Blobitecture: A Rant
The blob is eating architecture. In every architecture school and in every competition, oozing, bulging, tentacular forms grow, as if by magic, out of the click-clacking of myriads of computer keyboards and the invisible working of processors, promising an organic ecology that will one day replace the wasteland of our gridded reality. Don’t give in, don’t be seduced by silky strands of computer code, and don’t think that organic architecture is any better than Certified Organic Milk. It is worse. It will destroy our world or, what is more likely, condemn architecture to a continued existence in the margins of our culture.
I am currently judging the 3rd Advanced Architecture Contest, organized by the Barcelona school IAAC and HP. Entitled The Self-Sufficient City: Envisioning the Habitat of the Future, it calls for “trying to define key concepts for the construction of the habitat of the XXI century [sic], by defining a list of ideas in relation with buildings [sic] and the city of the future, to generate a vision of this idealistic possibility.” If you read this text (remembering that is was translated from the Spanish), you might think you would see rather dull papers or perhaps proposals for how to densify sprawl, retrofit skyscrapers, or improve infrastructure.
Instead, what you get is visions for linear cities stretching across Spain or America, giant mushrooms sprouting above Naples, and the sliming of Beijing with perversions of the hutong. There are some more-or-less logical and some wonderfully whimsical proposals (I won’t give them away yet), but what struck me above all else was the aesthetics prevalent in the hundreds of submissions. The proposals relied heavily on forms that had no visible relation to existing landscapes, whether natural or human-made, were completely out of scale with either those conditions or the human body, and had no trace of how they were to be made, how they were to be used, or how one was to move through them.
I know this makes me sound conservative, and in a sense I am. I believe that only by understanding and responding to what exists can we create something better. I do not think that we can or should impose form. I do not believe that the shapes the computer generates are more honest or primal than what we design in that act of response. I do not believe that form comes out of the manipulation of codes. I believe that architecture is an act of cultural criticism that opens up new spaces and possibilities within a reality that keeps many of us economically, socially, and physically imprisoned.
Certainly, we need to expand how and what we build in response to new technologies, but we should remember that those computers and the new materials they manipulate are tools, not fetishes. We need above all else to not build because we can, or can do almost anything we can render, but because it is the right form and the right thing to do. We need to not use up natural resources for speculative development, and our buildings should be net producers of energy. We need an architecture that connects us to our landscapes, our bodies, and our fellow human beings and that is an expression of a sense of shared values and beliefs.
We do not need the nightmare of green-tinted abstractions unfurling themselves over us. We need the dream of an architecture that is a gathering together, opening up, and unfolding of what exists. We need to wage war on the oppressive inheritance of classicism and the confinements of traditional forms of living, on technocratic grids and stifling images of inward-looking communities. But beyond that, we should wage ware on any attempt to impose an a priori, alien, technology-produced form just because we think we can. Above all else, architecture should come out of our desire to remake our world, not out of the computer.