Monday, February 23rd, 2015

architecture in the real world: #architalks

Architecture in the real world. I’ve spent the better part of the last two weeks thinking about this blog post. At one point I even had it half written. But I was struggling trying to get to a point. Any point. So I started over. I tried to clear my mind and I kept asking myself over and over “what is real architecture”? Is architecture real simply because it exists? Is real architecture limited by a given metric? Is real architecture limited by what popular media tells us is “good”? Is real architecture, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder? Perhaps real architecture, like art, can not be so easily labeled, categorized, quantified, qualified and fitted neatly into a pretty box with a big blue ribbon.

In an effort to get at some sort of resolution for this blog post I’ve been thinking back on my own personal experiences with architecture – the good, the bad and the ugly. As an architect my perception is skewed from that of the general public. For instance when I’m out walking the streets of my city I don’t generally stare at the sidewalk or focus intently only on my destination. I tend to look a little like a tourist – walking slower than usual, looking up and down and around, surveying the buildings as I pass them, analyzing my own reaction to different storefronts and intersections. I look up at the high rises and often wonder “why don’t more architects design from the street level up instead of like gods always looking down on the earth”? I’ll often stop, much to my wife’s annoyance, and study what I think are interesting details of buildings. Sometimes this is awkward as it might be someone’s house….but I haven’t been arrested yet, so I guess it’s ok.

What I’m left with is to wonder, do my own experiences make architecture real? If you build a house in the middle of a forrest and no one is around to use it, is it real? I’m not one to debate the merits of theoretical architecture. I’ve long held a personal belief that a design not constructed is just that – a design. It isn’t real, it isn’t architecture, until it is built. But perhaps I have to challenge that conviction. Perhaps just because something was crafted and created on paper and then constructed into a physical reality does not automatically make it architecture. If I really take the time to challenge my perceptions, my convictions, my assumptions and my experiences, then real architecture is about so much more than what is tangible and tactile. We’ve all seen bad architecture, good architecture, UGLY architecture (think Vegas or any suburb in America). Like real music, real architecture just IS. Regardless of your particular sense of style when you see and experience a building or a place, it speaks to you and pulls at something inside of you. It can not be categorized any more than Coltrane or Billy Holiday or Jimi Hendrix or the Beatles. You might be a die-hard country western listener, but when you hear the sweet voice of Billy Holiday you tap your foot, you sway your hips and you hum along because it is real music.

For me some of the most real architecture I’ve ever experienced has been in places like Pocahontas, Arkansas and Savannah, Georgia and Saratoga Springs, New York and others. These are places with streets designed for people; designed to welcome you, to invite you and to make you feel safe. Its not fancy or shiny or gilded in titanium and zinc. Its just real architecture.

I intentionally did not provide photos for this blog post because I want anyone who is reading this post to take a trip back in their own mind’s eye to the last building or space that they felt this kind of visceral connection and post a photo in the comments. What is real architecture to you?

Bob Borson | Life of An Architect

Matt Stanfield | Field9:architecture

Marica McKeel | Studio MM

Jeff Echols | Architect of the Internet

Lee Calisti | Think Architect

Nick Renard | Dig Architecture

Michele Grace Hottel | Michele Grace Hottel, Architect

Meghana Joshi | IRA Consultants, LLC

Michael Riscica | Young Architect

Stephen Ramos | Buildings Are Cool

Brian Paletz | The Emerging Architect

Tara Imani | Tara Imani Designs, LLC

Jonathan Brown | Proto-Architecture