More Than Just Design

Before joining the hallowed and harrowed ranks of graduate student-dom, architects were… architects, to me.  Such was their profession and, thus, such was their collective title.  Only after my immersion into the education did I come to hear more of the language, more of the titles that some architects – often either the higher-profile or those emulating them – choose to give themselves.  One that especially caught my ear and my attention was ‘Designer’ (capital intended).

When I first heard it, I thought it was a nifty title that meant the person claiming it had a greater understand beyond the bounds of a ‘mere’ architect (as if there was anything wrong with that field or title), especially if they specialized in other media, like furniture design.  Surely, that’s not architecture (I thought), so they must be a Designer!

Designers, as I’ve been exposed to them, discuss the lofty ideals and ambitions that a project of theirs represents.  The building is a model (of this), a homage (to that), a physical manifestation (of something).  And there is nothing wrong with that!

There is true beauty in such depth, of such great meaning to something that might consist of only four walls, a floor, and a ceiling.  Often, though, the deeper meaning seems to spring forth as only a unique aesthetic, some uncommon form.  And its description is further obscured by some proprietary language unique to the Designer.

What does it mean to be such a Designer?  Is it the ability to impart a stylized form to an object?  Is it the ability to work outside the traditional boundaries of an architect; that is, buildings?  What does it mean to be an architect, then?  What does architecture itself mean?

A Designer transcends nothing by moving on past ‘architecture’ into other media.  There is something about creating a building, creating a space, that involves a lot extra than an eye for design.  Architects are designers, but they are creating more than a painting and more than a dance sequence.  Imbued with meaning as those things are, buildings and spaces work on deeper levels.

Architecture seems, to me, to concern itself with a broader world than a painting might.  Beyond the meaning, beyond the model, beyond the homage to or manifestation of whatever ideal, architecture must respond to the people that will fill it and give it life.

An architect must understand those people.

Architecture must respond to the greater fabric in which it exists, whether urban or rural, and must fit within it, must complement the society and culture that give it a home.

An architect must understand these things – his city or her culture – or at least strive to.

I find myself thinking these things and hoping that I’m wrong about one question, that I might be overlooking something, but if architecture functions across so many fields of study, from the sciences to the humanities and on into the world of design, why do its practitioners seem forced to limit themselves to a much narrower course of study?

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