Life has a pace and a shape to it that are perhaps uniquely linked. This natural phenomenon has at best fashioned the quality of work required in order to sustain a family unit (I am aware that 'family unit' can be translated in different ways). There was a time when one income, perhaps mixed with parsimony, could pay for the housing, clothing and feeding of a number of people.
How and why have we arrived at a position in which at least two incomes are required to enable the household to participate in a modern lifestyle? Of course, expectations are greater than they used to be, but I suspect that these have been raised by the advertising agent and other 'lifestyle' engineers to encourage an ever-increasing spend in the market place. The invention of style is one of the great immoralities of the twentieth century and, sadly, it has been allowed to invade the world of architecture.
Modernity is not a style: it is a concern.
'Ghastly good taste, or the depressing story of the rise and fall of English Architecture.' This observation by John Betjeman could be levelled at the 'accepted' style of much current practice in the UK. A stripped-down, respectable form of maximal minimalisation has become confused with the word architecture. The main players in this form of corruption have forgotten two major equals in their practice, namely art and social responsibility. Some of these practitioners are worse insofar as they have the power to make a huge impact on social injustice and malpractice but they choose to say nothing in case it affects their chances of being considered for a project. Conformity is the requirement of a modern society that is averse to risk. The idea of dealing with hardship, need and problem-solving through architecture is no problem at all for the regulators of the early twentieth century aesthetic. NO ART. The art of the matter, which might even help our multi-headed working households, is that the business of design is promoted by many institutions as a thread of this thing called 'wealth creation'.These institutions cannot cope with art. Like advertising agencies, they can only use it in the service of selling - selling more things that a single-income household cannot afford. Rarely do these things give delight.
How can the architect help today? It is true that the best of old Modernism was linked integrally to a political message that by and large was intent on the same objectives.
In today's conditions we neither look for nor expect such an alignment. Architects must strive to be relevant to the people they serve and simultaneously celebrate their own individuality in their work.As in art, the Modernism often associated with the US eventually wore itself out because it could not sustain itself. This gave way to the Expressionism in Europe (which had become bored with the US's own belief in itself ) of, among others, Joseph Beuys. He had no orthodox political ideology. He had a series of powerful experiences that he developed and moulded into his 'social sculpture'. The sheer power of his work is remarkable, 1969's The Pack being the most beautiful. Not to be confused with the stylistic needs of a market driven by advertising, it is real, personal and relevant. Very often, as with Modernism, the brilliance and creativity of the original practitioners are followed by modernisation, which leads to irrelevance and stagnation. In the meantime, single-income families run up monthly credit card bills as they try to conform to the spending habits supported by our institutionalised stylistic Modernists.