The Real Meaning of Architecture
By Christopher Alexander
Is there some moral leadership. Is there a new way. Is there any way to avoid the self-demeaning attitudes which modernism and post-modernism have brought to architecture. Is there a small voice which will gently waken you, in the middle of the night.
PREAMBLE: Collapse of the present mainstream theory of architecture
In scientific terms, we may broadly describe the present view of architecture, which has held sway in one form or another, since 1920, as "the present mainstream theory of architecture."
During the last 15 years, a wide variety of attacks have been made on this theory, and the theory has been shown to be seriously defective in many important areas. It is now reasonable to say that the mainstream theory is on the verge of collapse. The collapse of this theory may be summarized under the following headings:
1. It only deals with a tiny part of the buildings that are built even in America.
2. It does not deal with third world construction, low cost housing, or community affairs.
3. It does not deal in any significant fashion with findings in the social sciences.
4. It does not deal with ecological problems.
5. It does not describe money or deal with money in a reasonable fashion.
6. It makes no substantive empirical account of human feeling.
7. It does not have any organic connection with construction.
8. It has failed to give any general coherent explanation of the values necessary for building well.
9. It has not produced buildings that ordinary people like. On the contrary, it has mainly produced buildings which people see as ugly and unsuitable.
10. It has not provided any moral leadership, which can give a clue to the value inherent in the built world.
11. The definition of beauty which is used, is not understood or accepted by the majority of people in society, but is esoteric and exclusive, thus separating the buildings made in the mainstream theory from any normal mainstream of society.
In spite of these failures, which signal the imminent collapse of the mainstream theory, the theory is still taught in most schools of Architecture, and is, indeed, in many schools, not only taught, but remains as the core of the curriculum. The divergence between the theory itself, and its ability to answer important questions, is so great that in some schools like the Department of Architecture at Berkeley, frantic efforts are now being made to bolster the mainstream theory, by application of force.
As in the situation near the collapse of any paradigm, many younger professionals are more and more nervous about the possibility that the whole theory is nonsense.
This journal has now decided to publish the following statement, which opens the door to a new and entirely different theory.
PART 1: A Conversation With Ziva Freiman
This statement began, for me, about a year ago. Tom Fisher wrote a negative editorial about Prince Charles (February 1990). I got a phone call from a London newspaper, asking for my comment on his editorial. I responded with an angry letter and sent it to them by FAX; it was published in the London press. The letter directly questioned, and criticized Tom Fisher, perhaps too personally. A few hours later, I thought that Tom deserved a copy of what I had written. So, out of politeness more than expectation, I sent it to him, never really expecting that PA would publish it. To my astonishment, a few days later he called to tell me on the phone that he wanted to print the letter. I must say that moved me greatly. I never imagined he would have the courage to print something which attacked him personally. That took real guts, and I admired him for it. I asked him why he had published it: and he said that it was partly out of fairness, partly because it was well written, and partly because, after reading it, he thought I might be right.
The honesty of this last statement got to me. I felt that the possibility of real dialogue about the meaning of architecture had begun again.
PA published the letter about Prince Charles in May 1990. A few months later editor Ziva Freiman came to see me, with the request that I would write a longer piece, expanding on the ideas expressed in that letter. We met in the library of my house.
She asks me what I am thinking.
I sit in my library, trying to answer. Gary and Randy and I have just been working on some blocks of concrete we are making for a building in the Sierras. I think about these blocks. We have been building forms; pouring the concrete, mixing color, cutting chases in them. The concrete is to form stones: these massive stones are the base of the building. There are incisions in the stone, in which thin slivers of marble will be used.
The concrete is massive. You feel its weight. Not only when you lift it—each one weighs about 200 lbs—but you feel it in your heart. There is an emotional gravity. It means something, and we know that it means something. The meaning is in us, and in the stones.
It is wonderful just thinking about these stones. Getting ready to build, with them. Thinking about the building, which will come from these stones.
What is this—this activity? It is an ancient thing, a heavy thing, nothing like the thing which we call architecture now. Something which is entirely different from the architecture of the magazines, and from the profession as it exists in 1990.
