Friday, July 28, 2006

FAT’s “How to become a Famous Architect”

FAT is a British firm that offers a stinging How-To guide entitled: “How to become a Famous Architect.” I encourage everyone to read it and enjoy before reading further.

While the guide over exaggerates and ignores the hard work (?) and talent (?) it takes to become a “famous architect,” it presents several valid discussion points.

First, does “noteworthy” architecture prefer style over substance? According to the How-To guide, success relies on shocking firm names, photoshoped designs, and mystique. FAT explains that “if it sound good, it is good.” Take a look in many architecture books or periodicals: lots of pretty images and little writing. I would assume design decisions are based on intellectual reasons, but they are rarely presented. Without commentary, many designs appear intellectually shallow. They are simple formal or spatial plays that ignore the outside world. History, politics, religion, and pop culture present exciting opportunities for architecture, yet their influences are either ignored or not discussed.

On a related note, vague goobley-gook about ‘space’ and ‘form’ (derived from the mystique) is not an acceptable substitute for logical discussions about design. However, logical dialogue should not be confused with simple-minded discourses. It takes extensive intellectual ability to explain complex reasons with reasonable clarity – but surely this is not beyond the minds of the world’s best designers.

Taking this concept further, architecture can be seen as an argument – a physical construction of an architect’s ideas. Without logically-stated reasons, critics cannot judge whether the design succeeds or fails at conveying them. This is especially important in the “anything-goes” game of contemporary design. Instead of discussing design, architects emphasize novelty and pseudo-intellectual sound bytes. Since it is “unique,” it is “good.” Perhaps some architects, as FAT recommends, avoid comprehensible discussions to save themselves from well-deserved criticism.

Next, does the media and academia form our opinions on “good design”? As a recent graduate of architecture school, I felt professors’ philosophies were often shoved down my throat. Instead of allowing students to develop their own design philosophies, they are read from the gospels of Gropius, Mayne, and Gehry. In addition, a design was thought to be “pushing the envelope” because it was featured on the cover of Architectural Record. From my experiences, students accept the media’s and academia’s opinions with little object. If the “authorities” - who developed their opinions through instruction from the previous generation of “authorities” - say the design is good, then it must be good.

What would happen if major architectural journals started to feature only classically-inspired designs? Would people follow like lemmings? (Initially, I would say probably not… contemporary and modern architecture has deep roots in the architectural community … people tend to fight change (i.e. a return to classicism). But after some time passes, who knows? Note: I have nothing against classical architecture, it is merely an example).

However, the effectiveness of the (architectural) media appears to be limited to architectural circles. This is likely an oversimplification, but most homeowner prefer traditional houses over modern designs. Maybe they just “don’t get” contemporary designs. On the other hand, maybe they do!

It is unfair to portray the media as an elitist organization dictating design preferences. Books and journals serve an important purpose: they document new designs that most people will never see in person. In addition, not every project can be featured; therefore few buildings will be selected from the masses. My criticism is the media’s often-assumed authority on good design.

Obviously, there are exceptions to my comments. Many architects have intellectually stimulating designs (If anyone has some suggested designers, post them!). Likewise, I am not condemning contemporary design; rather I am stating my hopes for, in my opinion, better designs.

Now excuse me, I have to design my atom[ICK] decay house…


Blogger AM said...

I just quit my summer internship for the very reason that the architect was a shallow person, designing mind-flattering building, copied from other buildings. This guy don't care about building buildings, or work with concepts that mean something. He's seeking pubilcation and it works: there is not a single month in which he's not published. He's shallow and doesn't have an ounce of creativity in his mind, he's just copying and following the trends.
My point is: when I read this how-to, (to me it sounds more like a joke) I immediately thought of him. And what they state is actually true, it works.

11:40 AM  
Blogger niche said...

I agree that the How-To is intended to be a joke. I hope my entry did not appear to be a literal interpretation. However, like you, I believe there is truth behind it. That is why the guide entertains / upsets those who read it.

12:31 PM  
Blogger Bradley said...

I tend to take issue with much of the leading contemporary design because it strikes me as overwhelmingly whimsical - and while deep theories aren't permeating their existences, some architects will veil it as otherwise.

While I believe the capabilities of construction can advance by constructing these buildings (though I wouldn't necessarily say that a 'brick wants to be an arch' in these cases), such as recently announced TM2 by Herzog de Meuron will (more extensive coverage and links on Improvised Schema and A Daily Dose of Architecture), the result doesn't yield progress in architectural theory, but further encourages a culture of absent thought and whimsical blobs.

1:05 PM  
Blogger Bradley said...

FAT is new to me, I've been reading through FAT's website... I particularly enjoy that they seem to be seeing success by following the tenets of their own How-To's
(also, Hugh Pearman writes in Jan. of this year about FAT -

6:49 PM  

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