Less and More

[Originally published in HUNCH 6 / 7  109 Provisional Attempts to Address Six Simple and Hard Questions, in which 109 contributors were posed six questions by editors Jennifer Sigler and Roemer van Toorn]

editors: What is an architect in today’s society?

RGM: The word “architect” is being used by so many different professions–from web architects, software architects, and sound architects, to architects of peace accords or architects of acts of terrorism–that everyone, it seems, is an architect of one sort or another today. If anyone can be an architect, then architecture can be anything, which in turn means, of course, that it is ultimately nothing. In this scheme of things, a “building architect” must have something to do with buildings and cities; with a commitment to the real.

How do you define an innovative architect?
Innovation is when someone does something that no one else remembers having seen before; it is directly proportional with collective amnesia: the more we are bombarded with images and slogans, the less we remember and the more we believe that what we are being bombarded with is “innovative”. Let’s face it, if architecture is the second-oldest profession, then it is probably not the most innovative field today. Does it matter? Buildings and cities change relatively slowly: we could still use better places to eat, sleep and shit every day. Innovation in building architecture therefore has to be measured in larger historical terms than those of recent developments in semiconductor or information technology.

How should one practice architecture?
Buildings and cities evolve through changes of habit, not just through changes of images. The greatest contribution a building architect can make is to come up with small innovations that will actually have a large effect on building production. The invention of the elevator caused much more change worldwide than any landmark museum ever did.

What are the responsibilities of an architect?
The architect is responsible to the public at large–that complex and diverse group that actually lives, works and fucks in buildings. That’s why architectural research that critically investigates its appropriation and inhabitation by mass culture is crucial. A lot of interest in architecture seems to disappear at precisely the moment that it is “consummated” by its users.

What or where is architecture’s laboratory?
The city is the laboratory of architecture. The street is the laboratory of architecture. The back yard. The piece of empty land that is more profitable as a parking lot than as a building. The real world is the laboratory of architecture.

How can architecture be taught today?
Herman Hertzberger’s dictum “we want to learn without being taught” is as relevant today as it was in 1968, but life is a learning experience only when education imparts students with the critical thinking that is required in order to learn from life’s triumphs and mistakes.

Based on what I see happening in architecture today, I would like to see the following changes:

less: / more:
academicism / research
competition / cooperation
hype / substance
glamour / intelligence
opulence / affordability
heroics / modesty
hero worship / critique
pretension / triviality
seriousness / humor
elite / pop
arrogance / empathy
branding / ad-busting
Wall Street / Canal Street
objects / networks
workaholics / personnel
virtuality / reality
ideology / ideals
visuality / feeling
rationalism / empiricism
signature / vernacular
solos / jamming
bla bla bla / ha ha ha!
output / input
skyscrapers / housing
aloof / down-to-earth
® / @
talk / action
loudness / silence
either-or / and-or
Bush / Lula
Hollywood / Dogma
ARCHITECTURE! / architecture?
less is more / more or less

About Rafael Gomez-Moriana

I am an architect, writer and educator. rafagomo.com chronicles my architectural making, writing, teaching and curating activity, while criticalista.com is an archive of my writings as well as a platform for venting personal rants and observations. I studied architecture at the University of Waterloo (Canada) and at the Berlage Institute (the Netherlands). I direct the University of Calgary’s architecture term-abroad program in Barcelona and teach at CIEE, and have previously taught in the Metropolis Masters Program in Architecture and Urban Culture as well as at Carleton University and the University of Manitoba.

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