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Theory and Criticism
 
Is architecture relevant anymore?
In 1991, Christopher Alexander published his famous manifesto declaring the collapse of the mainstream theory of architecture arguing that "architectural profession is not only suffering from a theory that fails to solve massive problems it ought to solve, it has maintained itself in a way that must frankly be admitted to be ugly in spirit". All surveys and indicators show that poverty and inadequate housing is increasing world wide, including raising affordability and homelessness issues in the United States itself.

My question is: is architecture as a theory and practice today relevant anymore?
Ragaei Abdelfattah
Responses
 
Is architecture relevant anymore?
As long as there is environment there's need for thinking of environment.
As long as there's need for thinking of environment there's need for architecture.

1. Society changes
2. Environment changes
3. Thinking needs to change
4. Architecture needs to change
Janne Teräsvirta
Is architecture relevant anymore?
I think the answer to your question is 'yes'. An architect who is attuned to the needs of a poor person will design a better house for him/her than the person will make on their own. A good architect can think of the most efficient way to use the materials at hand for the best product.

The question is not whether the architect, or architecture, for that matter, is relevant; it is why architects have been removed so far from their pre-professionalization era role of the 'master-builder'. It takes so much money and resources to train an architect, which results in a) architects being too expensive to hire b) most of what is being built (such as the new concrete 'vernacular') being badly designed crap.
Ozgur Basak Alkan
Is architecture relevant anymore?
I believe architecture will always be needed, but the role of the architect has changed dramatically through history from being the authoritarian decision maker, the cultural dictator, and the one who decides what is best for the rest, to becoming a team player today. Someone who has to design for the people, with the people and at some cases or advanced democratization his/her role decreases to even an inspiration for the community to design their environment themselves (case Copenhagen Municipality redevelopment projects).

For me personally as an architect who was during her studies thought the architect is only one step below god in creation & decision making for the rest, it was hardly bearable to accept the outcome of my designs and the buildings are actually more of the client��s than mine�� and I am just spending lots of time trying to convince my ideas are better for this or that reason, but ending up with the common phrase of:

��What does the client understand about architecture?��
Architecture is not sculpture, nor painting that the spectators have to adjust or accept the end product. Architecture is about the places people consume and they have a saying in it.

I just wish we were not taught and brought up to be gods back in architecture school. Last year on a study visit to the municipality of Copenhagen I was completely shocked when I heard that the role of the planners and architects in an area based development project was just to attend the community meetings and to inspire the people to design their own environment; Which was unbelievable for me so I asked: why do they even spend their times studying planning or architecture if they have such a small role?

But then I understood the role of the architect in the Scandinavian countries is much less than their role in my developing country. The gap shows because the architects are transparently with less influence there and the lack of our decision making ability is not transparent until the end result.

The role of the architect/planner in their communities has change because the clients and communities are changing and constantly gaining capacity and participatory strength, and this is not to be gained overnight. In my country Iran as many other countries the planner/architect is mostly the authoritarian decision maker. But a lot of influence is needed to reach that level.
Hani Abtahi Baker
Is architecture relevant anymore?
even the word:'architecture' does not exist in many a non indo-european languages. and certainly, except for the masopotemaians, the south americans, egyptians and greco-roman kings of the past, no 'primitives' of the past or present ever needed schools of architecture to produce the "builders". even in the rural u.s., when the ordinary folks build their dwellings, neighbours come for the "barn raising" party. but in the urban world, the masses are educationally kept ignorant to justify only the licenced professionals doing the lucrative busineses - architects, engineers, doctors and so on, even when
the persons themselves have the knowledge and abilities to do it
themselves. so if and when people do practice democracy, there won't be any need for the pyramids and taj mahals;
mosques and temples and national monuments and museums palaces, much the same as the other specie seem to be doing fine without the larger than the life nests and dens. do birds invite bids to build them the nests? and yet, who teaches them the art of the nest building that we equate with nature and ecology?

there is no democracy without the equal footing. and in the socio-economic equlity no body needs to work for others for pay. so architecture as such does not exist except in the minds of the rich and people who feed upon their notions of the one-upness.
Shailesh Dave
Is architecture relevant anymore?
Dear all,

