Friday, December 14, 2007
And Yadda Yadda Yadda ...
Some of the architects commenting on the last few posts seem to think the purpose of architecture and making places is to give the architect a chance to express his or her vision (after all, that is what most of us were taught in school). They don't understand the differences when you work for Patrons, Clients, Builders and Buyers. Herewith, the repeat of Exposing
New Orleans academia, which discusses those differences:
I WENT TO an academic symposium at Princeton's architecture school Saturday. It was noticeable immediately how many professors wanted to help the residents of New Orleans and their great city. And there was a lot of good talk about public process.
IMO, there was a complete disconnect when solutions were proposed. We were back to the Pruitt Igoe days of experimenting on the poor. "Let the middle class have their stupid New Urbanism," was the prevailing sentiment, "we'll help the worthy poor."
I'm a firm believer in the Biblical idea that civilizations are judged by the way in which they help those who are least able to help themselves, so I sympathize with the academic ideas and support their intent.But I think their application is misguided.
Avant garde experimentation is for the upper middle class and the rich, who can choose what they want and afford to pay for it (and move if the experiment doesn't work out). What the poor want 9 times out of 10 is to feel that they can have the same thing the middle class chooses for itself. And the middle class, unlike the upper middle class, usually chooses traditional and Classical architecture.
In New Urbanism, we talk about different types of clients: the Patron, the Client, the Builder and the Buyer. The Patrons are the people who buy custom houses from Frank Gehry, sharing with Frank in the creation of a work of art.
The Client wants some of that process, but doesn't have the budget for a Gehry or Koolhaas building. Most young architecture practices get their work from Clients: if they succeed in becoming famous, they move up to having Patrons, with their almost unlimited support for the Starchitect and his budget.
The Builders build most new construction. Their budget is strictly controlled by their profit margin. Their architecture is governed by their market. Some Builders are also Patrons, but most view architects as a commodity no different from all the other consultants and contractors with whom the Builder negotiates.
The Buyer buys from the Builder. The architect rarely meets the Buyer. They Buyer is not a partner in the creation of a work of art. The Buyer is an unknown person who may move in 12 months, to be replaced by another Buyer.
The poor are buyers with no money and no leverage. They are the last people we should be experimenting on.
Unfortunately, despite all the comments on public process and the genuine desire to help, the academics at the symposium were unable to imagine any work other than "innovative" and "creative experiments" in the tradition of Pruitt Igoe.
The academics have it exactly backwards. The avant garde should be working for the rich, building in the Garden District, or wherever the rich live, have land to build on and want avant garde experimentation. The New Urbanists should be working for the middle class and the poor. If Reed Kroloff really cared about the poor, he would stop his fight to force the work of the avant garde on those with the least choice.
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"Some of the architects commenting on the last few posts seem to think the purpose of architecture and making places is to give the architect a chance to express his or her vision..."
If that's what they genuinely believe, then they're not architects. They're sculptors who stumbled onto the wrong profession, and are trying to rationalize it post facto.
It reminds me somewhat of Goldman's distinction between Movie Stars and Actors. Movie Stars are people who can open a film, and are always obsessed with their image, and will rarely do a job they think will hurt that image.
Actors just act.
Architects just build.
They build with the knowledge that function follows form. That bad buildings will lead to bad events. Therefore that building is best that encourages good events to happen -- whether commercial, residential, civic, etc.
Sculptors tend to be overgrown teenagers who operate on the premise, "Screw the client. I want to do what I want to do, or I'll throw a tantrum."
But doesn't "vision" sound so much more friendly?
Posted by: Hal O'Brien at Dec 18, 2007 3:34:03 PM