You sent me two recent issues of Progressive Architecture. I looked through them. I know, that if I look through the last 12 issues, and look on every page, there is hardly one page, hardly one thing, which has to do with what we have been doing with these stones.
And yet it is these stones which are what architecture really is.
It sounds arrogant. But it is only sad. You tell me, how can you be sure that you have not misunderstood what one or another of the published works has been, that is illustrated in Progressive Architecture. You are right, I cannot be sure. Perhaps there are one or two things, not so clear, where the real meaning was not expressed so clearly. But that is at most a few pages. Perhaps one or two percent of all the pages for the year, at most. The horrible thing is that I am quite certain, as you are certain, that 98 percent of it—all of it really—is simply something else.
Something which has to do with images; self importance; money.
Thus the architectural profession is not only suffering from a theory which fails to solve massive problems that it ought to solve—the eleven problems mentioned on the first page.
It has maintained itself in a way which must frankly be admitted to be ugly in spirit: it has bolstered a failing theory, with images, and power and money. It has abandoned its role as a moral force. It has, essentially, become coopted as part of the money-image machine of Madison avenue. Thus the greatest of the arts—the one sometimes referred to as the mother of the arts, or the humanizing one of all the arts—both fails to solve its practical and theoretical problems in an honest or useful way—and on top of that, has been sold down the river by its practitioners.
And that is where the wound which young architects feel today is coming from. A knowledge that their own integrity is compromised. A knowledge that they have something in their heart, which has to do with real building, with the love of the sky, real stones , wood, cushions, happiness… but that they have sold themselves to make drawings for an architect ,who has sold himself to make drawings for a developer.
Is it better when the developer is a humanistic one, like the housing authority or a school. If the soul is sold, and the drawings are the thing, does it make any difference. It is not the client, not the outward purpose, but the inward purpose, the sense of self confidence, the knowledge that one is happy, and right in ones actions, that is the thing which is missing, and that is why many younger architects of our society have given up, and are now wondering, doubtfully, what is to become of them.
It is nervous work thinking about that? What if the answer leads to some impossible place. Or is it better, safer, not to think about these things?-o0o-
A few months ago I saw a remarkable film on PBS: "Letter to the next generation". A film 90 minutes long, made by someone who described himself as a 60's radical, talking to students from Ohio State University. Many of the students are expressing the materialism of the 90's. They explain how they are not interested in deeper questions, or foundations—the main thing they want is to succeed, to make sure they have a job when they leave the University. They are nice students, quite unabashed.
He—the film-maker—isn't heavy. He doesn't moralize. he is talking throughout the film, explaining his point of view. Sometimes he talks to the students, gently asking questions, telling how these kinds of things they are talking about don't quite make sense to him. That he did want to know more about why, bigger questions, not so much about jobs.
Very gently he talks about it. Gradually, you see the students themselves begin to wonder a little. During the course of the 90 minutes, he sows seeds of doubt. They begin to doubt themselves. They—and he—begin wondering if the 90's is going to be different. If the self-satisfied desire to have a job, be comfortable, be a success—may not be quite enough.
By the end of the film, real doubt has been created. One feels that things are going to change, that it is impossible that they can go on, on such a silly level. That money will not triumph, and that people will rise up again, question themselves, look for something deeper. But it is so gently done.
That is what I would like to get in my piece for PA—something gentle in tone, very gentle—but able to bring people, wondering, to their senses. A whisper that will make people doubt the self-satisfied images, which have been living in them and which have been published continuously in this magazine and in almost all architecture magazines during the last two or three decades. A new life for architecture; a new life for architects.-o0o-
Ziva asks me: "What is it about those stones. Why are they so important. Is it the conviction?"
"No, not the conviction. Many artists in the 20th century have had conviction. Even some of the post-modernists, perhaps, have conviction. They are sure about what they are doing. Self-satisfied. Happy, serious, delighted that they have formed a group. But it has nothing at the heart. It is only money. The difference between a truly happy heart, and a satisfaction with Madison Avenue".-o0o-
"Tell me, so I know what you are hoping for: What is the name of the piece?" I ask her. "Well, I was going to ask you that," she says. I laugh. "I know that. But I am asking you."
