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I do acknowledge the fact that many of these beliefs are a product of naivety and general lack of experience in the politics of architecture. But what I lack in experience in architecture, I make up with an outside perspective in the subject. We often ask what architecture means to an architect, but we rarely take the time to ask what architecture means to the general public. The people. Perhaps even more important than the opinions of architects, of whom do not even consist a quarter of the population, the people who we are designing for should be provided an equal or a higher platform to voice their opinion on as well.
As brilliant and revolutionary as Le Corbusier’s beliefs were, there is often a disconnect between his understanding of the world, and the real world. His advocacy to establish a standardized form to meet the needs of everyone claiming that “All men have the same organism, the same functions. All men have the same needs.” (Le Corbusier; p. 136) is a blatant disregard to many of the inhabitants’ preferences, traditions, cultures and other specific needs. The idea of standardization not only marginalizes majority of its inhabitants, but just as Le Corbusier mentioned, like the automobile, it welcomes competition between different firms. As a result of this expansion of self-interest and the aggressive competitive architecture, the community, similar to the story of Babel, will become even more divided as ever.
This is exemplified in the development of the skyscrapers. It created a space that would serve as a playground for architects and developers to have the opportunity to carve the land with their name and advertise their clients. Since the interests of the community are not synonymous with the interests of developers and corporations. The privileges of private owners to erect high buildings often leave a burden to the community to take care of the consequences that comes with it. The community no longer has control of the aesthetic visions of how their cities will look and as a result, the community has lost their city to developers and corporation.
Instead of establishing a standard, I believe we should aim more towards improving our current understanding of architecture, or generating new ideas. A spark of creativity. A fire. As Vitruvius entertainingly described in The Origin of the Dwelling House, primitive man accidentally discovered fire. They preserved it and gathered around it. Through repetition, they start to develop language, and with language, the ability to distinguish themselves from nature in order to use it as a script and thus, manipulate or create different kinds of dwellings. Each person had a different take on what is essential for their homes, and with a diverse set of dwellings available to them, they began to observe and compare each other’s inventions with one another. Thus, they start combining ideas and features, and improved each other’s houses through comparison of houses in order to make something more sophisticated.
Perhaps it would be more beneficial for us to keep the conversation going. Just like the non-discriminative gatherings and conversations of the primitive man, Architects should open the conversation more to the public. We should openly embrace different concepts that tackle different situations in order to improve our own. There is no architecture without concept, concept comes from language, and language change concepts again and again.
Unfortunately, there are forces in the past and present that prevent this type of conversation to continue. Power, in social and political terms, is the ability to influence and even to some extent, control the behavior of a certain group of people. Usually entitled to political leaders, rulers and royalty, there have been multiple ways to convey one’s power. It can be proclaimed through annunciation of words, forceful physical confrontations or through written laws and regulations, but one of the most influential and has a higher chances to stand the test of time is the power through visual imagery. Art itself has become a political tool of power. Mass recreation of a ruler’s portrait, statue, bust and more are all mimetic representations of power, but the most impactful form of art to convey power is architecture. The ability of a ruler to carve mountains, and form rivers as they see fit creates a sense of divine strength that only Gods can do. From this form of thinking, a ruler can strike fear and admiration from their people by conveying their political power through architecture. Power has been portrayed through architecture throughout history. The changes, improvements and use of technologies of building have been politically used to revolutionize power in many generations. It is not that kings, rulers and other political leaders create miracles or use some kind of divine power to reshape the land as they see fit, but it is through a huge infrastructure or Architecture that makes it all possible.
In the beginning of this polemic, I claimed that architecture is in a constant state of evolution. It must grow and adapt over time to meet the rapidly changing requirements of a dynamic environment and a growing population. Architects are meant to create an environment not just for everyone in the present, but particularly for future generations to provide them the opportunity to grow and become better.
This is not always true. Architecture is not always meant to be a solution to all our problems. It cannot always provide new frameworks and typologies for our living environment. Majority of the time, architecture is used to portray wealth and power. Architecture is not always meant to improve the quality of life of a rapidly growing population and developing world.
But perhaps, it is what Architecture should be.
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