Arquitektuur is what you learn in modern architecture school. Words -
the theoretical writings of Jacques Derrida. Pretty pictures - abstract
enough to be called architecture even though they are really abstract
paintings. Movies - the art house kind with lots of weird imagery and
weak or no plot.
Architecture is something very different. Construction sciences - how a
roof has to be put together in order for it to keep the rain out. The
law - egress and accessibility. Management - how to get contractors to
do what you want them to. Business - how to keep the building from
going way over budget and how to keep yourself and your firm employed.
The list goes on and on. And, this is where it gets abstract, the art
and theory of arquitektuur plays a roll in it in allowing architects to
do something (be artists) that engineers and clients usually can't do.
There are basically three types of theory in architecture:
1) There is the type of theory that no relevance whatsoever to
practical matters of building design and function, and therefore should
be avoided at all costs, except as an extra-architectural endeavor,
kind of like reading a book by Eco (his latest one is actually very
nice), or playing solitaire.
2) There is the type of a theory that, in the historical/original/latin
sense of the word 'teoria', is actually a technique or praxis for doing
something architectural. This can range from the very practical (sizing
concrete beams) to the aesthetic (applying Vignola's orders as opposed
to Perrault's). This isn't to be confused with those theories that try
to turn design into a methodology. This methodology theory isn't about
technique per se but has its roots in 'strong AI' positions of being
able to automatize the creative process- an impossibility, and not
worth pursuing. On the other hand learning praxes is always helpful; a
good architect is one who develops skill in various design techinques.
3) The third type of theory is the kind reading I did while in Prague
and Milan- in particular, a little but exquisite book called 'Unmodern
Architecture' by Hans Ibelings (about contemporary architecture that
relies heavily on traditional/vernacular forms in the Netherlands).
These aren't really theories as much as they are analyses of ongoing
developments in architecture that have a significant impact on the
built environment, and try to look at the starting point(s), the better
works, the lesser works, the lessons learned, etc. Another example of
this type of theory are histories (another bit of reading I did was Art
Nouveau style in Italy- a fascinating time period (1890-1910).
The first theory is a mind game. The second theory is truly relevant to
the design process; the third is a way of expanding those skills in
trying to get a bigger picture, seeing where things came from and where
they are going in a larger 'global' sense.
I consider the first 'bad theory' for architecture because there is
nothing much that is relevant. It's a distraction and nothing more.
Anyone who tries to make obstruse connections (such as between doing an
historical/ interpretative analysis of literature and how to design a
building) is wasting time. The second and third types of theory are
valid and helpful in the process of becoming a better architect, and
shouldn't be discarded.
Until schools and teacher give up on the first type and go back to
teach more of the second and third, there will always be this
disconnect of paper/web 'architects' and the true practitioners.
Reading up on the Art Nouveau style in Italy, and seeing the Art
Nouveau in Prague and its lesser variations in Italy, I was amazed at
the consistently decent work done at the turn of century (1870s to
1920s), particularly in relatively 'simple' constructions like
apartment buildings. European cities (US too) had significant building
booms during that time and the quality of design work, the balance of
aesthetic and functional considerations was especially skillful, with
the end result being that block after city block of normally 'mediocre'
architecture was actually well executed, nice to look, functionally
valid and decent.
This is because architects (and builders of course) had a fair amount
of theory type 3 and good amount theory type 2, and didn't waste time
with theory type 1. It was only with World War I, when everything
changed dramatically (culturally, theoretically, technologically) that
theory type 1 came into being, to the detriment of architecture, urban
planning and building.
Just my 2.5 cents.
I believe for someone to be a well rounded architect, all three are
useful. But, and this is a big but, a good architect would be able to
differentiate when something is of the order of practical, or of the
order of pure ideation. A good architect should have a big toolbox from
which to draw from.
For example, someone who would not be too welcome here by reading all
the recent posts, is Lebbeus Woods. I don't believe he has ever
designed a single building in his entire life, yet he has written many
books. One of which I own, titled "Radical Reconstruction" deals with
the reconstruction of demolished or War torn buildings. Basically his
"ideation" is of building upon the demolished, in many radical ways.