"Something about morality."
Finally, after a long silence she says: "Perhaps something biblical." Another silence. "A righteous man."
I am astonished. I didn't expect this. Does it mean that my effort, after all these years, is beginning to be heard, and that even the people who have said for many years that what I want to do in architecture is impossible—can it be that they, too, are so confused that they are now beginning to doubt, beginning to wonder, if after all, there may be a shred of truth in what I say?
I have been isolated for a long time. It is not my choice. And, I think, it has not been the choice of the professionals either; nor of the magazines.
Then why has it happened?
It is because of this thing, the difference in paradigm. That isn't just an easy phrase, a cute gimmick. It is true. What I do, is so different, in every pore, that it is hard to describe with the same words. Even if you use different words, even if you try and try, it is almost impossible to describe it from the inside of the profession as it exists today in the words which the profession uses, because it is so utterly different. That is why the isolation has occurred.
But this isolation is not good for the profession. And it is not good for me.-o0o-
I want to talk more about the stones—the big cast blocks we have been making. We have cast them. They are like massive stones, 24" by 18" by 6". They will be cast on site, and then laid up, one or two courses at a time, then tied together with reinforced concrete poured behind.
Each one can be shaped, has channels in it for marble inlays, which we make one by one, as the building needs the design. They can be shaped for entrances, arches, windows, sills, ornaments etc.
It is something, doing this, like digging a ditch. There is a connection to reality which carries through every phase, the walking about on the site, talking to the family, preparing for construction, talking to the workmen, thinking about the ornament, working through the structure. It is all one thing, on a level of physical reality which makes it something entirely different, worthwhile, you feel like a person, living, breathing, swimming, sex is engaged.
Making these stones, thinking about building with them, is as different from making working drawings for a contractor, as eating real food is different from looking at magazine pictures of food.
This is the real moral force of what it means to build. But unfortunately, the process of building, as we know it today, is something very different. Magazines like PA, and architects, and developers' money have cooperated to create an entirely different picture of what it means to build.
I have taken it as my task, to shake this situation: to make it clear what it really means to build, to free, liberate, architects from the mental picture which has been constructed for them.-o0o-
That is the core of the whole thing. The fact that there are thousands of architects who have given their lives to architecture, who want to make something beautiful, and who are beginning to realize that the present organization of the profession makes it all but impossible. They are wondering now. What can be done about it. Is it inevitable, to spend your life in the drudgery of a drawing office, pretending that you are an artist, helping all the time to make the world more ugly and more false, but papering over your deep knowledge of this terrible situation, with a pretense that you are improving the world, and with a pretense that this kind of architecture really nourishes the world.
What it comes down to, in the end, is practical. How can a person actually live and work, in the way which I have been describing? Is it practical to make buildings in the ways which I have shown. Is it a conceivable model for thousands of architects all over the country?
Can the attitudes which I have developed, and the ways of building I have shown—can they be used for private houses? Can they be used for large public buildings? Can they be used for large housing developments? Can it be used for office furniture and office interiors?
The feeling of desperation which architects feel, is that the package—that means the whole system of how architecture is "supposed" to be done, is integral, self sustaining, worked out as a coherent body of thought, practice and action. Even those architects who feel sympathetic to what I say, do not see a way out of this ball of string.
To do what I have done involves risks, and changes which are very great.
When I was eight years old, I made my first concrete structure in the garden: a racetrack for model cars. I built then whenever I could. And in the early 1970's I taught myself to become a builder—that means, legally, to be a licensed general contractor. I started that from scratch. I had little more experience of it than any other architects, trained in architecture school, drawings and drawing. But I knew that building meant nothing unless one actually did the building work itself, so I taught myself. I started with small pieces of furniture: went to a small building, with an invented system of construction; and then went on to more serious larger jobs, almost always experimental. That was what I enjoyed about the building work, that one could invent and make beautiful building details, and ways of making the building work as a structure—while one went along.
