How can Architecture become an Art again? A Modest Proposal

For those of us who don’t get around much it is a bitter pill, though there is no truer physick for what ails an art I love, than to periodically take a stroll through Kunstler’s Eye Sore of the Month Gallery of Shame. As he so aptly puts it, “People get what they deserve, not what they expect.”

Some are the result of bureaucracy run-amok, regulatory micro-managing, as if to insist that this is a horrible way to organize our endeavors while it crushes all endeavor to fit its cretinous mold. This is a “civic” problem. In this we are all complicit.

But in the vanguard, and with the largest budgets, have been the leading lights of architecture, the Olympians of our Star System of winner-take-all competitions. These architects, have, for the past – closing on a century give or take – been at the forefront of the machine that first championed and then normalized the insanity Kunstler lays out for us to see.

Two things stand out from my recent inspection of atrocities. First, his assessment that,

“Contemporary architecture eagerly thrusts us into a dehumanized robotic future. The good news is, that is not our true destination. These redundant monumental gestures are the last gasps of the cheap energy fiesta. The closer we get to the end, the more soulless they get.”

This is good news, of a kind we need to develop a taste for, since it is the most abundant these days; and a potential source for clarity.

The other came to me as the result of the accumulation of instances, like this one, where an architect with all the money and success in the world couldn’t resist and took on the desecration of an earlier structure simply because he could not say, “NO!”

How can architecture redeem itself as an art? By beginning to say no.

This is directed primarily at the “Stars,” the one’s least likely to ever come across these words! But it is made in the light of a need we all must face of removing ourselves from complicity whenever we can.

For these stars, in one way that would be easiest, they can “afford it.” In another it is harder for them than for anyone. “Passing through the eye of needle…,” and all that.

For the rest of us, caught much more openly in the particulars of decline and the effects of collapse, it is reciprocally harder AND easier.

It is an opportunity to lead. An opportunity to pick up a responsibility that has been abdicated. It requires trading on our reputations, but doing it in a way that will not lead to “success.”

This connects with the dynamics of our moment of clarity. It is part of the Gift we receive from living in difficult times. It becomes more obvious that certain things are wrong. The ambiguity and cognitive dissonance that leads us to maintain a suspension of disbelief in insane approaches that withers away under the onslaught of the repetitiously appalling.

We are already straightened! This is itself a difficult transition, but harder in its expectation than in its execution. This is part of our advantage over the “Giants” now toppling over into irrelevance. They are afraid to lose what they imagine they have, and are willing to be complicit in any atrocity to stay there. We can afford to say, “What the Hell!”

What happens if we say no?

It might give pause. Here there is strength in numbers. One homeless person sleeping in a park is invisible. Eight hundred supposedly “normal” people sleeping in a park is a threat and a promise! Awareness shines on threads of responsibility that had been in deepest shadow.

We will get poorer? Yes, and no. This part should be relatively clear….

“No, and, before you run off to find someone who will just do what you ask, let me tell you why.”

What if we had that conversation?

Sanity cannot be regulated. It cannot be specified. It must be chosen.


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