Tongue-in-cheek statement aside, this is not an uncommon group of words to be found together these days. In the past handful, or so, of years, there seems to have been a dramatic spike in products and shops that showcase handmade, crafted, and trade-based items. Twenty years ago you might have only found a blacksmith in a colonial reenactment town filled with lots of costumes and muskets. Compare that with today. If some one said that they held a job as a blacksmith, it would most likely be followed up with, “Wow that’s so interesting. My friend just started a taxidermy shop that focuses on rare pheasants”.
Clearly I am going way over the top here to try to make a point. There has been a wide spread trend across our society harking back to craft trades. They may not even be an age-old crafts; it may simply be deciding to make things by hand or through a small manufacturing process run by a few people instead of a corporate factory. Although we see an increasingly digital world and our lives are daily being made more convenient through these advances, there is also a shift, although much less in the mainstream, away from the technologically based life style. It’s becoming much more commonplace to seek out the smaller, local shops or the handmade product in contrast to the global corporations that mass produce the items that we have sought in the past.
This brings me to this thought: if our technology has made things so very convenient, fast, and efficient, why do we strive for these elements that yield varying product quality, take more time to create, and more than likely cost more? I believe, and I may be wrong on this, that we strive for the human touch in our lives, as we increasingly seem to be losing it more and more everyday.
I know, this is a very melodramatic claim to make, but that doesn’t make it less true. If we are constantly being inundated with automation and a digital world, doesn’t it seem to make sense that there would be a bit of push back by way of the human hand? This further begs the question of: what can we as architects and emerging professionals do to capitalize on this movement within our profession?
If we look at the craftsman style movement of the early 1900s, we see that there was a similar shift in thinking and priorities. Architects were “master builders” and designed buildings all the way down to the unique and finite details, much of which was literally “handcrafted”. However, later on in the same century, the international style became much more in vogue. The idea that any building could be placed anywhere on the planet without regards to geographical context. These buildings were “machines for living” and the human was just an element to occupy the building. Now that we have moved beyond this, is it possible that we are starting to see another shift back towards one that creates each building, as it’s own distinctive and individual entity?
I am not saying that we need to brush off all of our old drawing boards or pick up a hammer and chisel and start chipping away at a block of marble nor am I saying that we all need to strive to be Frank Lloyd Wright. However, we have already begun to use the advances of this digital age to create highly unique and customized forms. Is it possible that we can further the idea of the “handcrafted and artisanal” in architecture to create more of the human element in our work? After all, we create these objects for people, so shouldn’t we, in some way, shape, or form, show that they were designed and built by people?
I don’t have an exact recipe for how any of this could find it’s way into our profession. But, I believe that it is worth noting that there has been a societal shift, even if it is a minority one, to seeking out the human element in the products that inhabit our everyday lives. If we can somehow find a way to bring this into the world of architecture, maybe we will create a more lasting mark on our profession and the built environment.
Or we could all just become shoe cobblers.