Paleo Retiree writes:
Among the many shortcomings of semi-official discussions of architecture:
- An overemphasis on architects, and particularly on star architects (aka “starchitects”). What the starchitects create represents less than 1% of the built environment. The rest of building-and-urbanism is created by no-names — contractors, developers, non-legendary architects, even (gadzooks) everyday people … Why is this work so totally overlooked by those who Lead the Discussion? Since it’s what most of our experience of “architecture” consists of, it’s a terrible oversight. It’s as though the Music Discussion recognized nothing but conservatory-style highbrow music as “real music”; or the Movies Discussion focused only on auteur-type feature films from arthouse directors; or the Food Discussion failed completely to take folk food, fast food, and home cooking into account. (Hard to believe now — what with the omnipresence of good, populist food magazines, blogs and food shows in our lives — but it wasn’t so long ago that the foodie world took note only of “fine dining,” preferably à la française. Thank god that particular snobbery has been overcome! And I say this as someone who enjoys the occasional adventure in fine dining.) But a similar kind of snobbery still prevails where architecture-and-urbanism goes. Architecture journalists and critics ought to be — IMHO, of course — observing, discussing and critiquing/appreciating minimalls, casinos, parking structures, schools, hotels, condo developments, alleyways, two-family-homes, plazas, playgrounds, office campuses, porches, barns, neighborhoods, garages, etc.
- An underemphasis on minor and sideways pleasures. With its neurotic fetishism of the starchitecture world and its obsessive fixation on genius-creators, the architecture establishment does a massive injustice to the many potential satisfactions and delights a fan has in store if he/she just opens his/her eyes. (If your eyes are open, the entire built world — your house, your daily walk, your place of work — becomes a playground/museum of architecture.) A nicely-placed park bench … A beautifully-recessed window … A parking lot that offers some shade, and that doesn’t wreck the neighborhood it serves … A lobby that’s both welcoming and helpful … A stretch of road that’s a reliable pleasure to drive along … A corner of a park where people enjoy eating lunch on a sunny day … Materials, too. Back at my previous place of blogging, for instance, I offered an appreciation (or two) of the pleasures of traditional brick. Why deny oneself — or fail to take note of — such day-to-day beauties? I can’t imagine an architecture-appreciation life spent waiting around for the next act of earthshaking mischief by the usual handful of certified geniuses. But maybe that’s me.
A long-winded windup to my modest topic today: the pleasures of corrugated iron. I don’t know about you, but I often love walks and drives through industrial areas. In my own case, especially through small-scale industrial areas, and particularly through neighborhoods that mix small-scale industry and residential buildings. (What can I say? I’m a “smaller is usually better,” decentralization-lovin’ kinda guy. Not much I can do about that.) The combo of the chaotic and the structured … The variety of scales and building-types … The complete lack of prissiness … The inventiveness, craftsmanship and resourcefulness on display … Lordy, it can really get my eyes and brain (and, OK, my heart) dancin’.
Something that often stops me in my tracks in these quarters is corrugated iron — whether a wall of it or an entire building made of it.
Eye-pleasing textures … Geometry of a non-fussed-over, unself-conscious kind … Shadows and light of a non-harsh, non-stark kind … A material that wears “time” and “usage” with a lot of eloquence … Space, shelter and usefulness defined in such refreshingly direct ways … Taking note of such a structure can be like experiencing a sonata.
But one might worry: Was anything deliberately “aesthetic” intended? My response: Does it really matter all that much? Like a random YouTube video, or diner food, or street fashions, or a pattern of damp on a plaster wall, the pleasure — and even the style — is there to enjoy once we give ourselves permission to do so.
Not to step on The Question Lady’s toes, but I often find myself wondering: While the music, movies, visual-culture and food worlds have been showing a lot of openness to non-snob work for some time now, the Architecture Discussion remains stuck back in 1950, almost totally under the control of genius-worshipping editors, professors and critics. Why should it be the last of the cultureworlds to open up to the broader world around us? Hunches?
Previously in this series.