There’s a lot to take in from a couple of sentences of architects’ blurb here. It’s interesting that a practice should choose to quote Karl Popper, the philosopher who coined the term ‘pseudo-science’ in their own foray into ‘pseudo-philosophy’. Of all the philosophies architects try to apply to their architecture, Popper’s logic of falsification is perhaps the most wasteful one they could choose. But it would be naive to think this practice – this one practice that could be any number of others masquerading as purveyors of philosophically rooted architecture – really cares about about a single one of Karl Popper’s ideas beyond an ironically generalising, out of context book title for the purpose of architectural posturing.
The title of Popper’s book, first published in German in 1994 and translated into English in 1999, is not in fact suggesting that our human existence comprises nothing more than problems to be solved. A bit of falsificationism would pretty quickly disprove that. For example; being tied to a railway track as a freight train rapidly approaches could be considered to be a problem to be solved, enjoying a cold beer on a hot afternoon isn’t, yet they could both be considered part of life. Popper’s use of the term ‘life’ refers instead to the biological and Darwinian notion of life, as opposed to life in the sense of “OMG, my life’s so boring.” When seen in its true context it becomes clear that the quote “All life is problem-solving” is as relevant to architectural discourse as, say “swimming makes life easier for fish.” Sadly for this Berlin office, the latter of the quotes would do nothing to support the baffling desire to be “unhindered by preconceived notions of form, aesthetics, or the necessities of historic contextualism,” whatever that means.
Why, then, does an apparently successful architectural office feel the need to publicise a mini manifesto that under the most minor of inspections is revealed to have the intellectual substance of a Donald Trump sneeze? One theory which I implore you to prove to be false is that most architects simply don’t know what they stand for. By positing themselves as philosophical problem solvers they try to span themselves across the chasm that lies between the no nonsense pragmatism of objective problem solving, and the arty-farty world of esoteric philosophical posturing. Because they don’t know what they stand for, they don’t know what value they bring. Are they engineers? Are they artists? Are they planners? They definitely aren’t philosophers. The result of this confusion and insecurity is the all too common banal architecture of arbitrary gestures, justified by a scaffolding of equally arbitrary ‘problems solved’. Why bother grappling with the genuinely philosophical questions posed by complexity of human experience and its material manifestations when you can pretend it’s about nothing more than solving a few problems? Whether these problems actually exist or not is irrelevant, their purpose is to be quantifiable, allowing the architects to clearly and mathematically show everyone that they are really good at their jobs, even if they haven’t the slightest clue what that job actually is. The genius of this strategy is that it allows us as architects to flex our creative muscles in the invention of problems that only we are able to solve, demonstrating beyond any doubt that we are both creative and indispensable. Let’s just keep telling ourselves that.