2500 years ago, Socrates and Platon enetered a debate about the nature of human societies. They centered their debate around a hypotetical state of five persons of whom each one is skilled in a different craft. Then they wondered which state is more effiecient; the one in which each of this five persons does one fifth of all five jobs sustaining only himself, or the one in which each person does a single full time job for all the other inhabitants. So in first version of their hypotetical state, for instance, each person grows his own food, builds his own house, heals himself from diseases or wounds, defends himself from enemies, etc., however, because of limits of his time, he cannot specialise in none of this professions, and can do all this work only for himself, not for the others. In the second version, one presons is a farmer and does a full-time job growing crops for all others, the other is a healer and does a full-time job healing all others, third is a builder and builds houses for all others, etc. Platon and Socrates then neatly concluded that only the second hypotethical model can give a true society and a true state. If each person does everything for himself, he is completly self-sustainable and then there is hardly any need to live in a society or a state with others. However, if each one specialises in a single craft, he can no longer survive on his own, but must rely on a society of his companions, to whom he also contributes in his unique way with his unique profession. Different professions interact and intercept, dependent on each other, allowing each individual a greater deal of specialization, study and understanding of the particular job he is doing.

Why am I saying this? Because, if we go on about that "the masses are educationally kept ignorant to justify only the licenced professionals doing the lucrative busineses - architects, engineers, doctors and so on, even when
the persons themselves have the knowledge and abilities to do it
themselves", we are acctualy undermining the most basic concept of human society recognised by Platon & Socrates 2500 years ago. Okay, we give each person knoweledge and skills to do any job for himself, but then, if there is no more need for specialised profesions ('lucrative buisneses', I like that!), there is no need for a human society at all! We cann truly become like birds making nests on the trees; mindless animals which act only on basic natural instincts, never understanding or realising what or why are they doing. Added to that "when people do practice democracy, there won't be any need for the pyramids and taj mahals;
mosques and temples and national monuments and museums palaces," we basicly say 'Hey, the entire human history up to today was one huge failed experiment, let's go start everything anew!' Such a way of thinking, while provocative, surely is not a very productive one.

And besides, let us descend from the abstract world of philosophy in a real one, and say that, when an untrained person builds his own house it usualy turns out a real mess. The house ends up built, but with thousands of problems, most of which are not of formal, but of functional nature. Now, perhaps this person was keept ignorant so urban world could justify the existance of licensed professionals, but his/her ignorance was the result of her own choice. Such a person usualy does not ask an expert for an advice, and even when and advice is given, it is usualy ignored ('Architect? Who needs an architect? Architects cost money!' a literal quote from one of my neighboors, who got himself into some trouble trying to build something without seeking an advice or help from an expert. So I speak about this from personal experience).

The architects themselves, however, should be mindful not to act as despotes or absolutes ('gods', as someone nicely put it), unquestionable entities of knoweledge and talent before whose works a layman should bow in awe, without truly understandig them. However, the relevance of architecture as a profession remains unqestionable, and it will remain in future, even if the very definition of profession of architecture changes radicaly.

best regards,
Luka Trkanjec
Is architecture relevant anymore?
if the philosophers' each one of the five persons does only one fifth of all works, then only collectively they are finishing each work. that is interdependence. so either the philosophers missed the logic, or they are misquoted. that is: 1/5 times 5 = the finished work.

as for the birds and animals, they have been around longer than the human creatures. and the humans, considering their expertise in the weaponry, may not get to live as long as, say, a cockroach, which is one of the longest surviving creatures. the intelligence is not in accumulating the unnecessry extra, but rather in cognizantly moving light. and in that case, all other creatures are certainly more aware than the humans.

to access the ability to build one's own dwelling with the kind helping hands of the neighbours, one simply needs to step out of the urban metropolis, and see for oneself whether these simple structures are technically weak or dangerous to live in. rather, these dwellings are like the greek philosophers's first example, where, all neighbours - say, five, collectively supplying the 1/5 x 5 = the finised dwelling. one has to paricipate in this "barn raising" parties to experience the spirit of cooperation and the feeling of the togetherness.

and one wonders whether the urban expert still retains that humane sense of "all being in the same boat together," when, right from the first lessons in the school, any school, one is taught to compete to get ahead of the rest.
Shailesh Dave
Is architecture relevant anymore?
Dear Shailesh,

The philosophers haven't missed the point neither have I misquoted them. The point is, if each of five persons does all five jobs for himself, then none of them has any need for others, because each one is self-sustainable. The equation is then, truly 1/5 times 5 = 1, finished work on the level of individual. However, if each person specialises in a single craft, the equation will 1 times 5 = 5, five times as much work finished on the level of society, from which all individuals benefit accordingly. The point of specialisation inside a functional society is the increase of a profit and benefit the comunity gets from it. Now, of course, profit and benefit are not the ultimate goals themselves, but they stimulate society to develop, evolve and change, and that is the only thing that matters; not to fall into stagnation. That principle is universal even in an animal or plant world, where species evolve and change (though not of their own free will). Human beings are different in that manner that they have somewhat quickened this process.

