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What is good architecture?

[THIS WEEK] The simplest questions are often the most difficult, writes James Pallister

The latest edition of Dutch architectural journal OASE is given over to a collection of essays addressing the straightforward but perennially perplexing teaser: ‘What is good architecture?’

Andrew Leach argues that the question of what is good architecture is itself a red herring, as ‘every definition of good architecture entails a doctrinaire way of thinking’.

Lucien Kroll eschews this relativist approach. His essay argues for a human approach to architecture, ‘grounded in respect for the planet … for an architecture that empathises with human needs, is open to resident participation,’ and succeeds in restoring the ‘balance between form, human values and a sustainable approach to the environment’. Pier Vittorio Aureli is reconciled with the perennial obstacle for those who see architecture as a conduit for doing good: the client. ’ The relationship with power has always been a condition for the realisation of architecture. Rather than try to make life better, architecture has to become “destructive”.’

Steve Parnell draws on knowledge of the architectural press in his piece on Jim Richards, editor of The Architectural Review from 1937 to 1971. A man ‘of leftist orientation [who] repeatedly emphasised the social role of the architect’, he believed in the power of anonymous architecture and in ‘learning from the medical profession: [its] well-developed skills, local and immediate availability and research that contributes to a corpus of architectural knowledge’.

In his swan song editorial, Richards bemoaned architects’ position: in thrall to developers and cut off from the public. at was in 1971. Parnell believes we can still learn from Richards, particularly his contention, as summarised by Parnell, that: ‘Good architecture should maintain a connection between art and life in the service of society.’

An interesting edition, on a difficult topic.

What is good architecture

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