I think this has a lot of relevance to places like New Orleans. His
ideas would have one build directly on top of torn down buildings, or
leaving the destruction and building around it. Of course this is not
practical at all, but it gives someone the thought of it, and a good
architect (one that actually builds things) would have in his toolbox,
this idea of a remembrance of the past, especially a place like New
Orleans. And a good and practical architect, would take that sort of
idea and put it to working use. The extreme idea can lead someone more
practical to something beyond what they have done in the past. This
doesn't mean that Lebbeus Woods is out there demanding that ALL theory
be changed to do his bidding, but that his ideas push the boundaries and
limits of others.
Can you imagine what a totally practical and profit driven architect
would do with New Orleans? Someone with this idea of remembrance of the
site, and its history, and possibly of its destruction, could bring back
N.O. in a more profound glory. I'm not saying someone totally practical
would not be able to do the same, but someone with a bigger toolbox
might be more likely.
I went to a lecture of Lebbeus Woods once and it was very interesting.
He never professes to be something he is not. He never acts as any sort
of "wanna-be", he only does what he professes to do. Take a radical
look at something through ideation, theory and writing, to expand the
vocabulary of those that do the practical work. Is it less work to do
such a thing. It's fine for those of you in here who want to teach the
practicalities of architecture, it is necessary and obviously needed,
there is no doubt about that, but I think there is a necessity to push
boundaries in all directions, to expand the mind, whether they lead us
to a dead end, or push us further. I guess maybe after years and years
of working, you forget that life isn't just about working.
Let's not confuse "expressing an idea" with the notion that any idea being
expressed is good simply because it's been expressed. Sure, he may have
written several books, drawn some fantastic stuff, but if he hasn't built
anything, in truth, he knows nothing about Architecture (defined as the
entire process from beginning of client contact through finished
This idea isn't a "Lebbeus Woods Original." Others have thought that
building with remembrance of the past is important (and one might argue that
you can't NOT build without having some relfections on what has been built
Yes. And in my world this isn't a bad thing.
Someone with this idea of remembrance of the
Why do you assume that practical and profit driven implys having no
remembrance of site and history? Profit automatically drives out other
considerations? You have emperical proof? How about the idea that NO was
build as it was because of profit and practicality? I can't imagine that
anybody that built pre-hurricane in NO built out of the goodness of their
So...his radical look (because he's the one taking the radical look)
automatically is valuable because he looked at it radically? I said this
previously in the post. Just because we have the right to express an idea
doesn't make the idea good, valid or anything else. In current politically
correct don't-hurt-my-feelings society all ideas are of equal worth and
validity. Lebbeus Woods, it appears from your statements, thinks that his
radically different view is an important tool for my "architect" tool box.
What if I think it's a piece of junk made in a foreign country and not worth
Is it less work to do
The boundries of architecture get pushed by all sorts of outside
influcences, fads, trends, new building technologies, etc.
What if life is about working? (which leads to an interesting aside...about
a century ago most of the world's human labor was spent in sustinance
living...you worked so you could live. It's only you being able to have a
40 hour work week (or 35 in France) that allows you to even contemplate the
idea that there might be something outside of "work.")
I sent a response, but my newsserver didn't like it... You may not get this
Did you miss my BIG BUT at the begining of my post. The real architect
decides what idea they find useful and what they don't. I'm not
confusing any sort of expressing ideas with them automatically being
good. I expressed this idea here and I don't know necessarily that it
is good, you might not think so, and from that I might learn something.
If you disagree, don't use it, simple...you are a thinking person and a
thinking person can decide that for themselves, rather than take for a
fact and supreme theory that people that don't build things don't know
anything about architecture.
Yes, this is true, he may have added to this or done it differently or
just repeated what has already been said, you'd have to read it yourself
to decide which one it is.
