“Abigail Coover and Nathan Hume asked me to write an essay, or something about my ‘current teachings as well as thoughts on the state of architectural education today,’ as a contribution to the catalogue for this exhibition of juried student work. . . .”
Abigail Coover and Nathan Hume asked me to write an essay, or something about my “current teachings as well as thoughts on the state of architectural education today,” as a contribution to the catalogue for this exhibition of juried student work. I thought it might be a nice moment to meditate on the trajectory of architecture and the influence of software as the medium and tools enter a mature phase, and what’s of interest to me, and what might be a way to encourage provocation without just being loud.
Lately, I’ve started to find a lot more enjoyment in work that is awkward, clumsy, and which seems just wrong. I don’t think any pursuit of beauty or its opposite, or mythical environments, or especially architecture as a Popular Science editorial has the ability to deliver anything new. At best, we’re seeing new stylistic manners of the same philosophical debates. It’s nice to look at, but it’s so quickly understood that there’s no power to really reconfigure someone’s expectations for design. Architecture is slow and allows for very little experimentations, so its no wonder that most work hovers around production value instead of content value.
So how can we right the ship of experimentation via studio work and begin to introduce blunt new work that can renovate our architectural expectations instead of just adequately meeting them? I’m not entirely sure, but I would guess that it requires investigations into disregarded aspects of culture, form, graphics, and other features of architecture. Making something beautiful can at best only make something expected. The metrics already exist, and it’s simple to evaluate. We like it (!) because we already know it, which is to say we haven’t learned anything, which is to say we probably haven’t taught anything, since everything necessary was already out there for the taking. That’s not to say it’s without seduction, but it’s certainly without any agency. I don’t really have the answers for what’s going to make great work going forward, but my hunch is that it will end up using very few of the issues we’re seeing today, at this antapex of design thinking.
I can see by this point in the essay nothing’s really resolving itself, and I figure it’s a good time to tell you that something’s wrong, and has been wrong for a while. While software, scientific or biological mimesis, high-technique, and other issues seemed the right way to move forward, they now feel all wrong, like something has jumped the track and using robots in school, embracing clichés of technology, picking the animal of the month to copy, or rendering things to look like they’re from some antiquated era in the distant past of the future isn’t going anywhere. The forgettable nature of everything we see now, beyond the few minutes of initial exposure, gives an adequate assessment of that fact. Nothing’s strange anymore; nothing haunts us or seems to come out of nowhere. Everything lately is so indistinguishable in its quality. Some see this as a great success of teachable and legible talent. I think it shows a resolution in a project and indicates it might be time to move on.
Novel and adventurous work used to come with the risk of offense, confusion, and disaster. In order to reclaim teeth, all our easiest techniques and ends need to be purposely avoided rather than indulged. Architecture is always big and in the way, and capable of profound correction to our concept of the world. Amplifying what we want cannot deliver us the feelings we need. Strangeness, weirdness, being awkward and uningratiating, half efforts, and clumsiness offer a possible future.
The blunt confusion of confronting something unexplained by the pursuit of science, affectations, or fetish of beauty can unnerve and awaken. Awkward is not having to apologize for misfitting. In a field so desperate to be understood, awkward is the pleasure from being outside of expectations. Strange things require no special efforts to justify. Oddity provides better relationships without having the narcissism of good looks. Clumsiness evokes connection and response instead of distance and respect. Weirdness is human. To rewrite Bob Somol paraphrasing Dave Hickey paraphrasing Ed Ruscha or something, good architecture makes you go: Wait, what? Whoa.