There are opportunities in life that we failed to take advantage of when they arose. Either we weren’t quick enough, or we weren’t brave enough. From time to time we think about them. We regret not having done more, not having acted more intelligently, or with more determination. Sometimes we let ourselves get carried away by inertia, putting off difficult decisions until it’s too late. Or perhaps the problem is that at the time we didn’t realise we had the opportunity in front of us, and that now, with hindsight, we do see it. Either way, it’s not something we should worry about now. Turning over non-existent realities in our heads, uselessly speculating about actions that were never taken, can only be a waste of time. All we can do is rue the lost chances.
Looking at the changes my city has undergone in recent years, I sometimes think about the opportunities that have been wasted in architecture and urban planning. Each occasion could well have radically transformed a specific zone, provided a solution to the growing problems of gentrification in the old quarter, or brought about an acceptable transition from urban to orchard areas. But none of that was done. Now, I gloomily look at the tightly packed, generic housing blocks that sprang up after the old bull ring was demolished, and I wonder how many more decades they’ll be there for. I suspect I might have to look at them for the rest of my life. It’s a frightening thought. When will architecture have another chance to rethink that part of the city? For how many decades will those unfortunate planning decisions continue to dictate the city’s appearance?
We all know how transcendental decisions are in architecture. The fact that architecture operates in given locations and under given conditions means that projects are place-specific. And it’s when we have expectations that a place can be changed, when we become aware of its enormous potential to be transformed or improved, that an opportunity arises. We know then that if we let it go, we won’t get another chance to do anything on that site for perhaps several generations. That’s what differentiates architects from painters: if a painter isn’t satisfied with a painting, he can put it away, take a brand-new canvas and try again.
Architecture, though, more than ever before, moves in the quicksand of fleeting opportunities. Because even though it may have something to say in response to the much more powerful and, unfortunately, decisive forces which govern the city, its strategy seems to be limited to identifying and exploiting the few opportunities that come its way. It has no choice but to perform selective, one-off actions in an attempt to trigger the desired side effects. In an environment with increasingly less buildable space, and which no longer offers any possibilities of large-scale interventions, each wasted or futile project is therefore even more painful to contemplate. I’m sure you, dear reader, can think of numerous different examples of this. Some cases are even the result of strict architecture competitions in which the winning proposal was, unfortunately, only “acceptable”.
The feeling of having wasted a great opportunity is always bitter and long-lasting. It can even lie latent for many years, waiting to assail us when we least expect it. Nevertheless, one thing it can help us do is never, under any circumstances, waste the next opportunity that arises.