We live in a capitalist, consumerist society: people do things for money so they can afford to survive, and spend their money on stuff they think they want. Describing the world in this way is different, for example, to if I opened this article by saying: ‘I’m working for this magazine because I’m passionate about the idea of narration, and putting ideas to words and then words to paper so you can read it’ (which is the real reason why I do this); but I must confess, being paid is a pretty strong incentive on the days where I don’t feel particularly passionate about things.
In dreams my designs are being constructed, and I walk through the load bearing construction before the façade has been mounted and anything is installed. Walking next to me is the supervising engineer. As we walk through my design, I - of course- marvel at its spatial qualities, and I’m simply ecstatic to be within a space that I designed. The engineer points to one end of the building and begins to explain that my design lacks stability, and just like that, the whole thing comes crashing down on us.
In nightmares my world is in the familiar neutral grey abyss of Rhino 6. I am furiously trying to click points to create lines that make a detail; it seems to be coming together nicely, until I realise a fatal error, and suddenly Rhino is crashing and my detail isn’t saved. You begin to realise what you’re doing to yourself physically and mentally once you start having nightmares set in Rhino. Am I doomed to be working in CAD programmes till 1am every day for the rest of my waking life, and then continue working in them during my sleep until 7am the next day?
‘What day is it?’ is a question I often find myself asking, and often multiple times in the same day. As I make myself yet another cup of Lipton’s Yellow Label I can’t help but think of J. Alfred Prufrock, measuring his life with coffee spoons… I suppose my life is being measured in teabags. “Have a teariffic day!” the yellow label says to me. What day is it, again?
In real life my tutors tell me that “Architects are the prostitutes of the built environment.” And “10% of the work is creative if you’re lucky, 90% is managing, budgeting, following laws, correcting people’s mistakes, arguing, and making sure every line is where it’s supposed to be.” They advise cautiously, “Perhaps you should go into writing, or philosophy.” And I wonder myself sometimes: ‘What made you so sour hm? I will go and find out for myself, thank you very much.’ And I soldier on to my next lecture about climate installations, or to continue wrestling with the load bearing plan of a design or some management course. I am scared. Scared that all these miserable architects are not merely bitter and jealous of a life they didn’t live, but that they speak some kind of truth with the clarity of a hindsight I don’t yet have…
I am, admittedly, a romantic. For me, it’s easy to fall in love with the following ideas: the architect as judge: equalising spatial inequality. The architect as artist: challenging our perceptions of what architecture is, and making things that are beautiful. The architect as therapist and counsellor: changing the way that people view each other and themselves and societal relations at large. And the architect as philosopher: making broad claims about the nature of our existence by way of his or her constructions.
But if we’re going to call it like it is, then what is architecture, ultimately? It isn’t prostitution, that’s for sure (I’m going to assume I don’t need to explain why…). But it is a profession, which people do in order to afford living, which means they get money, and I’m doing my best to avoid saying it but: Architecture is a business. Clients pay money, and architects design a building. Having just begun an internship myself, I’m beginning to be confronted with this reality, in which design solutions are eventually selected based on some kind of mixture between what looks ‘cool’ and what achieves functional goals optimally. At the end of the day, it is the slick catchphrases and slogans that sell a project. The purchase of a design is dependent on the immediacy of developers’ and clients’ abilities to understand the building, and if they think the design is dazzling and looks cool enough. It isn’t all that much different from any other commercial product: adverts scream and tell you what’s wrong with your life in order to sell you the solution to a problem you didn’t know existed. What are architects doing that’s so different?
Aside from my own cynicism and assumptions, there are some facts to analyse. In the ‘real world’, in which TU Delft scholars such as Alejandro Prieto Hoces provide research showing that a large portion of architects think that the most beautiful façade is ‘one which meets its functional requirements.’ Which to me is akin to saying something like: The most delicious meal I’ve ever eaten is the one which provided me with the correct amount of nutrients. But for me nutritional value does not equate with deliciousness. Neither does functionality equate with beauty. So either I’m delusional, or architects seem to enjoy enslaving themselves to their profession because we lie to ourselves about what we are actually accomplishing with these romantic stories. Stories of the architect as philosopher, or artist, or therapist – as if we have some kind of ethical duty to continue working, day in, day out, pumping out more mediocre buildings with a catchy title so people want to buy it.
I must confess, part of me somewhere is still hopeful that Architecture can be a little closer to those romantic narratives I mentioned earlier if I want it to be. Maybe this article ‘calls it like it is,’ but I hope to one day ‘make it like I want it to be’. So I choose to revel in these narratives, and I tell myself these romantic stories to keep going till my next cup of tea... which is never very far away.