best regards,
Lucius
Luka Trkanjec
Is architecture relevant anymore?
Ok, let us put the question in perspective here. I did not mean, and I am sure that Alexander also did not mean, that we need to abandon the profession if we were truly a democratic society where everyone can build for him/herself. The question is around the status of the mainstream theory of architecture as it is taught and later practiced. Is it relevant anymore? Does it deal and solve today��s problems? And in any answer, why and how? Is affordable housing, for example, an architectural problem? And if it is, how can the theory and practice of architecture address that problem?
Ragaei Abdelfattah
Is architecture relevant anymore?
in 1978, in an interview on the arkansas educational television i suggested that, without the flush toilets there would be no new york high rise buildings. but that the fish in the huson bay had no stomach to digest the flushed human waste, which china, the( then ) east germany and india were experimenting on as an alternate source of energy. the housing projects for the low income people in all three worlds are conceptually designed and built differently. it is almost as it were a designing of stables or at best, the minimum security prison barrecks. i have lived in one such unit of the british designed railway quarters. and i have visited my classmate's unit in mumbai "chaal", and my writer friend's tokyo apartment.

in all three instances,it had felt as if, the designing minds of architects
were restricted not so much by the low budgetary priority as it were some thing the architect rather not undertake, had he not have to balance his personal budget. it is somewhere in the formative years of the students' and teachers' minds this aversion to poverty transforms into a wish for the exact opposite of it. and only the kings and the rich have the sums to let the architect's imaginations to invent designs that are as functional as are fashion model's shoes or dress. it is not that the architect is unable to design a decent dwelling for any one. but it is not in the socio-economically regulated pulse -- purse --to pump blood into the heart that throbs with compassion. it should not be called the matter of the ethics in design. rather, it has to be viewed as the fundamentally inseparable aspect of the human habitat. for, after all, the richness and the poverty are not in the body of the dweller. it is in the thought. and thought exists in ideas.

what i am suggesting is that, if even one awakened teacher instilled in one's students the interdependent nature of all avenues of life, i am very certain, that those future architects' designs would contribute to the society's evolution of an eco-centrically democratic minded people. and, as the designing of a torture chamber is unthinkable today -- let us say, that these holding cells of hitler and his kind of people were not designed by architects. hitler himself was a trained artist -- the new age architects will be as all rounded as was leonardo, who, with thier insights in every aspect of human existence, will honour the human needs in their designs of the human habitat. and if a rich rental property owner came as customer, will tell him that that is how it is done, take it or leave it. for this was never a problem of know how. but rather an artificially maintained affordability. the rich are rich only by comparision. so is beauty beauty when there is ugliness created. and architects are capable of creating something so serene that it can transport a dweller or a visitor into a new dimension, which the cambridge physicist stephen hawking hasn't entered yet. and he has counted eleven dimensions so far.
Shailesh Dave
Is architecture relevant anymore?
Dear Shaileshbhai,

Thanks for your eloquent and inspiring posting. Indeed, Architecture is relevant at all times, in all ages and all places. But more so as a quest for humane habitat. Humane architecture at its core addresses the issues you mentioned. You have rightly pointed out the need for enlightened teachers in promoting these ideas of humanzing our living environment. There are great historical examples of humane habitat in each culture and society, mostly found in tribal communities, villages, small towns, urban communities in cities such as chawls and even in slums. There are pockets of humane architecture even in our 'mostly inhumane' metropolises.There are some inspiring examples in contemporary times too. The theories and practices of evolving humane architecture and humane habitat need to be addressed by us all in order to create a more affordable, appropriate, relevant, sustainable and inspiring humane habitat. At International Association for Humane Habitat (IAHH) we have been engaged with these issues and have been promoting these ideas through annual international conferences and international student design competitions. We do hope that slowly and steadily these ideas will find its full expression in different parts of our world and transform the quality of our living environment and contribute to enrichment of our lives. The Seventh International Conference on Humane Habitat (ICHH) 2005, Jan 29-31, 2005 Mumbai, India, shall address the issues of Enlightening Learning Environments: Education, Research and Practice of Evolving Humane Habitats. The 3rd IAHH international student design competition shall focus on the theme of designing a sustainable academic community as an enlightening learning envionments. for more details, you may visit our website:

http://www.humanehabitat.org

The points you have raised need to be taken up for detailed discussion on this thread to enhance our knowledge and understanding of the role, scope and direction of development for architecture in our times.

with warm regards,
Akhtar Chauhan
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