Of all the books that were suggested to me after joining architecture college, the one that remains most profound is the one that elaborated and taught some of the essential values that an architecture student could possibly learn. Christopher Charles Benninger’s “Letters to a young architect.” is a solemn guidebook that encourages and dares young individuals to not only question some rules but also break them.
The whole book is divided into six sections with thirty-two beautifully written letters carrying messages from the wise Architect. Starting from his individual experience and personal journey into the fascinating field of Architecture, Benninger creates a gripping narrative that resonates with the minds of his young hopeful readers. Gradually progressing from individual to a wider world view, the whole reading process presents itself as a comfortable voyage of broadening one’s mental horizons. Written with the utmost care, each sentence settles like words from a holy book that one could hope to resolve worldly matters with.
From talking about his birth of passion for architecture to his criticism for dull ornamental building, Benninger arranges his perspective in a way to align it with the line of reason and logic. There’s depth in every sentence, and to make meaning out of all that depth, one must proceed through every word with extreme patience and absolute trust on Benninger.
Benninger treats his readers as an extension of his own family, the ones who’ll imbibe the messages that he has to share. The whole reason why he calls them letters is because they are associated with a more personal vibe- addressed to someone close. The holiest bond- of a teacher and student is explored by merely sifting through the words; an engaging conversation is established.
After reading a few pages, I ended up questioning my core belief system and also the way I looked at architecture. Architecture was just looked at as merely built forms with a particular plan to support its foundation laid in the soil, but after reading the first few pages, I realised that this foundation extends way deeper than it is recognised.
I see that it’s a woven mesh of values, concepts and belief that involves so many broader ideas of what was thought before. The reader would find this reading experience equivalent to being bathed under a new stream of thoughts, cleansing out the misunderstandings that we, as new students of architecture, have been so reluctantly harbouring.
I’d like to share an anecdote from my reading experience. Benninger made me overthrow my current notions relating to architecture and connect it with something so humble as ‘values.
As architects, we are professionals and we must ‘process’ our values to be called one. These values are extremely simple and quite heard of but never thought of in the light that Benninger now makes us see them in. To explore these fundamental values in lieu of such a vast topic as Architecture is a testimony of one’s virtues.
Among other things, Benninger strongly points out that there exists only one type of good luck- and that is to have great teachers. While this is something that strikes a different chord among the readers, it is without a doubt one of the wisest set of words to have ever been read, heard or said.
What makes this book a must-read is the simplicity and authenticity of the text used while addressing anyone who ventures. Talking against the commercial architects and technocrats of the present age, Benninger envisages a new architectural style that is an idealist and embodies the fulfilment of every element of society and environment. He generously professes the emergence of this unique style and invokes a sense of action among the readers.
Some of my favourite lines from the text are-“Under the veil of nostalgia and romanticism, objective reality is disguised and great sins against humanity realised it built form, are justified.”
“Blaming on someone else is a self-delusion constructed to rationalise defeat.”
“The new style of architecture demands a selfless immersion into the problems of the poor. A discipline of doing, seeking results and re-learning must emerge.”
Another significant value of gratitude is explicitly addressed in the theme of all of Benninger’s writings. To be able to create something extraordinary, one must be grateful for all the marvellous possibilities it possesses.
And finally, one of the most important lessons taught through the text of this book was how one must continue to remain a student. According to Benninger, the greatest gifts that could be ever conferred to the students was the knowledge that they shall always remain students. Upon reaching the end, one would inevitably come across the following thought: This vast ocean of universe with its unending expanse of knowledge shall ever be explored by young sailors in quest of knowledge and absolute truth.