One of the most elusive construction material is light. It comes as a given but it creates the most incredible thing named shadow. Light was there at the beginning and with it came shadow movement and timing. Our lives are regulated by the variation of the light that surround us. In a building the shadows or the pools of light are essential elements of our creation. Given the climate dry or humid, the shadows might be perceived differently. In certain climate a shadow on a pink wall turns violet, or green on a yellow wall. Our ancestors the Greeks did make it a regulating factor of their architecture, planes were only created to greet a beautiful shadow that could reinforce the image of a building. Sun is a building material and shadows are motion associated to it.
As any animal we are afraid when we cannot position ourselves. A successful building is one that does not need directory. One should be able to perceive the logic of the structure and go with the flow. There is a great sense of comfort created by a clearly ordained structure. Some round buildings are difficult to maneuver as it is hard to understand where you are in relationship to where you started. Some building types might be better if not understandable and full of surprises. But this is not the norm apparently. It seems important as to the sense of scale, straight lines are easier to evaluate than curves. One reason why the Harbor cities are always quite pleasant, is about the structure defined by the focal point that is the Harbor. Even better if the site is hilly as immediately one can memorize sites and vistas. Sydney, San Francisco, or even Rome withe the seven hills.
As everything our senses are multiple. One important factor to carry our memory is the smell of things, the odor or the aroma...It takes you to like or to dislike a space, in any case it is part of the experience. Whether the station of Bruxelles was beautiful or not was one aspect of the question, but the fact that the aroma of the chocolate factory next by was making it an experience. The tannery district in Fez is spectacular and somewhat beautiful with all these colors but the pungent smell of the tannin does not allow you to enjoy the experience.
Regardless of the beauty of the site, one forgets one very important parameter. The sound. Gothic naves , due to the crenelation of the stones and the height do create an acoustic ambiance that is not noticed at once. Like a subliminal feeling it does accompany your experience and makes it grander... Sound is an important element of our memory for spaces. The comfort factor we perceive is based on a multitude of parameters. The Germans have a word for Comfort Zone in a building "Klima Behaglichkeit " it is limited to a series of quantitative factors unfortunately. The reality of our perception of space is multiple. We as little animals, our memory is based on all our senses. Vision is only one, and our sense of comfort or fear is far more complex.
Speed comes as a factor of our perception, it is part of the design process. The trees ling a road can be either a barrier or an opening framing a view depending of our speed. On the side of the road tghe space between trees can become narrower and narrower as our speed increases. The pedestrian does not share the same experience with the car driver. Here comes back the notion of scale. As usual we have to make a decision about how do we would like our visitors to have an experience.
The main issue we are facing today as the shopping precinct is getting larger is in fact the definition of retail itself.
When malls where small it was easy to fill them up with some sharp answer to the local demand and be merry. Should one shop fail another one would take its place and so on.Those centers were edifices of style or grandeur and could sustain a presence only based on looksToday we are faced with a very different challenge: the size of the mall makes it a totally different animal. Beyond the use itself it becomes one of the magnets of any city and rivals any neighborhood strictly by the number of people visiting it.This in itself creates new opportunities and new duties. It becomes what it used to be at the time of the great Bazaars. The centers of the city as such should entertain a new collection of uses that were unthinkable before.Also it must become more of an integrated element in the urban texture than those fortresses that we are building today.The uses traditionally were split between convenience buying and impulse buying. The first one has still a long future ahead and shall be improved significantly with new merchandising techniques. The latter in essence is going to be broadened. Or diversified beyond the entertainment retail, that fashion is we will see a complete new series of outlets that will come to these centers lured by the vast quantities of people coming there. That is and it started already, Gyms, Spas, and Dance. Schools, do it yourself centers, schools of any kind as language or computer training or any improvement format. Even some medical centers, travel centers or any kind it will indeed come back to the origins of the Souks, a part of the City where all kinds of complementary activities take place. In essence people bring people and when there are people there is a base for businesses of all kinds.
So we are now in the realm of Urban Design, the revolution is complete.
The first time Architecture came to life was the day a man started pushing aside the reeds of his hut to be able to see the volcano….Then he painted the cave he was in and from then on we lived in a world where Architects existed… But always the issue was about the fourth dimension that rules Architecture. It was about this little thing that separates a shelter from a home. The quest for ages was to introduce a new way of life through the environment that was created.
Today apparently we have fallen in a different world where appearance is more important than the essence. It seems that all Architects are snuffed up by the overwhelming possibilities that modern technology delivers to us. The possibilities to build what seemed not constructible a short time ago has apparently gone to Architects heads and freed of boundaries they desperately try to achieve more. For millennium technology was an essential part of the Art of building, ruled by gravity and controlled by the limitations we had in terms of representation of what we wanted to achieve. For that reason maybe the ornamental part of Architecture kicked in to try to hide the laws of physics that were ruling the industry. Money was a second factor in this deal, limited by the production means we had to find solutions that were affordable in some way. The tools being used were far more basic.
The essence of a building was the key to its success; it was loaded with content and intents. Maybe we are today in a society that has lost purpose but many of these 2D structures are strangely empty as the content goes. Often times pretty, but Architecture is not about pretty, there is more to it than “just a pretty picture” there is mood, scale, ambiance, complicity. Well everything that makes life what it is. Civilization is a choice from mankind, it did not happen by default, it was a well thought out decision. When Mies was creating his clean lines pristine buildings, he was representing an ideal of a society trying to show its quiet power. The Bauhaus was probably an effort to rationalize a hope for a more organized world more democratic. Today, I am afraid that the Architecture we are inheriting resembles strangely to our society. No values in depth, instant gratification and most probably the fear of any introspection.
Why my ancestor did pull those reeds to see the volcano? It was to create a sensation, an emotion and probably to be able to share it. Then, today? Are we only willing to share the surface and are worried about our inner soul. Are we trying to defy gravity as if it was the only rational, are we doing curves only because our drawing tools can now easily do it? There is something scary about this vacuity in many of the buildings we are seeing today.
The question is about time devoted to research, is it that the clients and or the Architects are in a hurry and spend less and less time in research and study? There are some great designers around, why the large majority of Architects are not able to understand why they are great and spend their time trying to be different Instead of listening to the building they are designing. There are many ways to be an Architect, why does each of them want to be a form giver especially and not simply a builder?
The arrogance of wanting to make a mark is unfortunately to the detriment of the end user. How many lives have been marred by the inanes of the abode designed by some of our colleagues? A little unpretentious simplicity might have done better.
The question is really this one: where to stop or where to begin? Indeed we need form givers, otherwise there would not be any progress and we would always sit in the same environment. Maybe the answer is as usual about education. Why are we trying to form Architects to be Prima donnas and not craftsmen? Is it such an infamy to be a “professional”? Most of the students that start in Architecture school are going to be employed in a studio participating in the act of building. An all-star team does not work, it needs a team and all and each has his place. There is no shame in being part of an effort and fulfilling one’s role to perfection. The real talent is to know your limitations and to deliver the best you can. As much as a nice picture is satisfying for the eyes, it is not enough. There is nothing about it that is Architecture. Architecture is about life and the world that houses it nothing else. The quality of life is not in two dimensions. Society in this century might be trying to reduce it to limited parameters, but if we are where we are it is because of all these centuries of trials we went through. Then please let’s try to go back to the board and think before drawing…