As city living continues to grow trendier by the day, new philosophies are emerging in the age-old debate about the importance of architecture. Architecture is critical to urban development—that’s one side of the argument. The other side, ArtInfo’s Kelly Chan says, sees architecture seemingly as an afterthought, nothing more than a way to ensure public safety.

Chan draws from economist Paul Romer’s views to explain this theory. She quotes him as saying: "It's important that buildings don’t catch fire or fall down when there’s an earthquake. Otherwise, I don't think it matters all that much."

While architecture certainly plays a role in prevention and relief work, many people would beg to differ that that’s its only service to society. Just last week, at the 2012 AIA National Convention, David McCullough recalled in his keynote speech how the beauty of the city of Paris saved one troubled artist’s life.

But it’s not the building or transit designs that make a city great, Romer says. It’s the rules. Charter cities, or cities built from scratch, are the wave of the future, Romer advocates.  Chan argues that this model leaves cities untethered, floating freely with no ties to a past. This theory, she says, completely disregards the notion that architecture “roots us in place and time.” She describes such cities this way:

Rules are what predicate Romer's contentious "charter city" concept, which instructs countries to graft new cities onto unused land and govern them with imported "charters." Host countries would thereby relinquish their jurisdiction over areas of their unpopulated terrain, and third-party countries would draft charters to govern fledgling cities, thereby attracting citizens to populate and invest in their respective geographies. 

ARCHITECT blogger Blaine Brownell, who would clearly be on Team Architect, says that the life of a building is not a permanent condition; it is an ongoing project that people contribute to throughout time. By rebuilding, we repurpose and restore so that we don’t lose our past, Brownell says. But without some compromise we may never move forward.

Read Kelly Chan’s full story, “Architects Versus Economists,” on the ArtInfo website.