It is imperative to ask if architecture is just a topic of interest to architects or something more? This question is of vital importance if we realize that most of our lives have been lived within or at least in contact with a built environment. Therefore, the consequences that this fact has in our lives should not be a foreign matter to us.
The Architecture of Non-architects
Considering the appreciation of architecture beyond a plastic and aesthetic phenomenon is very useful since the human factor is the element that articulates the building with the experience of living it. Juhani Pallasmaa postulates that the city confronts the body “I feel myself in the city and the city exists through my embodied experience”. If this relationship is so intimate, why don’t we worry more about the impact that buildings have on our lives?
The experiences that we perceive through our body – ergo through our senses – are so relevant, that consequently the decisions of an architect and therefore his works, should be approached with greater rigor beyond the aesthetic. An architectural element seems to be the conjunction of human existence itself as a physical entity with experience and the conception of the world as an extension of the natural environment.
Understanding a building goes beyond knowledge to read a plan or an elevation, experience and time emerge as fundamental elements in our experience as users; the way it ages and how we age in it. We all surely remember the place where we grew up, we know the texture of the walls and the way the light and chiaroscuro came in through our window. This smaller-scale experience can also be extrapolated to the experience of living in a city and is translated into experiences that determine a reaction in our reality; this is the effect of architecture.
A building as a Matter of Public Interest
Bruno Zevi in his essay on the spatial interpretation of architecture speaks of it as a subject that requires an extremely particular or specialized interest since almost all of us know the great names in painting and music such as Claude Monet or Richard Wagner, but few of us – or perhaps no one at all – could speak of the work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
In the case of artistic work and its ephemerality, it is possible to consider that shortly after knowing one of these great musical or pictorial pieces of the authors mentioned above, we forget its meaning, and soon after it is only part of a transitory experience.
But what about the people who experience some of the most outstanding architectural works of our time on a daily basis, such as the World Trade Center Transportation Hub in New York? Spaces like these arise in all the great cities of the world, where not only are various uses such as a shopping center and different modes of transport mixed, but thousands of people converge daily and without them, this space would have no reason to exist. The temporality of these buildings goes beyond our existence and therefore we should consider taking a closer look at what is happening around us because buildings like these are a legacy that unites us as a society. If a single architectural object has such relevance for so many people, then it is necessary to carry out an analysis beyond aesthetics and focus on the virtues that we can obtain from it through spatial interpretation through collectivity and experience. In the previous example, which is more relevant? The towering “ribs” that shape the station or the spatial quality that exists within?
To pass judgment on a sculptural work by Michelangelo solely through a written description would be a mistake. The same case would be if we limit the analysis of a building only to visual interpretations and leave aside the human factor and without complete perception through the senses -who are the ones who carry out the dialectic of the inert with the sensitive- since we would be before the presence of a sculptural rather than an architectural work. Fortunately, sculptural work cannot hit us in the face, but a building can have repercussions on our way of life.
Architecture as a Mutable Discipline
Architecture and its processes are a reflection of its time in a multidimensional context. Among the first steps of a student is to understand the theory and history of architecture, but to understand both concepts it is necessary to know its social, economic, and even political context. At the end of the last century, it was almost impossible not to consider a large building with a parking lot of the same proportion, when today we seek to optimize our mobility and the spaces designated for it, taking into account our carbon footprint on the planet.
It would be reckless to say that architects design for the future and architecture students are sensitive to it. How do we know that it is the future and not speculation? In other words, no one saw coming -at least in terms of design- what a pandemic could bring to our conception of life today.
Reflections like the previous one lead us to think that with each new generation of architects and designers it is important to find sensitivity and think about the responsibility that exists in each decision of present, in the end as humans we are finite beings trying to create objects that transcend their mortality, but that inevitably like all our technology it will be found by obsolescence.
Pallasmaa, J. (2014). Los Ojos de la Piel. 2° Edition ed. Translated by M. Puente. and Translated by C. Muro. Editorial Gustavo Gili.
Zevi, B., Cino Calcaprina and Jesús Bermejo Goday (2004). Saber ver la arquitectura : Ensayo sobre la interpretación espacial de la arquitectura. Barcelona Apóstrofe D.L.