Wednesday, March 4, 2015


With the diversity and difference in architecture today, one struggles to piece together some broad common strategy, an overall theory or concept that might encompass the architecture of this era. The various bits and pieces can be labelled or described, either too broadly or too specifically, too positively or too critically, but how might one clearly identify the architecture of the era so as to distinguish it from that of other times? It is said that each era has its ‘style.’ After Post-Modernism, and Post-Post-Modernism, ideas, like the forms themselves, disintegrated, scattered into an array of diverse interests and categories that seem to defy any cohesive description beyond, perhaps, ‘private expressionism,’ what I have previously called ‘declaratory iconic individualism’: see - 

Each work appears to grapple with its own devices and ambitions in response to private intents. Everyone presses on with some devised approach to incorporate clever personal aspirations that adapt/use the latest technology in some quirky, or even a straightforward manner or otherwise, if technology can ever be said to be simple and clear-cut. The aim is to impress, to be noticed, to be uniquely ‘creative.’ Things once impossible, or seemingly so, have now become everyday opportunities, if one has the tools, making challenges open-ended. So it is that ‘brown paper bags’ can metaphorically become buildings, just as glass boxes, glass sails, and shiny metal skins can, like ordinary clay bricks. It is all left to one’s own ‘creativity’ – round, square, diagonal, tapering, twisting, amorphous, or all of these together: any shape; any form that can be envisaged can be willed into performing some purpose and published for international acclaim.

How can one describe such a conglomerate gathering of work? How can one describe this as the ‘movement’ of this era? Historically how will this ad hoc collection of new work be identified? How can it be itemised in the wholeness of time, history: merely as idiosyncratic ‘selfies’? It is always difficult to see the era that one is a part of, but some things, some characteristics might be able to be understood so as to assist us in seeing what we are doing, where we might be, or be going. If we can touch on such a perception, even in part, it might help us to perceive things clearly and to understand implications better, for we seem to be swimming freely in the open sea of random ideals, ideas and inventions at present. Why should we just push on into oblivion without trying to better ourselves and our outcomes by improving our understanding of them and their latent implications? We seem very quick to be too pleased with our self-assured surfaces, and too eager to gloat at their immediate effects on others. It looks like the more startling the outcome, the better.

We live in a world buzzing with tweets. Millions a second get posted under numerous original hashtags. Individuals can express themselves, define themselves, disperse their opinions, create new identities, and promote certain interests. The system encourages them to do so, swiftly and briefly, constantly, repeatedly, immediately. One must never spend too much effort here. This is a world of instant brevity and certainty.  It is all about what ‘I’ think, now: ‘ME/MY’ opinion on anything and everything, every second of the day: ‘look at ME!’

Ours is a world of architecture that can be seen as tweets: ‘look at ME’ and ‘MY’ hashtag architecture - #mygranddesign. Will this notion encapsulate our era: architecture as tweets? Is this the ‘Twitter’ period of hashtag architecture? Everyone has an opinion, some individual view, belief, estimation, outlook, judgment, attitude that has a strong need, an immediate urge to be expressed, to be heard, to be seen, to be exclaimed; to be placed into the flux of ‘Twitter’ world, irrespective of others and others opinions: just inserted along with these to be gathered under identifying hashtags: ‘MY’ hashtag. ‘I AM’ is the core reference of this non-biblical notion of ‘ME.’ These are as ‘selfies’ in words and images. Such is our architecture too - #mygranddesign. Everyone is working with individual aspirations irrespective of any greater whole. The centre of the world is my opinion; my expression. ‘MY’ needs alone get the attention they deserve, king hitting all others. Little wonder that our cities are such a random conglomerate of ad hoc pieces that take pride only in their being there as singular works, announcing themselves boldly and brashly, separately. Little wonder that so few works care for any civic quality or place that might show some empathy for, or an understanding of others, people and places and their individual needs, struggles and delights. The importance of place is what ‘I’ want to do with it for ‘MY’ expression.

