Blessed Errors

Wooden stir sticks. Standard type on the right. Author’s image.

On the right in the picture you can see one of those little wooden sticks that are used for stirring coffee. Next to it, there’s a different type of stick. I found it the other day. As you can see, it’s slightly curved and at the bend it’s a different colour. That could be a wood knot.

It’s obviously a production error, and yet it’s fascinating. The curve lets your fingers grip the stick differently and allows for a steadier stirring movement. This kind of stick would probably be more difficult to manufacture, and easier to break. And I bet it wouldn’t take up the same storage space, either.

The interesting thing about all this is that a mistake can make us think: and sometimes, mistakes lead to unexpected critical analysis.

In the case of the stirring sticks, the error occurred purely by chance. But for architects (and in other professions where research is indispensable), error  – or, more precisely, non-aprioristic research – is a crucial process which makes it possible to explore fields that would otherwise be impenetrable.

The idea, then, is the need to experiment taking prior knowledge as a point of departure and formulating hypotheses based on experience and – why not? – on a certain degree of educated guessing. It’s an approach that accepts the possibility of error, not as a failure but as a line of thought that may be of no interest at a given moment but which can be returned to later on.

All too often, architecture has assumed that these processes will be implemented in the most familiar sector of the profession: the private sector. Sometimes they are, but I doubt whether there exists anywhere today a relationship like that of the Huartes with modernity, or, for example, with Sainz de Oiza. These are not good times for patrons of architecture.

Instead, what I suggest is that this spirit of experimentation could (or perhaps should) become part of a public sector effort to contribute to ongoing improvements in the wellbeing of the society the public authorities are responsible for safeguarding.

It wouldn’t be the first time that this has happened. In post-Second World War England, the London County Council Architect’s Department came to be the biggest architecture office in the world, employing more than 1,500 people, of whom almost a third were architects. It was under the auspices of this department that firms like the Smithsons, Archigram and HKPA started up, together with a long list of other acclaimed professionals whose influence today cannot be denied.

The LCCAD’s structure allowed architects a high degree of flexibility, and, with it, the opportunity to experience a secure, collaborative, team-based working environment (something very necessary in a profession which tends excessively towards a misunderstood notion of heroic individualism). In short, it was an initiative that allowed for a certain level of investigative error as a basis on which to build successful solutions in the future.

With official architects’ associations unfortunately engrossed with other issues and lost in their own (absurd) contradictions), this may well be one of the profession’s most pressing needs. Over and above the usually publicity-orientated use made of architecture in political circles, the need for an emphatically experimental environment unaffected by the precariousness habitually associated with the term “research” should be one of the priorities of architecture in Spain.

And blessed be any errors that might be committed along the way.


Text translated by Andrew V. Taylor
Autor:
(Almería, 1973) Arquitecto por la ETSAM (2000) y como tal ha trabajado en su propio estudio en concursos nacionales e internacionales, en obras publicas y en la administración. Desde 2008 es coeditor junto a María Granados y Juan Pablo Yakubiuk del blog n+1.

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