Later, at the end of the 1970's I joined forces with Gary Black, an architect and structural engineer, who had learnt the building business in his father's firm in Florida, and who understood the making part of architecture in the same way I did. We also joined with Hajo Neis, who got his training in his father's office, this time an architectural firm in Germany. Both Gary and Hajo had also studied under me. Others joined us: Ingrid King, Artemis Anninou, Carl Lindberg, Eleni Coromvli… and many others. We formed a firm, struggling, now, to make a new organization from the previous Center for Environmental Structure—this time, one which would manage to do these kinds of works, as a business—but without involving money in the wrong way. A non-profit firm, which had as its main motive the building of harmony. The essence of the thing was to make the building—large or small.
And we always had to make it "live." We also allow a process in which clients lay out their houses for themselves to play a genuine role in the process of design. This goes to the heart of what it means to be a person. The essence of the process is that you have to teach, and open the door, to allow the client to be a person, to help him and her see what is in their heart, always to take the affairs of the heart more seriously than anything else.
Over the years I have heard such things (about the heart) from many people. Kahn used to drivel on about such things. But if you look at the sterile blocks and triangles of Kahn's work, you can see he didn't really know what it meant. Only in the Fort Worth museum, perhaps he was coming close. Le Corbusier used to talk about it too. But he didn't know what it actually meant either. It was only a kind of rhetoric, a nice way of talking, a way of constructing reality in their minds, so that they need not be ashamed, and could elevate what they were doing, to be greater than it really was.
Actually to pay attention to the human heart—it means allowing things to be. Most architecture, as it is today, is not allowing things to be—it is, on the contrary, imposing a fanatic and wilful picture of the world—often, I am afraid, a phony, sterile, money-ridden picture of the world.-o0o-
I go back to the problem of how to do it. At the bottom of the whole thing, is a system of understanding the world. There is a vision of reality, of what space and matter are, which includes the idea of soul. For twenty years, I have been trying—as a scientist—to understand a physical scheme in which we portray the universe as a place where living substance can arise. And to do it, to make sense of it, I have had to make a picture of reality in which everything we know about the world is changed.
When you think it through this deeply, you realize that we cannot only blame ourselves, as architects. It is not just the world of architecture and architects, which has betrayed itself. The trouble is, that within a mechanistic view of space and matter—the one considered normal by all right-thinking people today—it is inevitable that architecture must become shallow and trivial.
In The Nature of Order I have tried to explore these questions, and have found a picture of space and matter which makes sense of things, which shows what it means for spirit to occur in something, which shows how feeling is inevitably integrated in design—and how matter itself, understood as a Godlike substance, shows us what we have to do when we try to bring life, into a doorknob, or a window, or a whole building project. It becomes clear, because it comes from an entirely different way of looking at the world.
This way is connected to ecology and respect for nature. But so far, even the ecological revolution is still mechanistic in its fundamental way of looking at the world, and so still creates an arbitrariness, that we see in the kinds of "ecological" buildings which have become associated with the name.
The real thing is deeper, and more serious. It is also more human. The respect for living things, is not just a respect for plants, and rivers, and vanishing species.. It is a respect for ourselves, a respect for the human heart, our own vulnerable, pathetic, and marvelous heart. It is an architecture then, which comes out of the voice of that heart—not some sham, not some money scheme, not some world dominated by people trying to make money from real estate—but something which pleases me, in my own heart, and you in yours, and any little child—so that we never have to say: "Let me explain it to you. You don't understand…" and then go into the artificial rap, the falsehoods which make up our architecture now.-o0o-
Breaking up these falsehoods depends in large part on the magazines. Have you noticed that Progressive Architecture—like most architectural magazines—doesn't ask how to make things better, or how to make things beautiful. For the most part, it doesn't ask any real questions at all. It mainly provides a forum for self-glorification of the individual architects who carry out the program of the age. You get your project published. That reinforces the idea that everything is alright.
If PA really wants to change—if the printing of the letter about Prince Charles and his activities indeed was a crack in the ice—and if the new editors of Progressive Architecture genuinely recognize that the moral imperative has become too severe, and that they must help to pull the world out of this money-dominated phase—then the way is very simple. Allow real discussion of these kinds of problems. Make it clear that the purpose of the magazine is to allow us, all of us, architects, builders, artists—to form a community in which we ask questions about how to do better work, how to build buildings more beautifully—how to make towns and buildings which have more life. Every time you see a building, ask the most difficult questions about it. Ask if it is good, in the real sense of good—virtuous, helpful to life, helpful to human life on earth.