If we can come to understand how this world of ‘MY’ hashtag architecture is just a collection of random whims, then we might be able to make changes and begin considering matters beyond individual expression and personal concerns, even if we start by adopting these and adapting them for a broader audience, with a wider, more inclusive brief. We need an architecture that can create wholes; cities rich and vital, rather than places for a cluttering of isolated performances and competing opinions and comments – a palimpsest of statements that only ever remains a random collage. How this cohesion might come about is not clear, but it will mean a change in attitude and approach. It will need a change in individuals - personally. The hashtag world might seem enjoyable to be a part of with its highlighting of ‘ME,’ but it promotes individuals as narcissistic centres when they need to be seen as communities, sharing, participating, recognising others responsibly, rather than just working hard on yet another clever opinion piece to be hashtagged for the world to follow with a thumbs up graphic gesture.

Some broader gathering is needed, some core reference that can be celebrated in our work to support the finer feelings that life embodies: its wholeness. These qualities need recognition. To put it bluntly in the jargon, we need a common, a communal hashtag that can include and enrich as it gathers, rather than merely providing space, gaps for everyone to have a singular, self-centred response. The ‘ME’ needs to become ‘THEM / US,’ then we might start seeing an architecture of the city rather than an architecture of unique declarations. We need an architecture that can be repeated everywhere and only get better - a neighbourly architecture that resonates with meaning as it quietly relates and includes, not an architecture that grates sharply as it clashes and demands. We need to start considering the fabric of place rather than the place of ‘MY’ fabrication, of ‘MY’ vision that seeks to scream out over others doing likewise, louder and more noticeably in any way possible. We need more humility, not the arrogance of self-centred indulgences, then our architecture might become likewise and accommodate and recognise, support, enrich more than its own self-promoted merits and intents.

The scattering of architectural tweets might have allowed some exploration of opportunities, and the world may be better for this free flux; but at some time there needs to be a point of concurrence, some overall assessment to identify the common core threads in existence. Opinions as tweets need some agreement, some resolution unless the ambition is to just keep tweeting, endlessly, aimlessly, selfishly: “listen, it’s ‘ME’!” In architecture, this lack of communion will mean a continuation of the bits and pieces of 'MY' hashtag forming, where ‘I’ can create ‘MY’ own interest and declare it to the world, while I wait for the acclamation of the masses of other tweeters doing the same.

There is something conceited, egotistical in this approach, something indulgent that has a limited future, as the myths tells us. We need to lift our eyes, ears and concerns out of, away from the selfish, delusional reflecting on the reflection of ourselves that seems to so entrance us with our own cleverness, and start acting with broader, more encompassing ambitions that include others with a genuine sincerity and concern. It will be interesting to see what architecture becomes under such circumstances. It will also be interesting to see how people are changed too. Will the self-centred demands stop? It will need time. It will also need a change in how we consider technologies, for today we just love these too much with the illusion that allows the exclamation, “Oh! clever ‘ME,’” when it is only the tricks of the programme that have allowed some automatic manipulation to give a surprising outcome. Any accidental morph is seen as more than the work of 'MY' genius.

Perhaps it will not be until we have learned to live with these new processes, accommodated them, and them us, that we will be able to give attention to more subtly inclusive matters. It took years for the electric guitar to be assimilated into the world of quality music. Now architecture, and living itself, needs to do likewise. We have to get away from the ‘Star Wars’ vision of technology and futures. We need to realise that, at the core of things, people remain the same: thinking, feeling bodies and minds that gather into and are enhanced by community. We have not yet come to terms with McHulan’s vision of the Global Village. We are still amazed, mesmerised by the gadgets that we make, and their possibilities in our digital world that currently treats everyone as bits – separate and individual. Commercially this has advantages for each is put against the other as newer and better and faster and smarter gismos are announced. We have neglected our real need for others, other than in the world of commerce and opinion, where only competition reigns supreme, never co-operation or care. Our world of architecture as tweets is a competitive, uncaring world: look at ‘ME’ trying to be better than . . . We can do and must do better than this, for we will end up like Narcissus: drowned in our own indulgences, not realising that we are grasping at selfish illusions, insubstantial matters of decadent delight that have no future other than despair.

The proposition is: we need to begin thinking more about others, groups, communities rather than just ourselves.
The questions are: where do we start and how? What might be or become the shared vision?

