Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Famous AND notorious

The late Harry Seidler, of an earlier generation of Australian architects who actually managed to have some measure of world standing, was said to have declared: 
"If you can't be famous, be notorious."
It was a clever strategy which Seidler, brash Viennese refugee, used in his earlier years to bootstrap himself to prominence in his new home, clearly hoping that he would indeed become famous one day.  When he did become sort of famous, he actually did stop making such an effort to be notorious.

Perhaps a similar strategy helps explain why Patrik Schumacher, Zaha Hadid's loyal lieutenant, took to Facebook with one of the more self-serving inane rants about architecture I have read for quite a long time.  I think most people would have passed on his initial castigation of "critics and critical architects" for their agnosia, or form blindness - as predictable marketing of the firm's trademark approach to architecture ..... It was the next installment of petulant imperatives that went viral.

"You need to know someone is looking in order to publicly tantrum."
I guess anyone reading this will have no doubt as to my opinion of such statements.

In my terms, even if you try to reduce architecture's task to an irreducible, it would have to be something like 'form, organisation and codified meaning'.  Perhaps Schumacher would have us believe that 'communicative spatial form' captures my notion of form and meaning, but reading the last four paragraphs of his proto-manifesto makes clear that it isn't so.

As to 'organisation', he is dissembling.  His firm's parametric exercises are mostly just big empty sheds with voluptuous surfaces, under whose redundant volumes and structures simple diagrams of circulation cope adequately with the building program.  Those diagrams mostly work in 2D, and are given a tweak by teasing them out of the single plane with a few ramps.  I hasten to add that I don't think there is anything wrong with such a strategy.  It works, and it liberates.  The crime is to pretend that it's not what you are doing.

But for the moment I don't have the energy to properly set out, at greater length, why I might find Schumacher's approach to architecture quite so offensive.   So I'm referring readers to one of the more accessible commentaries.  I don't always take kindly to the Opinion pages on Dezeen, but the piece by Mimi Zeiger is a pretty good read. 

Access the Dezeen article here.


Anonymous said...

Architecture IS….

Every time I hear someone begin a sentence with “Architecture is…” I prepare myself for an answer that doesn’t really exist. What then proceeds is a long-winded description of how we are the designers of the future…architecture can save the world. Then comes the long list of prime examples: Le Corbusier, Gehry, Mies. I’ve heard it all too many times.

Mimi Zeiger’s article was the beginning of a seemingly endless road of Dezeen opinion pieces on Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher. After reading a couple, the grand ideas of what architecture is and isn’t become childish and contradictory…a waste of time really. But there was a statement by Schumacher, which immediately caught my attention.

"Architects are in charge of the form of the built environment, not its content…It is the design of communicative spatial form“

After reading it over a couple of times, I thought to myself, is he proposing the divorce of form and function?

I may have interpreted it wrong but my understanding is how symbols/forms can begin to reveal the content…but then what happened to the statement that architects aren’t in charge of its content? Does this mean that he intends to create static spaces that are made to be re-interpreted and upcycled depending on what the “free citizen” wants and “NOT the architect”?

After briefly reading his parametricist manifesto for clarification, the parametric design process is described as a series of interconnected digital codes which allow for a multitude of iterations whilst still pertaining to a single style. This makes way for his subsequent threat “the avoidance of parametricist taboos and adherence to the dogmas delivers complex order for complex social institutions” (1) . It seems that Schumacher, seeks a sense of order; a universal and predictable style which can be placed over the city like a massive blanket so that it flows, and merges all into itself reading as a series of forms which are communicative of civic programs.

His uppercase outbursts seem immature as they reveal his dissatisfaction with the postmodern search for a new style over the past 20-30 years. Perhaps Schumacher is simply looking for a sense of order for the modern city rather than the postmodern inconsistencies of recent times.

I’ve included an interesting article from arch daily which begins to discuss the relationship of architects and social responsibility.




Anonymous said...

It is hard to define the state of the architecture in this world as there isn’t a right answer. However, there is a question why Schumacher’s comments went viral and get people attention. I consider he uses a successful strategy to advocate his Parametricism by denying others’ theories or senses.

By Schumacher’s writings, Parametricism usually focuses on the complex geometry system in the exterior form of the building. Also, it could be said that it create harmony of the urban and the built environment, and these avant-garde forms like what Schumacher said "Architects are in charge of the form of the built environment” and “WHAT we communicate is up to us as free citizens”.

I don’t consider it is a bad idea in the fa├žade. However, it might only consider the big picture or macroscopic view in architecture like the society and urban. As I am an Arch student (maybe my architect knowledge is still not enough), I think it is necessary to include the microcosmic view like the people need and people movement in the building. Parametricism what I see almost fulfill the visual enjoyment. I don’t think people could actually feel comfortable in the building. If considering the interior spatial form as well, it can be better.
In addition, there is one point get my attention and want to talk about which is from Schumacher’s status in Facebook, Architecture is NOT POLICTICS. This sentence may be right in a certain extent. Architecture isn’t politics directly but it leads to political issues sometimes. As what Zeiger said, Schumacher’s comment explained that architecture is in politics. It will happen during the confliction of different cultures. For example, the CCTV Headquarters (please allow me to use this sensitive example) could create a big debate based on the building idea (the building shape is like human genitalia). By different culture, it might leads to the political and cultural confliction but it don’t have a rule to say which one is right or wrong. Therefore, it isn’t easy to say architecture is not politics.