It is this question above all, which must hold the pride of place. The magazine not a showplace to show off our sullied wares, but a way of asking one another questions, trying to give answers, working our way towards a life in which we genuinely can do better work. That is a simple thing. And I believe that Progressive Architecture has made a decision—at least in part—to go along this road. That will be a helpful and effective thing for all of us.
PART TWO: A Conversation With Ken Frampton
In the accompanying photo essay on pages xx-xx, there are a few pictures of recent works by CES: buildings which my colleagues and I have designed and built.
For example, several of the pictures are from the Eishin campus in Tokyo. I showed some similar pictures of this project in New York a year ago, at a meeting in Cooper Union where Herzberger and I were both talking on the same evening. Ken Frampton was in the audience, and made some very interesting statements in the discussion which followed. I felt his statements were rather sympathetic, with respect to our two very different points of view. But later, in private, Frampton told me: "The best part is the lake—isn't it—the buildings are not really the important part." The subtle message, very politely said was "Look these kitschy buildings are really schlock—but the lake is nice." In effect, he was trying to say that the buildings are too romantic, too traditional—how could that possibly be serious architecture—so dismiss it by talking about something else. "…the lake is very nice, is the best part," and so on.
But it is just this emotionally cynical and subtle offhand way of trying to put down or demean things of beauty, on the grounds that it "is not really architecture," which is the craziest and most destructive part of modern architecture of the last fifty years. Here we go right to the core of the giant scam, the invented series of conceptions about space and volume and style, which has erected an imaginary set of criteria as if they were a "truth"—but a so-called truth which is entirely fictitious, which is not connected to real human feelings, but only to the artificially constructed aesthetic rules of a design intelligentsia.
The subtle put-down, and the unspoken rap about nothing real, is the catch-all method that both modern and post-modern architecture has been using to propagate its ideas. Post modernism (and modernism too, in its day) is so weak at the center, so far out of touch with honest to goodness force, that it tries to hide its weakness, tries to establish its own importance, by putting other things down, whenever they look even vaguely threatening.
I am sure Ken Frampton is a serious person. I do not believe he did this wilfully, and he is perhaps one of the present-day theorists who is willing to go furthest towards the possibility that something might be seriously wrong. But even he, for all his insight, was trapped in this net of lies (yes, unfortunately, from an intellectual point of view, they are just lies—because they intentionally distort the landscape of our feelings as they actually occur, and replace them with something false) about what is real, what feels true, and what makes sense in architecture. In our conversation in New York Frampton was trying, I think, to avoid a confrontation with the real issue—which is that the ultimate forms of building are given already—we do not have to create, intentionally, something weird, in order to show that "I am architect." He couldn't accept the beauty of our Japanese buildings, because they are not weird: and therefore, in his eyes, should not be taken seriously as part of "Architecture." What pompous silliness, which inverts good and bad. It makes rubbish seem important, and makes important things seem insignificant.
And why? Why should Frampton, or any other architect, be so careful to conceal the truth? For a very simple reason. Because, if something straightforward and not weird could be beautiful, even great, then the whole program of modern and post-modern architecture is suspect, and might come crashing down.
Look at the beautiful curved arch trusses we built for the central building in Japan. The building, and its trusses, are beautiful. There is no point in pretending that it is not this, not that. The hard struggle, is to overcome the dogma, in which it has been said over and over again, as part of the brain-washing: this is not beautiful, you must be weird, slightly cold, off color, harsh and soft, to be an architect. But above all don't do anything which genuinely makes people comfortable (This past part said in a whisper, or not said at all, or implied under the surface, between the lines).
