects to be prepared to shape a better reality for future generations.
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