Lets get Wal-Mart in there pronto then. Big box stores are the most
practical right. Why is our country littered with this crap then? Why
is every city near me exactly the same as the last, and the only way I
can tell them apart is what freeway is near them or what the sign nearby
says? It must be profit, plus other things, not JUST profit. History
for one, connection to the local community for another.
It is valuable if you find value in it...right? So you don't, ok, you
gonna tell Mr. Woods he can't do what he does because you think he's a
phony? Will he care what you think?
Yes, yes they do get pushed by everything.
I don't know if I read this somewhere or heard it from someone, but it
was about the perfect life of a human. It would be to live at the
bottom of an ocean, inside a cylinder of bricks that reaches all the way
to the surface. The human would spend his life fixing the leaks, and
procreating to be able to continue after his death.
This one I got, thanks. I hate writing stuff and not getting shot down
'Pushing the boundary' isn't a theory; it's a simply way of designing.
Rebuilding on half demolished buildings isn't theory either. It was
common in Middle Ages (c.f Piazza Navona as one of many many examples),
but isn't tenable in the US given the structural requirements of
buildings. Reusing old buildings is only really possible with masonry
construction, and only if you can verify how good the original is asa
As for recalling what was built, areas like the 9th ward in New Orleans
(from photos it looks like all low income housing) have little to
'recall' in terms of actual quality architectural details or
references. It's not the same as reconstructing the historic center of
Warsaw in 1946.
Personally, I would veto construction in areas below sea level. I'm
sure the area was built in a kind of 'natural' way through dredging,
infills, first one lot, then another, etc. But it will always be a
disaster waiting to happen if the area remains decisively below sea
level. Water overcomes everything. It's best to build elsewhere.
It's ironic that the oldest part of the city was relatively undamaged
by flood waters. Tells you something about how much more in tune people
were with the land/river back in the 17th/18th century.
I agree, none of this stuff is really theory to me, as I think that word
is much to over and mis-used. I just call them ideas, or ideation.
There is very little NEW stuff out there to learn, a lot of it is
revisiting old stuff in a new way. I'm sure I did him a disservice in
describing what he was trying to get across, but its for anyone who is
interested, not for everybody.
I guess what comes to mind is those older parts, or the stuff that is
As for the rebuilding, it is hard for me to say. New Orleans went a
long time without being hurt this badly, it may not happen again for a
long time. I honestly can't answer that one. We have Earthquakes,
other people have tornadoes, and others freezing weather.
Is it possible that innovation could bring about answers? Floating
houses, some way to fill in what was taken out, and the rest filled with
canals, or other things I couldn't possibly fathom?
It doesn't tell us that at all. We may guess based on that but would have to
do some more fact finding before we can consider ourselves told that.
Further, "much more". Again, it says nothing about that at all. "Wow, I want
to live there. I think I'll build on the highest land that I _can_." Are you
saying that the people who came after, who put up the newer parts had the
option to build on already occupied land? Since there wasn't active pumping
going on, do you suppose that maybe they didn't build where they did because
"it will decrease our chances of being flooded when the whole nature of the
area is changed in future centuries" or perhaps rather because "seems
relatively dry here. better for the chickens to have a spot of dry ground"?
All too common for people to project their hindsight on people before the
"Oh woe, aren't we the pathetic failures, not even smart enough not to build
where it'll flood. Bad modern person, bad." Yeah yeah, everything was so
much better off when everybody lived in dirt and died at forty because they
were so in tune and clever and observant and respectful and they paid all
their taxes without complaint...
Tsk tsk... Everybody KNOWS that this is only the tip of the iceberg (so to
speak) of global warming, ozone holing, man made destruction and mayhem
because we don't listen to our shamans and eat enough worms. It will happen
again and again and again, year after year after year until you learn to
walk to work.
"Don't build in a swamp directly connected to yet below sea level."
You need to read Palladio's 4 books, particularly the opening sections
related to foundations and layout out a building, to understand what I
mean by people being more in tune with nature.