Here is another similar example. Next to this text, there is a picture of some tiles I made in 1986. I made these tiles for the University of Oregon (an open competition for artists to build projects on the campus). I entered as a tile-maker, with a project for a bench ornamented with these tiles. Twenty projects were going to get a commission. I thought I couldn't fail. Surely I would get one of the twenty. But all the awards had that modern and post-modern weirdness. They all demonstrated that they were clever, "architectural" and so on. These tiles of mine, because simply and frankly beautiful—quite ordinary—could not qualify, because they were too embarrassing to the whole profession and to the firm who built the science building in the Oregon campus (Charles Moore with Ratcliffe).
That is what we are fighting. The loss of innocence, which makes you elevate garbage to something worthwhile, trying to puff yourself up to be an architect, and refusing simple and beautiful things, which have substance or feeling in them.
Ultimately this gets so bad, that people—architects—no longer know how to bring the beautiful and simple heartfelt thing out of themselves—because they are so inflated with themselves, and so pushed off-center by the schemes, concepts, and conceptual guiding force which make them want to demonstrate how practiced and clever they are in the false thing that has no beauty, but that gets you brownie points in magazines, and in the search for tenure on the architectural faculties of our major universities.
The ultimate question is extremely simple. Can you (or equally, can we) make a beautiful thing? Can we make a beautiful window? Can we make a beautiful door? Can we make a beautiful place in front of a building? Can we make a beautiful building volume?
That is all you need to ask yourself. You don't need yards of explanation. Just try to make a beautiful thing, and gradually, the right direction will show itself, of its own force.
But what does "beautiful" mean? It means that the thing genuinely makes my heart sing. It makes me feel joy, my own wholesomeness. It makes me feel more rooted in the world, more whole as a person. It makes me feel some happy thing, as if the spring was here.
Of course, there is nothing harder in the world, than making a building which has this quality. It is a lifelong thing to try and do it. I fail ten times in every moment, before I succeed. It is unbelievably hard. But it is unbelievably worth while. When I do succeed, and even while I am failing, I feel happy. And the finished product, when it is standing there, makes people happy in themselves, to be in the presence of this beauty.
PART THREE: A Practical Program Of Action
Now I try to sketch out, in broad outline, the characteristics of an entirely new way of looking at architecture, which solves the problems which have beset the mainstream theory, and which holds the possibility of resolving the moral and practical dilemmas that exist in the present mainstream practice.
1. A new vision of architecture.
2. The actual construction contract itself, reshaped as something which specifically makes art possible.
3. Custodians of harmony in the world, and as such we have a duty perhaps similar to the hippocratic oath. The harmony cannot be abused, will not go out to hire, only towards increase in life.
4. Just as applicable to big buildings and large developments as to small projects.
The most important considerations are these:
1. The quality—harmony—is something real. It is very hard to attain. But by group work, by careful step by step work, it can be attained. Thus it is not opinion, not taste: it is an objective reality, which is the most harmonious thing possible.
2. The importance of group work.
3. This conception of harmony includes life as its main thing. Thus, it is not only a physical harmony in the building and its surroundings: it is an actual harmony in the life that can be lived there—so that the life too (not only the building) when it succeeds, goes to a state of harmony which touches and affects the people who experience that place. This increase of life is a profound thing, which releases wholeness, which encourages and supports wholesomeness in the people, and animals, and plants—in all the processes that go on.
4. The effect of this increase of wholesomeness is a rough and ready quality—it is rough and smooth, beautiful and ordinary, simple and highly intricate, common-place and strange.
5. The wholesomeness which I describe here, can only be created by a process in which design and construction are unified, and in which the material of the building, the way it is made—is itself considered part of that harmony. This requires a process in which we understand the key process as a process of making, not a process of designing. In the early stage of thinking about a building, we are preparing to make it. Thus architecture is an artistic act and an act of construction. The money, process, time, craft, and art are all interwoven. Decoration comes out of the process of making. Structure is essential to it. Solid materials—not plywood, 2x4's and sheetrock—where love and respect can make their way into the materials themselves, is necessary.
6. Concrete in its various forms, as a plastic material, which can be shaped. Tile, marble chips, insets into concrete, relief, casting, formwork, blocks, beauty of material. Wood for finishing, near the human body, paint which is mixed on site.
