ARCHITECTS, ARCHITECTURE AND SOCIETY
THE PROBLEM OF ARCHITECTURAL FORM AND URBAN ENVIRONMENT
Architects and urbanists form an autocratic system in modern society. There is only little 'democracy' in regard to the formation of urban space, in which everyone has to move and to live. Critical laics' voices are turned down by 'urban interests'.
Peter Shepheard, in his preface of MacEwen's (1974) 'Crisis in Architecture' wrote:
Thorne's study of laic opinions (1996) shows striking congruences between the attitudes of the general public and the perceptions of individual critics of the architectural profession. There was:
- Architects "seem oblivious or even contemptuous of the fact that much of their work is hated by the people who live with it".
- Rather than accept some of the criticism, architects "tend to accuse the public of lack of taste for not appreciating the formal qualities of brutal and inhumane buildings which one can only assume to have been built for the admiration of other architects". (Peter Shepheard, in M. MacEwen 1974, citations acc. to Thorne 1996)
1st question: Why is tourism essentially focussed on premodern historical (European city tourism) or traditional environments (mountain, beach-resort areas), not on our modern architectural and urbanistic "creations"?
- "Criticism of the profession's lack of its own knowledge-base and research output (especially when the profession is compared with others such as medecine or engineering)." (McCue and Ewald 1970)
- "There were complaints of architects following fashion, being educated to follow the "in thing" and "going mad with the pencil", producing a "sort of visual competition amongst themselves".
- The "problem with architects is that each of these buildings becomes an edifice to them; they all want to be remembered as the premium architect in the country".
- Or, as another person said, "you look at some of these buildings and the architects have gone mad". (Thornton 1996)
2nd question: Though this contradicts entirely with modern totalitarian design "theories", why do many peoples explicitly appreciate to live in premodern conditions?
3rd question: Does man have a kind of architectural archetype in his mind, a spiritual need for past conditions which are not satisfied with modern architecture and urbanism?
4th question: There is this puzzling fact that the life cycle of architectural and urban conditions - at least in historical centres - is much higher than our own human life expectancy. This confronts us always (and in all cultures) with architectural and urban accumulations of various pasts. Does architecture thus form a kind of extra-mental memory which has effects on our minds and makes us selective in regard to different realisations?
5th question: Is architectural (and urban) form an essential part of the human orientation system (in the deepest sense)?
6th question: Is there a psychological tolerance factor of human adaptability related to pace and degree of fundamental structural changes of environments? Does man show psychopathological reactions, if this tolerance factor is transgressed? (-> architectural psychology and psychopathology; -> spatial psychology)
Maybe in knowing the answers to such questions we would be able to build cities which are more conformous to the full scale of human needs (not just physical comfort).
PROBLEMS OF THE PAST: MODERNISM AND ITS DILETTANTIC POLEMICS
Modernism triggered a puritanistic thunderstorm which devastated the whole pre-modern formal arsenal. Let us take an example, e. g. the ornament.
The art historians considered ornament and decoration as a rather superficial application, as embellishment of basically functional or stylish form.
This formed the basis of modernism's dilettantic polemics. E. g. Adolf Loos: "Ornament is a crime."
But, this first attempt to an objective and evolutionary approach to architectural aesthetics was ardently attacked shortly after Semper's death by an exponent of the history of art (Riegl). Sempers phenomenological results were illegitimately distorted as 'materialism' and contrasted with a nebulous term derived from Schopenhauer: the subjective "will for form".
- In scientific terms, Gottfried Semper (1863, 1868) was more advanced much earlier, at the beginning of the second half of the 19th century:
- he considered the ornament as a structural or textural survival of his primordial class of 'textiles'.
On the other hand, the first hand insights of Semper's valuable evolutionary approach were immediately baked into modernism. Semper supported what the machine had taught the architects: form follows function. The modern aesthetic form was quickly interpreted as the result of - industrialised - technical processes.
