AIA Convention Wishlist
What I wish the AIA was talking about at its Convention in Miami right now:
Somehow, the fact that architects are designers seems to get lost in the shuffle at AIA proceedings. That is understandable, as the AIA is essentially a professional group that promotes its members’ interests. Thus, liability and legal loopholes, legislation, and healthcare are more important to it than the fact that most of the buildings appearing every year in this country are execrable in their design. A serious debate about what constitutes good design, where you find it, how you train to do it, and how you evaluate it, might not be a bad starting point if the profession wants to hold onto what is supposedly its core competency. Giving awards at least shows you some examples, though I never heard any serious discussions about what makes the winners good.
Even more wrought is the question of what is beautiful. Yet architects will have to confront this question if they are going to do something more than provide services that more highly specialized professionals and even computer programs can fulfill. You can buy software to design your own house these days, and large buildings are so highly regularized, for both economic and code reasons, that there is little leeway for creativity (another dangerous word at the AIA). So, what is it that architects can provide? Once they have fulfilled the task of creating sufficient and appropriately arranged space, made the building secure and safe, are they done? No, they must prove their fees by shaping the building into something we might call architecture—something beautiful, perhaps?
One of the ways architects justify their work is by inventing the ever-new. They make new forms, new shapes, or new spaces. They use the latest computer programs and technologies. Then they try to fit those inventions into existing human and natural landscapes, while hoping that the inhabitants and observers will not be completely alienated by their forms. If architects were instead to think of their work as an intelligent understanding, rearranging, reusing, and opening up of what already exists, might we not have a more sane way of designing?
Ecology is our new religion. Obtaining a LEED certification justifies everything. But at a more fundamental level, should we not ask the question of whether we need to make new buildings at all, when they waste tremendous amounts of natural resources? Is there a way of justifying tearing down structures, carting off the waste, importing new future waste, and building a spanking new structure that will have to change as soon as users begin making use of it? And what of the fact that architects are complicit in sprawl?
Speaking of the dissolution of urban structures into the miasma of human structures and infrastructures spreading over the globe, how can architects design for sprawl in such a way that it makes sense? If we cannot create new human landscapes that are socially and environmentally sane, is architecture not morally corrupt?
Learning from Las Vegas—and Landscape
When will architects admit that interior designers are creating the most effective, sensible, sensual, and spectacular spaces and that landscape architects are making the best urban designs? The restaurants and stores of Las Vegas, the housing plans of the Netherlands, and the public realm of the Duisburg-Nord Industrial Park do everything architects should be aspiring to (OK, and a lot more), yet architects sniff and sneer at anything that is not an autonomous structure. Time to look around, you aspiring Howard Roarks.
It is the final frontier. It is the mystery of architecture. It justifies what architects do. Yet nobody has ever seen it, felt it, touched it, smelt it, or tasted it. How about trying to get at the mystery of what it is?
If the AIA Convention addressed just a few of these issues, perhaps it might justify the carbon cost of bringing all those soi-disant designers to the shores of what was once the swamps of Florida.
An Idiosyncratic P.S.:
Let’s ban the use of all fluorescent lights and air conditioning. They sap your vital bodily fluids.