7. In general, the adaptation of each part of the evolving building is governed by the reality which is experienced there. The process of unfolding which makes the building is understood as a creative act.
8. The contract in which work can change throughout the building process, while still controlling cost, is central to this process. The idea of change orders is removed, and the permit drawings are understood as a rough idea of the building which is to be built, not as an accurate prediction of the finished product.
9. The process can be used for large buildings just as well as small. These processes have become familiar in small scale design build operations like houses built by carpenters. But the essence of the new view of architecture, is a reorganization of large job conditions, in which millions of dollars of construction, in high buildings, and large building complexes, can be managed in a similar fashion.
10. The involvement of users in the process is necessary, and widespread.
11. All of it is essentially a religious process. This does not mean that it is attached to any one particular religion—Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam. What it mans is that the ultimate object of the work of building, is to make a gift to God: and that the ultimate purpose of the work, is to reach a level of art, in which the inner nature of things—the universe—and God—stand revealed.
This is not sentimental claptrap, but a practical objective, which directly governs every day-to-day process—use of money, timing, schedule, distribution of resources, sequence of actions, cost control, design, art, craft, motive, and attitude.-o0o-
Finally, and above all, as you can see from the examples in the accompanying picture essay of recent CES work, this approach does lead to an entirely new form of architecture. It is not a social program or mental idea, but a vision of architecture which leads to different style, different physical results, a different ideal of beauty, and a different criteria for success, and a renewed emphasis on the life of any situation—its human and emotional life, and the emotional and life of the stones and materials and buildings themselves, as something which is linked with nature: but which is, above all, a new kind of artistic form, which takes real life as its subject, and molds space out of this spirit. The spirit of the art, the actual form of the buildings, is unmistakably religious—even though it has no detailed relation, to any one religion. And it is, above all, occupied with things that are beautiful—where beauty is not understood in some specialized and cranky way defined by a few architects—but where it is understood in the ordinary common sense way that we have in mind when we talk about the smile on a person's face, or the beauty of a meadow full of flowers.
PART FOUR: A Hippocratic Oath For Architects
Since the situation is difficult, and since the moral purpose of our work as architects and builders has become so unclear, I have tried, for the purposes of this manifesto, to capture the essential points in a kind of Hippocratic oath, which, in the future, any reasonable architect might be willing to adopt as a credo:
1. No matter how big the building is, the architect does some craft work on every building, with his (or her) own hands.
2. He (she) controls the flow of money completely: both the distribution of money, at the outset, and the ongoing flow throughout the process.
3. He (she) has legal responsibility for the actual construction.
4. The building is designed on the site, and is checked and understood by all relevant people, while it is being formed. Relevant people means both clients, and people round about, so that the existence of the building is a pleasure, not a bad surprise for anyone.
5. Direct work with subcontractors, and direct control over their activities.
6. Permission to the users for direct involvement; not lip service involvement, but a kind in which the architect humbles himself, and recognizes that they are right as often than he.
7. Ability to say no, to user requests, not based on the architect's ego, but on an understandable, common-sense grasp of the problem, where his (her) understanding is greater—and demonstrably so.
8. Non adherence to a "program." The functions of the building, evolve, in part, from its own reality. Canned list of square footage must be taken with a grain of salt, and if too rigidly listed or enforced, will damage any building.
9. Engineering is part of architecture, and building is conceived while being engineered. No separation of professions. Each architect is able to work as an engineer, at a modest level.
10. Full ultimate responsibility for money, and for cost.
11. An ability to see what the life of the site requires, and a definite commitment to do the thing which brings most life to the surroundings. Thus, to make each building small in importance, in relation to the life of the surrounding world which it supports.
12. Understanding that process, not design, is the crux, and understanding that the beauty and functional harmony of the building comes from a thousand small steps, taken one at a time, while the building is being designed, through the use of models, and then while the building is actually being made.
13. Creation of a culture and creation of a life. Conscious awareness that what is being made, in the building, is a life—and that it is this life, judged in ordinary terms, and spiritual terms, which is the ultimate task, and the ultimate criterion for success or failure.
14. A new set of contracts, which work to protect time and money, but which put the emphasis on flexibility, and on the life of the evolving building.
