Poetic and Prosaic Princes: Robert Ivy and Prince Charles
Prince Charles's New House. Courtesy: Building Design.
Is there hope for the AIA? If the speech that its new CEO, Robert Ivy, gave last week to its D.C.
Chapter is any indication, there is. As
reported in The Dirt, ironically not the AIA’s, but the American Society of
Landscape Architects’ site, Ivy said that architects are already expanding
their offerings beyond traditional building design to “supplemental services.”
Eventually, architects may even become “creative consultants” to a wide range
of industries, particularly given the drop-off in building work with the economic
downturn. Business schools around the country are now promoting the benefits of
“design-thinking” and architects may be uniquely positioned to “intuit,
analyze, and solve problems in different ways.”
Exactly. That sounds like an amazing departure from
the standard professional stance, which is that architecture is all about designing
buildings to serve people and make money, and that professional organizations
such as the AIA are all about protecting the title, getting a better insurance
deal, and in general keeping architecture into a safe, albeit besieged,
fortress. What encourages me even more
is that Ivy, after bowing low to the Gods of Green and Retro-Urbanism, says
that architecture must “poetize human experience.” Perhaps that is not the most elegant phrase,
but the notion that design does not only speak the prose of problem solving,
but can also aspire to the poetry of intensifying, clarifying, and making more
beautiful our everyday rituals and needs, is crucial if architecture is going
to have a role in our society.
The comments from some of the
professionals following the post are predictably curmudgeonly, but I do hope
that Mr. Ivy has the courage and conviction to follow through on his statements.
The contrast between Bob Ivy’s stance
and the announcement that Prince Charles, the world’s other leading spokesman
for architecture, has finally revealed his Prince’s House could not be
starker. Saying that he wants to “green
up our traditional, British properties,” the Prince showed off a square block
with a column absurdly placed in a shallow portico over the entrance. It is essentially a British McMansion
masquerading as a Schinkelesque villa. No doubt crammed with solar panels, built out of recycled materials, and
otherwise doing everything it can to escape its destiny of using up natural
resources by being a stand-alone object serving the dying nuclear family, it
represents architecture’s failures to address environmental and social issues
in a fundamental manner, let alone turn them into poetry.
Tina Brown, on her new soapbox, Newsweek.com, proposes that Lady Di, had she survived, “would no longer have
found Charles’s causes tiresome. Rather, she would have empathized …” What a
frightening thought. I can only hope the
same does not hold true for her sons. I wish the best to our new King of Architecture, and pray for the future
King of England’s conversion.