If we cannot build for wholeness, then there will be none and our world of ‘ME,’  #mygranddesign, of display and boasting will continue to indulge itself until - ? Myth holds real truths that we ignore at our own peril. Do we need new myths, new truths to help us – truths seen as though new, allowing a fresh understanding and appreciation of the old wisdom? Hashtag that. There might be something to identify here in our work: a shared dream of hope.

The question was asked in : is good architecture that which can be repeated endlessly and still form more and more beautiful places? Does good architecture reach out for a wholeness* in both people and place? We need to consider this if we are to have any hope of understanding another world, let alone changing the one we find ourselves in. Paul Klee called it a ‘worldview.’ He saw this, along with intuition, as one of the rudimentary foundations for any work in art:

His primary goal was to convey the fundamentals of form and structure in order to provide the students with the rudimentary “foundations” for their own visual work, “so that it may flourish in them.” . . . He now enumerated those elements that were indispensable for the living creation of art, but which could not be taught. Among other things, this included intuition. In this regard, he wrote for the Bauhaus magazine in 1928 (in lowercase, which members of the Bauhaus consistently used at the time): “one can do considerable things without it, but not everything. one can do many things, all kinds of things, substantial things, and for a long time, but not everything.”
Another important factor was what he called worldview. Right at the beginning of Visual Form in the early 1920’s, he had written: “We are creators, working practitioners, and will thus naturally find ourselves primarily in the realm of form. Without forgetting that the formal beginning or, put more simply, the first stroke is preceded by an entire prehistory – not only the yearning and desire of man to express himself, not only the outer imperative to do so, but also a general condition within mankind, whose direction we call worldview and which pushes this way and that with an inner imperative to manifest itself.”
Boris Friedewald  Paul Klee Life and Work Prestel Verlag, Munich, 2011, p.112-113 **

Kandinsky called it 'inner necessity.' What might be our worldview? What is our society's 'inner necessity'? How might it be manifest? It has to be much more than random tweets and smart hashtags, no matter how clever these might be.

Boris Friedewald  Paul Klee Life and Work Prestel Verlag, Munich, 2011

* p.85-86
Writing in his diary on the first day in town (Tunis), he noted: “At first a great delirium, which culminates at night with a marriage Arabe. Nothing is singular, all is whole. And what a wonderful whole! A Thousand and One Nights, an extract containing 99% reality. What an aroma, how permeating, how intoxicating all at once . . .  Edification and intoxication. Fine-scented wood is burning.” Klee concluded this description with the question “Home?” left unanswered.

** p.91-92
Klee has repeatedly emphasized the importance of having one’s own world view, which he described as an indispensable quality for an artist. He had attained his own distinct view of the world step by step, and had formed it into a unified whole during the war years. Klee was convinced that the real world was merely an analogy for the spiritual world behind it – a world into which he had at least partial insight. This is the context in which we must understand Klee’s famous words, written in 1920 for Kasimir Edschmid’s anthology Creative Confessions: “Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.” Klee later emphasized that this “making visible” had nothing to do with the arrtist’s fantasy. Fantasy, he said, was an artist’s dead end, and should not be confused with the exploration of spiritual worlds.

At the time, Klee was not alone in his metaphysical worldview, which would leave a fundamental mark on his postwar years. Especially as a result of the chaos and horror of the wartime and postwar years, many Expressionist artists saw a metaphysical view of the world as a viable alternative.

Some years later, Klee described the place or position in which he saw himself as an artist to his Bauhaus colleague Lothar Schreyer (1886-1966): “I say it often, but sometimes it is not taken seriously enough: worlds have opened to us and are opening to us that are also a part of nature, but not everyone peers into them . . . I mean, for instance, the realm of the unborn and the dead, the realm of that what may come, would like to come, but need not come – an intermediate world. I call it an intermediate world, for I sense that it exists between the worlds that are externally perceivable by our senses, and I can absorb it internally in such a manner that I can project it outwards in the form of analogies. It is a place that children, madmen, and primitives are still or again capable of peering into. And what they see and shape is the most precious affirmation for me. For we all see the same thing, though from different sides. It is the same in whole and in detail, across the entire planet, not fantasy, but fact upon fact.”

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