15. An awareness of what is genuinely likeable, not in terms of special interest, but in real terms which are shared—and a commitment to make only buildings which are deeply and genuinely liked.
16. Above all, the commitment by the architect to make only a work which he, or she, can genuinely love.
17. Variety. A refusal to produce artificial or mechanical repetition, whether in components, or houses, or offices, or office furniture, or windows. A careful understanding of the need for variation, gradients, in the unity of things.
18. Commitment to new forms of construction, needed to support the necessary variety, and a daily work and experimentation with techniques of making, forming, fabrication. A refusal to work from Sweets catalogue, but instead a commitment to work only from one's own knowledge of materials, things which one understands with ones own hands, and has experience, and is willing to experience on a physical level.
19. A recognition that there are 3,000,000 construction workers, and 200,000 architects in the USA—and that the life of the construction workers, and their spiritual evolution, is as important as that of the architects. This is not only done for obvious moral reasons, but because of an understanding that the life of buildings will never be profound or worthwhile unless this goal is achieved.
20. Recognition that these conditions of this oath are, in 1990, extremely hard to satisfy, and that some of them represent almost unimaginably big changes in our professions—nevertheless, a steadfast refusal to do anything less, and an absolute determination to say no to any process, or any mental condition, which seeks to persuade the architect that these goals cannot be satisfied.
21. Each building is to be offered as a gift to God.
PART FIVE: A Later Discussion With Tom Fisher.
Discussing this manifesto, Tom said some interesting things to me. He spoke about "Da Sein"—being here. The idea of elemental and simple feeling. The experience of being here, Heidegger. This is what architecture must strive for, and is intended to intensify.
The outpouring emotion of the film festival. The key thing that moved people was the idea that I said that there is essentially one ocean of feeling which we share in, and that largely, we have the same feelings. Of course, we have our personal feeling, and our individual idiosyncracy which makes each one of us unique. But this is the small part, the top of the wave, on the ocean of feeling which we share. It is this ocean of feeling which we share, that is the underpinning of the pattern language, and of the nature of order, and of the buildings which I make now: they go to that feeling which we share, and which make us together, one body.
Tom mentioned the fact that it was at the time of Socrates that the individuality of the person first became identified; and that before Socrates, there existed a time, when the shared feeling, that huge part of feeling where we are one body or one community, was mainly emphasized. This is a possible way of being.
D.H. Lawrence's book Apocalypse comes from the same point of view. Lawrence describes a time, and way of being, where we are directly connected to the sun and the moon; where our elemental feelings are the main thing and are fully in awareness.
F.R. Leavis. When I was at Cambridge Leavis was lecturing; and the astonishing thing about his lectures, the shocking thing, was that he insisted that it was not the aesthetic body of a novel that had to be admired or appreciated, but the underlying moral force, and the attitude to life, the way of life, which it described, hinted at, swam in. This was shocking for us, since we had a more arty, and autonomous view of art, as if the value of a work was its artistic value: suggesting that it was its moral value sounded pompous and stuffy. But still, it was Leavis' life work to elevate the writings of D.H. Lawrence, above all, because Lawrence's vision of life, was essentially, and on a higher plane that the moral force in other contemporary writers, like Hemingway—which though great works of writing in style and force, did not have a compelling moral vision underneath them. This view of Leavis, though it seemed shocking at the time, seems correct and natural now.
Ziva Freiman's approach to the contemporary questions of architecture—is just so, in the same position. She is calling above all, for a moral force, which can provide an underpinning—It is this which has been missing, and this which must now, be renewed, or perhaps more accurately, found for the first time.
Tom remarked that the recent ideas of deconstructivism, seem like the end of nihilism. That Nietzsche showed the end, a kind of nihilism, which could go nowhere. while Heidegger showed the way to a new moral order based on "being" and "being here." Deconstructivism seems like nihilism, cannot go anywhere, is simply the end of a line—whereas in these works, which my colleagues and I have been building, and which I have describing here, there seems to be some hope.
Originally published in: Progressive Architecture
© Christopher Alexander and The Center for Environmental Structure