Monday, May 18, 2009

Stirring Up Some Controversy

If you have trouble getting students to take the study of design seriously, perhaps exposing them to some design controversies will help them see that design touches on important issues critical to the health, economy and well-being of the planet.

One place to start might be the open debate about the value of "starchitecture" in contrast to concerns about environmental quality, economic stability, and sustainable living.

Over the next thirty years there will be as many buildings built in the world as there have been in all of history and only 4% of the world's buildings are designed by architects. Who's going to design the other 96%?

For the past twenty years the architecture profession has seen some of the biggest names in architecture try to out do each other with extravagant designs while others searched for a language for well built, sustainable structures in the service of humanity.

Frances Anderton, LA Editor for Dwell magazine and host of a radio show DnA: Design and Architecture, took up the defense of the Starchitecture point of view by saying:

There is more than enough room for architecture that inspires awe and wonder, yes, with its excess, and for architecture that modestly serves human needs. Without an architecture of excess, we wouldn't have Versailles, the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, Bilbao, and many other monuments to mankind's capacity for egomaniacal yet wondrous feats of imagination. Without the concomitant human capacity to use architecture to better serve humanity, we would not have had the arts and crafts and garden city movements, the Bauhaus, decades of efforts by enlightened architects to provide housing solutions for the poor, and, today, Sinclair's Architecture for Humanity....

Jack Diamond, on the other hand, says:

The extremes of individualism, and its accompanying greed, have ruined financial systems and left chaos in its wake. And once more this is reflected in architecture. The so-called iconic buildings (more egonic than iconic) were monuments to ego and extreme individualism. The emphasis was on the dramatic exterior: the way the building looked, rather than how it worked. The interiors could be perfunctory or dysfunctional.

Many iconic buildings are a direct reflection of conspicuous consumption. Instead of exploring engineering, electrical, mechanical and materials technologies to determine the most economic systems, there is a flagrant disregard for cost. Excess is celebrated: the highest, most expensive, most dramatic. The pick-a-shape school of architecture. It isn't simply the money unnecessarily spent on construction, but the energy necessary to heat and cool the building, the steel used to build it.

What do your students think about these issues?

Click on the heading above to read Diamond's article from the Globe and Mail outlining some of the issues.

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