Change; Whether in our daily routine or our career paths, as humans, we ache for change. As designers, we dream that our projects can contribute to that change. We aspire for our concepts to be ground-breaking, sustainable, innovative, and to be the change. We seek change so passionately that it ends up changing us. From concepts of energy consumption to parameters of social engagement, comfort, and even health of the future users, architecture changed the way we see the city. So, how has it impacted our lives?
Ornamentation is a crime
What people see as patterns, motifs, and aesthetics; we see as function. We are taught that function is at the heart of beauty. As Adolf Loos so famously stated, “ornament is a crime”. Design isn’t arbitrary; it is purpose-driven. And the more we understand architecture, the more we appreciate it. The second we apprehended this, our perception of buildings changed. When we see a structure, we don’t just see a “blue, medium height building with nice patterns along its façade”. We see the tilt of its roof, its materiality, and its interaction with the sun through louvres, overhangs, and recessed windows. We see cantilevers, purposefully placed openings, and specifically chosen materials. We see details that help tie everything together, not ornaments. We don’t see motifs; we see systems. We don’t see a building; we see architecture.
Glass. Transparent, astonishing views. And then what? While everyone fawns over fully glazed facades and curtain walls, architects know not to. Although glass offers a scenic vista, it is a terrible thermal insulator and requires a lot of energy to compensate for the heat loss. Architects automatically analyze the “why” and the ‘how” behind each design decision: how the wind is diverted, how passive design strategies are used to reduce energy cost… As mentioned above, beauty is functional. Thus, a striking design preserves originality, efficiency, and functionality without the glazing overdose. Good architecture knows good balance.
History is not “ornamental”
One of the first things you learn when you study architecture is its history. Why? Because we owe a lot to our history. Yes, we have new technologies, new mindsets, new styles, and new preferences. But that doesn’t discredit our heritage, culture, and past. Architecture is layers of history that interlace and tell the story of a city: it’s not just about construction; it’s about narratives of power, politics, and beliefs. Even if ornamentation is considered a crime, history is everything but criminal. The Pantheon, Hagia Sophia, the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel tower, Gaudi’s Basilica de la Sagrada Familia. No one can neglect the magic that exudes from these places. But what might alter a designer’s vision towards these places is the very fact that he studied them. We learned the different styles and the different cultures that led to these architectural expressions. Hence, we know that every ornament has significance. For that, we immerse ourselves in what’s beyond the aesthetic, thus taking more time to explore these masterpieces. History is not aesthetic; it is poignant and meaningful.
As architects, we can’t stress enough the importance of contexts in conceiving a design: climatic context, cultural context, social context. However, the role of the setting doesn’t end there. As Lefebvre brilliantly explains, three different spaces constitute the urban: conceived space, perceived space, and lived space. The conceived space is the space we imagine as designers through drawings and models. The perceived space affects how the built space is seen: from above or at the street level. The lived space is how people use this space and how they interact with it. So, as architects, when we look at the urban, we imagine the conceived space, enjoy altering its perception and immerse ourselves in its lived contextual richness. There are no voids in the city: every corner, every bench, every stand creates an experience and connects the streets to its people. As designers, we are trained to see beyond the physical barriers and to perceive space as a continuous yet permeable web of interactions.
Architecture is not just about the exterior design of a building. It is more than just aesthetics and facades. Similarly, being an architect is not just about drawing and being good at calculations. To become an architect, you must relish in architecture and all it implies. Because once you study the field, you fall in love with its diversity. Indeed, architecture is social, political, science and technology-driven, artistic, and logic-based. The architect sees through the soul of the city through his sections, plans, and renderings. What people see as decorated boxes, we see as details and function-driven systems. Architecture isn’t just our profession. It inhabits our minds, our eyes, our travel itineraries, and our perception of the world. Intuitively, we decrypt the hidden discourses our city and its buildings have to say. And it has a lot to share with us. However, we sometimes forget to shut down our architecturally wired senses to focus on being the user for once instead of the designer.
- Baan, I., 2012. Torre David, Venice Biennale 2012. [image] Available at: <https://iwan.com/portfolio/venice-biennale-2012-utt-iwan-baan-torre-david/#9855> [Accessed 18 June 2021].
- Baan, I., 2017. Gulshan Society Jame Mosque – Kashef Mahboob Urbana. [image] Available at: <https://iwan.com/portfolio/gulshan-society-jame-mosque-kashef-mahboob-urbana/#18987> [Accessed 18 June 2021].
- Bertrande, A. [image] Available at: <https://www.abertrande.com/architecture/> [Accessed 18 June 2021].
- Dan Flying Solo, 2016. Taj Mahal photography. [image] Available at: <https://www.danflyingsolo.com/taj-mahal-photography-tips/> [Accessed 18 June 2021].