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Theory attracts the brightest minds to architectural practice


Like Zaha Hadid's Cincinnati Art Gallery or Peter Cook and Colin Fournier's Kunsthaus in Graz, Rem Koolhaas'Dutch Embassy in Berlin is a triumph for the big thinkers. Proof that our most revered, and often obtuse, theorists are perfectly capable of delivering buildings that meet the brief, arrive on time, and attract both popular and critical acclaim.

It is clear that such buildings are a testament to the value of nurturing theoretical discourse in architecture schools and beyond, but less clear to what extent they can be understood as a direct result of theoretical work.

While they are all, to varying degrees, presented as the logical outcome of intellectual exercise, the precise procedure is generally rather vague. Academic rigour tends to be liberally tempered, and even subsumed, by an instinctive aesthetic sensibility.Which is probably just as well - Daniel Libeskind's valiant efforts to design buildings as explicit three-dimensional manifestations of theoretical work result in structures that are, at best, a little messy and, at worst, wilful and contrived.

But the extent to which architectural theory has influenced any particular building is far less significant than the fact that, without it, the architect might never have been an architect at all.While there are those who view architecture as a calling that will magnetically attract the chosen few, many of our most brilliant minds - from Michelangelo onwards - have flitted between professions. Libeskind was a concert pianist in a former life.Koolhaas was a journalist and screenplay writer before switching to architecture. Even now, his precise occupation is decidedly fluid, with his books (solid theoretical treatises as opposed to stolid practice monographs) attracting as much attention as his built work. By providing a framework within which the intellectually curious can derive stimulation and satisfaction from their work, architectural theory attracts talent that might otherwise find an outlet elsewhere. Curiously, the case for resourcing the more esoteric extremes of architectural education is most convincing when theoretical discourse is couched in the starkest economic terms; as a powerful selling point in the marketplace where architecture competes to attract the brightest minds.

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