Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Paradox

The paradox inherent within the field of architecture is fascinating.

On one hand, architecture is the most egalitarian of the professional fields. It is the ultimate shared experience, the ultimate democracy. It can be experienced by anyone, anywhere, and at anytime. Though we often don't think of architecture as "consumable," it is actually the ultimate consumer good. We can avoid consuming apples or ipods if we so choose, but the ubiquitous nature of architecture lends itself to interminable consumption. From the moment we wake up in the morning to the moment we fall asleep (and sometimes while we sleep), we are consciously or subconsciously experiencing the buildings and spaces we inhabit, frequent, and observe. This fundamental right and capacity can never be taken away from us. The masses are free to interpret structures and spaces as they so choose, and though two people may experience the same work of architecture in very personal and very different ways, the important thing is that both are experiencing it. The question is not how, but if, and the answer is yes.

On the other hand, architecture represents one of the more exclusive professional fields. Only a fraction of the population has the financial means to create a work of architecture . I decry those that confuse price with quality, but the realist (not the idealist) in me recognizes that architecture is expensive. I have seen 2% thrown around as the percentage of American home buyers who work with an architect, and though this number is often disputed, it is clear that we all do not have the means necessary to create such a work. The question of "what constitutes architecture" is definitely an important question in this context and one of great interest to me. More liberal answers may challenge the contention that "we do not all have the means to create architecture," but for now (with a promise to return to the topic in the near future), I will stick with more traditional answers. The other aspect that suggests the exclusivity of architecture is the profession itself. On par with being a physician, lawyer, or nuclear physicist, the architectural profession requires specific training in definitive techniques and principles. It requires mastery of mathematics, information technology, architectural principles and history, and a myriad of rather complex computer programs. This is stark contrast to professions like finance, advertising, and PR, where job openings are perpetually filled by eager graduates hailing from the oh so popular, but oh so general, college majors like psychology, history, and economics (majors not exactly conducive to the architectural profession). Seemingly anyone can wake up one day and suddenly enter these fields with few (what economists like to call) "barriers to entry." Perhaps these barriers to entry are part of the reason I decided to become a trader, but I leave this to future musings.

Herein lies the paradox: Many can observe architecture. Few can practice it. Many can admire architecture. Few can appreciate it. Many can critique architecture. Few can improve it.

In the pages of this blog, I aspire to neither create nor improve architecture itself. I only hope to shed light on a myriad of interesting observations related to the field, its intentions, its practitioners, and its constituents. Architecture itself transcends space, time, and humans themselves, and as the great American architect and father of modernism, Louis Sullivan, once said, "Our architecture reflects truly as a mirror." This blog aspires to be that mirror.

1 comment:

  1. Why have you stopped writing? Your insights are incredible !