Architecture Is Dead

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Fellow Spaniards… Architecture is dead.

I don’t want to be an alarmist, but it’s dead.

Or we’ve killed it. Like the captain of the Titanic, we (unwittingly?) crashed architecture into an iceberg, and the only possible result was a resounding disaster.

Far from generating better architecture, the glut of commissions and the economic bluster of the early years of the 21st century led us to “mass produce” buildings with the same blasé attitude we display when doing a copy-and-paste. And then there were the spectacular works which mistakenly nurtured the idea that the only service iconic architecture should render to a city is to provide postcard pictures for tourists.

By act or omission, we architects let architecture die. In the first case mentioned above, we left architecture in the hands of builders and developers whose principal interests were economic, and we failed to prioritise our profession’s inalienable rights. In the second, we kowtowed to narcissistic politicians interested only in flattering headlines, and ignored the true parameters involved in architecture.

And now we complain because the profession has lost its prestige, and with it any chance of decent fees.

But the profession hasn’t lost its prestige. Although it’s unfair to generalise, we architects have given it away hand over fist, leaving it in the hands of people lacking in any technical expertise.

While the band played on, we forgot – or we ignored – something as elementary as the Vitruvian Holy Trinity: Firmitas, Utilitas and Venustas.

Architecture – real architecture – must be solid. It must also perform a function. And it must have an objective aesthetic dimension.

Architecture which sidesteps functionality isn’t much more than mere sculpture. And similarly, architecture with no aesthetic value is mere construction.

I don’t want to be an alarmist, but architecture is dead.

That’s not just my opinion. It was recently acknowledged by such an authoritative figure as Alvaro Siza:

Architecture is over… If I do a job for such and such a gentleman, and then it’s the builder who pays… you have to accept everything the builder says. You can’t do anything else.

And the builder has to earn money. Before, the architect could make demands because he signed the contract directly. Now it’s the builder, and he has other interests, incompatible with creating good architecture.

Architecture is dead. We killed it.

Or at least, we let it die. We were happy to give customers what they wanted, without further reflection, like a doctor prescribing the treatment the patient wants to hear without actually diagnosing the illness.

We sailed happily along in our first-class cabin and ended up running around in frustration on learning that there wasn’t room for everyone in the lifeboats of the celebrity system, while most of the profession had to choose between leaping overboard or hanging on for grim life to some piece of driftwood in the shape of a small, poorly paid assignment.

But I don’t want to be an alarmist. If we killed architecture, we also have the opportunity (and the responsibility) to revive it. And to do that we have to remember that architecture has an important social function: a function that consists not of giving people what they want but of understanding and providing society with what it really needs.

Architecture is dead… Long live Architecture!


Text translated by Andrew V. Taylor
Autor:
Arquitecto formado en la U. Europea de Madrid y la New School of Architecture and Design de San Diego (California, USA). | MArch bajo la docencia de Álvaro Siza, E. Souto de Moura, Aires Mateus, Carlos Ferrater o Fran Silvestre (con quien ha colaborado) entre otros. | Actualmente desarrolla su Tesis Doctoral sobre la materialidad de la luz natural y su carácter cinético en la obra de Siza, lo cual compagina con el trabajo del estudio (www.raulgarcia-studio.com)

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