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'A promiscuous cornucopia, a daily smorgasbord of undifferentiated images'

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Architecture on the internet is a riot of diffuse ideas, but that’s not all bad news, says Sutherland Lyall

A pundit recently pointed out that the unique thing about modernist architecture was that this was the first time in history when architects weren’t trying to copy something designed earlier. I can hear Robert Adam complaining at the back that this is exactly what’s wrong with it. But I can also hear old modernists from the AJ’s Bride of Denmark years moaning about how architecture, and its practice as they knew it, has gone to hell in
a handcart.

Yet every day, you sit there in front of a computer monitor with pleasure, astonishment and anger roiling around in your brain, prompted by unending images of the latest architectural goodies on websites from around the world. In the print world, we select buildings and ideas. Out there in the electronic ether is a promiscuous cornucopia, a daily smorgasbord of undifferentiated images and (occasionally) explanatory texts. And what about this: as soon as a tiny practice from Inner Mongolia has a good idea, it can put it on the internet. Or, quite frequently, a bad idea. Because blogs or social networking sites tend to have a comment facility, it’s thus possible for somebody from a big practice in Seattle to ask immediately how and why the roof is made from recycled banana leaves.

Here’s an argument from the backblocks: the internet stuff tends to be presented as is. It is more or less value-free. The old Briders therefore ask how exactly are the architectural verities to be transmitted down the generations? If Reyner Banham’s Black Box theory is correct, architecture schools manage this perfectly well, even if by doing no more than inculcating a ragbag of aphorisms and maxims from the not-so-recent past, dressed up as architectural theology. But maybe value-free actually means freedom to think, freedom to share experience, freedom to integrate schooling, imagery and ideas. Of course, joining the intellectual dots and providing a sense of discernment is what we still do here (in print) quite well.

Sutherland Lyall was buildings editor of the AJ from 1973-75

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