Tens of thousands of towns and cities were founded close to a river, in
locations that were high enough to avoid getting flooded every 4 years,
but not high enough to warrant transporting stuff up a rocky 300' crag
by mule, unless the crag was natural defensive outcrop (like Orvieto,
for instance.) Settlement building took several generations so there
was time to make some adjustments if rivers changed course or flooding
patterns changed. New Orleans had 200 years of Spanish houses before
the French 'officialized' it, so if the Spanish had flubbed it
initially, the French had gotten right by 1718.
People had an idea of what they were doing back then. Not for nothing
Palladio's wooden covered bridge in Bassano del Grappa is still around,
complete with original foundations, and that's 500 years old. Venice
too, with its island churches of 11th century.
My guess would also be that they did not have people building their houses
solely to make an obscene profit. IOW, the economics were different.
At the same time, I don't really think that, at that time, they were
bending over backwards to accomidate their own poor and homeless - they
were left to fend for themselves. If the poverty-stricken lived in shacks
down at the river's edge, and got flooded, it wasn't something that'd be
really "newsworthy" back then, because the attitudes were different.
So it's not IMO that builders have lost all of the old knowledge - I think
that, mainly, people are pusing for more and bigger developments, and what
is known (about flood plains, fire zones, and so on) is simply being
ignored by everybody, including buyers. People are covering the earth the
way a culture of Pseudomonas covers a Petrie dish of blood agar, and that's
all there is to it. The more people there are, the more need they have for
shelter, and the more desperate the need becomes due to overpopulation, the
more people will choose to live in hazardous areas.
Back in the 1700's, it was a lot easier for a family to find safe, arable
land (assuming it wan't already populated by Natives - in which case, those
previous occupants would generally end up being wiped out or displaced).
Not so these days.
I'm not sure of either the precise latin or italian definitions, though
I know in Italian it also means 'series' and I've seen used to mean
'technique' as well. Unfortunately I don't have latin or italian
I've also seen it cited in Alberti's work where he seems to use it more
like 'technique' than 'hypothesis', in certain instances anyway. Can't
say where in the '10 books' though since my copy is English only; I
read snippets of an Italian version in Italy about 9 years ago (and
wished I had brought a copy of it then as well).
I'll keep an eye open for it.
Something else you may be interested in, though way off topic and somewhat
lengthy, but which confirms my theory re the presence of the aeolic capital
Origin of the Etruscans. (2003)
Hmmm..... it's been a while...
You and I have known each other for some time... from the time before
you started at Rice. You know that I have always been supportive of
you....so I hope you will take my words in that tone.
Your statement shouts of the frustration that often troubles
intellectually oriented young architect/interns when they enter the
so-called "real world."
Your rant....justified, I might add....against the purely academic
component of architectural education is fair. But it also tells me that
you perhaps fell into the trap of giving too much credence to the
purely academic professors at the 'Tute.
For the record, since many of you are relative newcomers to this
group... I am an architect with over 20 years in both academic and
professional aspects of the profession....and I've only been active in
this newsgroup since around 1994 or so.
As an architect, I love theory and I love to build....and for me there
is little distinction between the two. Adolf Loos once described the
architect as "A mason who speaks Latin." I think of the architect as a
builder who thinks.....deeply.
Marcello, as always, offered an elegant and erudite reply, and I will
grant him the "Diderot Award for Encyclopedic Knowledge." All I wish
to offer is the observation that, for the architect, theory has two
1. It is the window through which we understand architecture.
2. It is the door through which we enter architecture.
That's it. Everything else is an expansion on these themes.
If I seem to be overly simplistic, please understand that my goal is
not to minimize the role of theory....rather I wish to show you the
incredible profundity of its role. I once presented a paper at the
University of Auckland in which I challenged the narrow dualism that
suggests a conflict between theory and practice. I suggested instead
that each is empty without the other. Architecture without theory is
merely dry clay....while architecture without practice is merely
superficial dilletantism. For me the idea that practice and theory are
opposites is as idiotic as saying that light and shadow are opposites.
