Where Architecture went wrong

Mainly known for his writings, Vitruvius was himself an architect. In Roman times architecture was a broader subject than at present including the modern fields of architecture,construction management, construction engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering, materials engineering, mechanical engineering, military engineering and urban planning.

Vitruvius is the author of De architectura, known today as The Ten Books on Architecture, a treatise written of Latin and Greek on architecture, dedicated to the emperor Augustus. This text “influenced deeply from the Early Renaissance onwards artists, thinkers, and architects, among them Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72), Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519), and Michelangelo (1475-1564).”

Vitruvius is famous for asserting in his book De architectura that a structure must exhibit the three qualities of firmitas, utilitas, venustas — that is, it must be solid, useful, beautiful. According to Vitruvius, architecture is an imitation of nature. As birds and bees built their nests, so humans constructed housing from natural materials, that gave them shelter against the elements.

Vitruvius didn’t say buildings have to actually look like birds’ nests or bees’ nests. It’s more likely he meant that similar principles of using available resources efficiently should apply. This leads to an entirely different view of architecture.

Exhibit A

Graham McKay

2 thoughts on “Where Architecture went wrong

  1. Aleksandar

    Architecture (better yet Building Design) is today a product like any other. It uses the top-notch technology, not necessarily for the benefit of its users, but rather for its branding and getting the edge on the market. A simple building would suit a standard user, however in order for a building to get built, the product has to be marketed, it needs a brand someone would invest in. This brand is the unnecessary ‘architects’ touch to the product, much as like in designing contemporary cars, buildings follow the same pattern. The car is driven, the building inhabited, but the brand sells it. The Architect of today is rather the project developer and its management team that actually create and sell the buildings according to the markets needs, than what we call ‘architects’ or the once academian artist that sculpted or painted an ornament in order for the brand to be ‘unique’. Be it a Pepsi or a Coke, a beverage is a beverage, I see no reason in propelling them into the skies or even adressing them with the term ‘architect’ for simply choosing which colour the can will be. Now creating the recipe of that same beverage is what one could call actuall architecture.

    Reply
    1. Graham McKay Post author

      Alexsandar, I totally agree. Buildings are products like any other. Like shoes or watches, they satisfy certain minimal functional requirements and all the rest is style and branding. Not everyone can afford them, but most people can buy into the magic in some way I’ve mentioned before (here and here). I also agree with your view of the architect as part of the team that “sells the dream”. It’s a minority view, as I’m sure you’ve found out. The problem is how to work with such a system. It would be easier if architects actually admitted they were like the head designers of fashion houses, creating extravagant distractions for media spectacles but with the main purpose of shifting volumes of perfume. It would certainly be more honest and enable people to understand the difference fantasy and reality, but I don’t see this happening.

      Another possibility is to encourage the development of architectural products that do the job and provide good value for what they cost – for people in all countries, developed and developing alike. The trouble is that buildings are very big and expensive products, and troublesome and time-consuming to produce. If they were as easy to produce and distribute as smartphones, then people would be racing to make them good enough and cheaply enough so that everybody in the world could benefit from one as soon as possible.

      For this to ever succeed, we would need to desensitise ourselves to the forces that make us want or even vicariously appreciate things that are newer and novel – ignore Architecture, in other words. It’s not a case of Architecture or Revolution. We simply need to ignore Architecture and come up with solutions to the problems that matter most. Let me know if you have any further thoughts on this.

      Reply

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