From the standpoint of recent architectural anthropology, ornament, and particularly the plant ornament, reveals as a structural indicator of evolutionary processes of architectural form (e.g. Egyptian plant-columns).
Vitruvius was a good engineer and writer, but, if we measure him with a modern anthropologist's horizon, he reveals completely outdated today.
- On forms of durable materials (wood, metal, stone), it is a survival of fibroconstructive prototypes and thus a reminder or the original meaning of architectural form.
- Thus, the shiny spiral of the Ionian column jumps out of Vitruv's concept of style and tells us, that in its original form - in Ancient Mesopotamia - it was a sacred bundle made of plant materials, reed, and - standing freely in space - it represented a local deity which protected a certain territory (Egenter 1994).
- Note: the territorial function contributed essentially to its high ontological value.
- Note: The much admired 'geometric' spirals are thus derived from dried reed ears! (-> Egenter 1994)
- Vitruv is totally outdated, a fossile! Reviving him today is like fundamentalism in religion! (-> Architectural Fundamentalism).
- we know much more today than he could have known in his times:
- we know many cultures of several continents he has never seen.
In contrast to such outdated "theories of architecture"
the new domain of architectural anthropology offers clearly defined domains of research and theory which parallel the whole evolution of man and culture. Many entirely new domains and insights are provided (see below).
Returning to the inital topic of 'the ornament', 'architectural anthropology' may lead to an reevaluation of premodern architectural forms:
Architectural design would return to the human scale and re-discover and re-interprete the premodern toposemantic system ( -> value focussed axis, access place scheme)
- the ornamented architectural form could become an important symbol again:
- the Ionian column, now a new humanistic symbol of the creation of man and his culture,
- the symbol of a harmonious type of cognition (like Chinese Yin-Yang), in opposition to the modern analytical mind,
- and a symbol of man's pre-scientific capacity to harmonise the world!
THE DISASTER OF FUNCTIONALISM
"Form follows function"! The elder generation of architects was indoctrinated with this granite-like formula. Today it is fairly devalued.
Provoking question: Are modern cities a mixture between ocean steamers and alpine sanatoriums?
- We know now: it was simply a retroprojection of machine age principles onto historical conditions.
- The concept was derived from such heterogenous areas of production like ocean steamers, airplanes, cars, and other machines.
- Paradox: the hygienic aspects of modernism developed from tuberculosis sanatoriums in the alps where mondane European elites were brought up for cure. They idealised them as important part of modern living standards
Do we still have to defend such dilettantic stuff as our present 'architectural and urban theories'?
If - with architectural anthropology - we assume that the architectural tradition (as well as certain types of object culture) transmitted high ontological values in certain forms (e.g. Ionian column), which were perceived or felt on various levels (agrarian, urban) and resulted in high evaluation,
Only gradually we start to feel, what this destruction of 'identification' means:
- this ontological part of architecture (and object culture) was ousted by functionalism and replaced by industrialised commodity-forms and identically reproducable architecture.
- tremendous social costs and social unrest in the suburbs of our megacities.
Note that this conflict is not limited on a certain place or a certain time. If we assume that traditional societies, as well as pre-modern urban societies had in common
Architectural Anthropology and Habitat Research show, that - contrary to the art historian's ever changing styles -
- this high ontological values of their architecture of whatever style,
- this conflict may produce itself anywhere in the world, where premodern architecture and object culture are wiped out in favour of modern rationalistic environments.
And this was the common structural trait through many cultures:
- the structural conditions of form and organisation of space were of a tremendously unchanging continuity. Their basic principles:
- composition with harmonious elements.
Only if we realise this pre-modern continuity 'beyond the styles' we can understand what functionalism and its industrial 'creation' of a new, modern' world really means:
- in the Euro-Mediterranean domain from most ancient predynastic cultures into our premodern times.
- in other "high cultures", throughout their history of art: India, China and Japan
- it was the "creation" of an ontological void!
20 PROBLEMS (continued)
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