Light helps us see into the shadow while shadow offers comfort from the
light. Each needs the other. Instead of a simplistic conflict, I prefer
a more subtle and profound dance. Light dances with shadow, silence
dances with sound, theory dances with practice.
True architecture is far more substantial than the interesting rantings
of Derrida.... and it is far more profound than the mechanistic
offerings of hack practitioners. At its best, architecture can make
poetry from stones....without mere words to cheapen the effect.
In simple terms, the "architect" is what the word suggests in its
original Greek.... "Master builder." If you want to be an architect,
you must build masterfully.
Adam...on a more personal note...
In reference to the issues you raised.... it would help if you had a
longer memory of the profession. Please try to remember that, in order
for young architecture professors to gain tenure, they must publish
academic papers without reference to practice. Sadly, it is very
difficult in most US schools of architecture for a practitioner to gain
tenure....so there is a strong pressure to produce "paper" ...even for
Therefore, students need to remember that the professors who wander
around spouting apparently profound gobbledygook in the spirit of
mid-20th century French literary scholars are simply in over their
heads and are desparately trying to appear significant in order to win
tenure. Sadly, in most cases the senior faculty who must judge them
are as intellectually and artistically clueless as the young ones....so
even the best young professor is caught in a very uncomfortable crack.
If they do know the shallowness of their jargon they won't admit it fo
fear of losing the security of the academic job.
As Marcello reminds us, the true architect, whether it is Imhotep,
Vitruvius, Bramante, Brunelleschi, Alberti, Palladio, Labrouste,
Perret, Sullivan, Wright, Corbusier, Mies, Aalto, Meier, Gwathmey (my
dear mentor), Steve Holl, Predock, Barragan, Norten or even
Gehry....always focuses on the art of building....not on the babble of
words. (Gehry of the Guggenheim in Bilboa....not Gehry of the mess in
Seattle!) The architect makes art of space, time and materials....not
of theories. The true architect uses theories to understand and enliven
the built works.....but never uses buildings to present mere ideas.
The art of literature is words.
The art of architecture is architecture.
I hope this helps.
Christopher Egan, architect
San Antonio, Texas y Mexico City
Adam Weiss wrote:
<<snipped for brevity>>
> Sadly... for some time now, maybe as far back as the 19th century,
I'm less concerned with the big words than I am with a fundamental lack
of knowledge in the field. If I might go back to the distinction I made
between "arquitektuur" and architecture. A great architect knows both.
Bernard Tschumi, who was the dean at the Columbia University School of
Architecture for a time, uses huge words in his books and articles -
words like "palimpsest". In fact, Tschumi was perhaps the only
"deconstructivist" architect to actually understand most of what Derrida
wrote about Deconstruction. But Tschumi has a long portfolio of BUILT
WORKS. Damned bad-assed built works I might add. That is an architect
worthy of teaching it.
Unfortunately, and you said it before, too many professors at Rice and
at other schools are experts in "arquitektuur" and yet know little or
nothing about architecture. I had one professor who has has just one
building in his portfolio - a house from the 1980s. A year after I
finished, they hired a lady to the faculty who had been a fellow student
of mine in the M-Arch I program. No built works in her portfolio. Not
even a license to practice architecture. That, in a nutshell, is what I
wish would change.
I evaluate myself and my work every day, but I also pray that in 10 or
20 years students coming out of architecture schools are better prepared
to enter the profession than ones who graduated in the last 5 years.
You see, it's not an either-or proposition. If architecture schools are
going to be improved, and they should be, more people are going to have
to question them the way I am. This is -in addition to-
self-improvement and advancement in the profession.
It's more than a little frustrating when I attempt to outline the
problems with architecture education and am essentially told "you're
right, but don't worry about it - move on."
Maybe it's that I'm idealistic, but I dream of a world maybe 15 or 20
years from now when architecture schools have been fixed. There are
small things that could be done and would, over time, go a very long way
to fix the schools.
Well, not really, :-), but your points are well taken.
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