|Royal Ontario Museum|
Recently I was going through my dropbox folder and I found this article by Kaid Benfield, published on October 28, 2013 in The Atlantic Cities titled "Has Architecture Lost Touch With the People?" Interesting question to ponder. I thought it would be an interesting topic consider and would dovetail nicely into the subject of a lecture I'm planning to attend tomorrow evening at the USC School of Architecture on "What Not To Build?"
The architecture profession is a funny one. It straddles the line between fine art and functional art. I'm not going to get into a whole discussion about the difference between the two because there's been enough written about the subject. Suffice it to say, architects seem to intent on making an artistic statement, rather as the compliant alleges, serving the people. Kaid Benfield uses his article to figure out to what degree, is the this charge true. Have architects become so preoccupied with being artistes that they've forgotten that to listen to the actual users of the buildings and places they're supposed to serve? Let's consider the evidence.
|Royal Ontario Museum interior|
In legal terms, an architect is the all seeing, all knowing, building professional. You are liable for anything that goes wrong with a building but if someone just hates the spaces you design? If someone feels uncomfortable, or cold, or scared? Well there's no lawsuit for that...The problem is that architects seem to pray at the feet of the latest hyped-up formal language. I dare you. Flip through an architectural magazine today. Find any people in the photographs? I didn't think so. Find plenty of pictures that worship obscure angles an the place where two materials meet? You betcha.
|Interior of Starbucks on 1st and Pike|
Starbucks interviewed hundreds of coffee drinkers, seeking what it was that they wanted out o fa coffee shop. The overwhelming consensus actually had nothing to do with coffee, what the consumer sought was a place of relaxation, a place of belonging.
The need for a place of relaxation and belonging led Starbucks to make a number of important design decisions. Love or hate Starbucks, you can't argue with their immense success. When was the last time you came across an empty Starbucks. Personally speaking, the one near my apartment is always packed.
|University of the District of Columbia|
|The "Crystal" Royal Ontario Museum|
|Street entrance to the Starbucks at the Farmers Market|
Los Angeles, Ca
|Rockefeller Plaza ice rink|
One answer comes from The Charter of the New Urbanism, developed entirely by architects. While it does not address the importance of public engagement, instead, it provides a set of guidelines that govern the relationship between the built environment, the people, and the public realm. The manifesto has been superseded by an "urban-to-rural Transect," as a way to translate the Charter's principles into more precise guidelines based on the site's context within the larger region. New urbanism has its naysayers. Environmentalists have argued with practitioners over the latter's disdain for environmental regulations and often non-critical approach to expansionist greenfield development. Modernists have a problem with some the new urbanist's adherence to traditional forms. Historicism is the bane of modernists. Planners sometimes have issues with the perceived rigidity of the doctrine's principles. Mr. Benfield concludes that new urbanism is "...the best-articulated attempt out there to relate architect to the commons and to a set of humanist standards, until someone comes up with a better one."
San Francisco, Ca
Design of public spaces during much of the 19th and 20th centuries was guided by industrialization, auto-centered planning and urban renewal. Top-down planning, centralization of control and land use regulations eliminated community voices and ultimately, fractured the bond between communities and public places...
Further, the release places emphasizes collaborative engagement leads to better stewardship of place and community:
The relationship of places and their communities is not linear, but cyclical and mutually influential. Places grow out of the needs and actions of their formational communities, and in turn shape the way these communities behave and grow. This mutual influences of community and place creates a virtuous cycle of placemaking that supports the mutual stewardship of place and community and the creation of civic infrastructure necessary for health societies and collaborative problem solving.
Mr. Benfield notes that the case studies prepared in the report were put together with the assistance of architects who were good listeners and collaborators as well as contextually sensitive designers. Of course.
Thornton Creek, Seattle, Wa
Another example of good listening by architects is Thornton Place, a mixed-used development in Seattle, Washington. This project received accolades from the community for its sensitivity to community needs, bringing to life a long-buried stream and green space in a neighborhood previously accentuated by parking lots and other auto-centric features. There are other examples that Mr. Benfileld goes on to cite other examples, enthusing about the future.
Kaid Benfield concludes by agreeing with Christine Outram that there are some insensitive, uncaring architects out in the world, some of them highly regarded. He also agrees with her inference that architects, like the rest us, have an obligation to society. Where they differ is on the role of the architect as part of the solution. Mr. Benfield sees architects as both part of the solution and part of the problems. Mr. Benfield states, "If your values are humanist, and you're not noticing and excited by the work that some of these great (an I hasten to add, environmentally responsible0 architects and designers are doing, then maybe you're the one who isn't paying attention."
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