AR reader Trevor Jones expresses his thoughts on the new Big Rethink campaign
I found Peter Buchanan’s first campaign essay (The Big Rethink, AR January) to be well written, understandable and illuminating. He definitely gave shape to my inarticulate reservations about Modernism in architecture. His observation that architecture today lacks something, ‘less than a century ago we seemed to have no problem creating’, is pertinent.
The trouble is that most of it isn’t beautiful enough, in the sense that architecture (unlike a machine) should be. Yes, the best does respect the Vitruvian triad of firmitas, commoditas and venustas (or grace?) but the whole, the triangle, is not an equilateral one: the functional and structural sides being disproportionately longer than the aesthetic one. Why is this?
The problem may lie in our perception of the meaning of architecture, and the rarity of architectural talent. architecture has a double meaning: meaning as logical structure, and meaning in the sense of significant form. The former is about logical relationships, which lend themselves to classification, systems analysis and computational power.
The latter demands a more intuitive viewpoint, being about the signification, coherence and beauty of a particular form, what it gives to and takes away from a particular cultural context. Whereas meaning as logical structure requires a clear, logical mind, meaning as significant form requires talent, which is rare.
Star architects are variously talented, their abilities magnified by huge teams of assistants and consultants. They conform more to Shakespeare’s triad of success in life: talent, luck and money. If you haven’t got the complete triangle, you land up doing ‘dull’ work as a sole practitioner, or ironmongery schedules for a big name architect.
And since ‘acorns don’t grow under oak trees’, the potential pool of talent in the thousands-strong profession is whittled down to just an overworked few with ‘glittering’ careers. No wonder the star architects’ work is inconsistent, and the nation as a whole is starved of a rich variety of architecture. We need to recognise and nurture talent, not bury it alive, if we are to rethink architecture and the design of the larger environment, in the nicely coined ‘Third Industrial revolution’.
Trevor Jones, Cambridge
Peter Buchanan leads the AR’s Campaign The Big Rethink: Towards a Complete Architecture. In this in-depth essay Peter Buchanan starts to explore the architectural implications the ‘credibility crunch’ in modern science’s materialist view of the world