Can the architect's art afford to be about beauty and style?
Picasso said to Jean Cocteau: 'Technique is that which one cannot have.'
A work of art, and I include architecture as the greatest art, is a fragment of a total order - a tension between the artist's sense of ordering and the challenge of confronting a solitude in producing each work. This no-mans-land is the very essence of what we do, and of course the most difficult for others, that do not understand the idea of a quest, to digest. Architecture is often judged by a set of rules imposed upon it by others who cannot do it. As a result it is often prosaic, dull and dangerous.
The architect should always be wary of beauty. My studio has a motto which is 'No Style - No Beauty', which doesn't prevent the product from being either stylish or beautiful but recognises that these are values imposed on the project by others.The real purpose of such a dictum is to prevent the architect being seduced by beauty, or indeed encouraging others to fall in love with a drawing through some aesthetic deceit. An architect free of the necessity to produce beauty or fashion is able to see things in a different way - which will always result in a sense of solitude. Although lonely, it is the only tenable position to adopt.
Terry Frost often used to say: 'If you know before you look, you can't see for knowing.'Today, however, we have fostered a world that wants to know everything before almost anything has started.So the client comes to rely on 'advisors', who are often architects who cannot make architecture themselves and have supposedly elevated themselves to a position of safe impartiality that disguises their blindness. As a result, they pass their shortcomings on to others, which ultimately diminishes everyone's enjoyment of the environment.
The idea of not knowing, and the ability to embrace the uncertainties of one's work, requires a courage which could be called 'old fashioned', if the new false 'expert'advisors are to be believed. This courage is the very essence of the work, which can start with a random dribble of paint, an accidental coffee spillage, and provocation from a theatre trip.
The interview for a new project is an activity fraught with invitations to lie, as the 'jury'are put into the unfortunate position of being hired to ask questions, to which they inevitably expect answers. Invariably the grilling will consist of probes to ascertain what you might produce.The style? The colour? The materials? Social inclusion? Etc etc.All these questions can only truthfully be answered at the interview stage by saying 'I haven't a clue'- although this will lose you the job. The poor candidate is therefore reduced to lying in order to secure a project.
Our competitive interviews are, on the other hand, great works of fiction which are preparing a generation of architects to qualify for the Booker Prize rather than the Stirling.Some practices, particularly those that have developed a consistency to their output, are scared to change.They never feel lonely as they sit scratching their heads, because they know what they will do.They view their practices as businesses which require a certain efficiency to keep the coffers up. Their lives are not usefully empty.
These people are not worrying about the great social sculpture (as Beuys characterised it), that they are not contributing to; they worry only about satisfying the vanities of the ever increasing army of the no-can-do advisors. This is very bad for the world.The architect's efforts have been reduced to 'understandable technique', which Picasso advises is something we cannot have.
WA, from somewhere in Seville