The Unessentials of Architecture

Alone even amidst several studios of struggling students, I notice four paper cups with recycled paper sleeves long since having slipped downward to rest on my desk, hardly making any contact with the cups themselves. No matter, there’s no coffee in any of those cups, so there’s no need to protect eager fingers from imminent burnings. I know, believe me, because I tap each cup thirty-seven times each minute, just hoping.

The universe is a strange place – if the same cup is empty every time I tap it, every day for an entire month, how can I say that next time, this very next tap, when I desperately need some fuel, the cup won’t be empty any longer? I can smell it already…

Stranger events than the spontaneous filling of a coffee cup have occurred in this world.

Architecture – we’re talking the Novo Coffee of architecture rather than the Starbucks – is imperative, now more so than ever as we pay for the mistakes of our ancestors and the built environment they gave to us, the houses and offices that are destroying our world. And yet our emerging professionals are struggling for jobs, for internships, for anything related to their debt that could have funded a moderate army rather than a single starving student.

How strange is that?

Despite this need, our discipline is marginalized to only a fraction of built projects. Architects are thus victims – victims of recessions and victims of an economy devoid of any sympathy over our plight. How has it come to this, if our lives hardly ever take most of us beyond the bounds of the built environment? Perhaps the world is simply ignorant of or unsympathetic to our importance.

Or, perhaps architects have done a marvelous job over the centuries of convincing society that we’re not necessary. Maybe architects themselves are to blame for phasing this profession out.

“Organic architecture, understanding and employing the principles of organic law, can alone end this vast super waste of human life,” argues Frank Lloyd Wright (When Democracy Builds, p. 42) in a quote that might be simplified down as, “Architecture alone can redeem humanity.”

The arrogant image of the self-important master-designer, savior of space and style. The master-builder who can swoop into a city, charm the public out of $50 million dollars or so, and deliver a leaky plane crash of an art museum. The archi-babble that we learn in school, from our instructors as well as our influences, that we embrace as our primary and native language. All of these have severed our ties to the common people as we elevate ourselves above them, disdaining their lack of understanding or conviction, lamenting their disbelief in our genius.

How do we convince society to hear our words, to embrace our designs?  How do we sell ourselves to a society that offers lip-service respect but still shuns us?  We are vital to the world, now more than ever, but architecture alone will never save it.  We will, however, play a part if we open ourselves to the vast world that exists outside of our studios and firms.

All we have to do is convince people that we can offer more than some line drawings on paper.  Before that, though, we have to understand what we really can offer.

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