A: “Do You Want Fries With That?”

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post, shamelessly split in two in an attempt to build up a buffer.

The second issue I had, and one that was hard to articulate (politely, at least) while at school, is that a lot of architects seem to be really full of themselves.

What do I mean by that? The answer is multifaceted, and a lot of it has to do with why I don’t like literary analysis. But before we dig into it, here’s a picture of Le Corbusier with Albert Einstein:

Corbu: Look at me, I'm so smug! Einstein: I'm not wearing socks!

Corbu: Look at me, I’m so smug!
Einstein: I’m not wearing socks!

Architects seem to make a lot of work for themselves. A lot of them (at least the ones you hear about) insist that a design must “mean something,” embodying a concept, idea, or theory, much like a sculpture or Great Work of Literature. But to me, this high-minded “Architecture for Architects” (not the capitalization) too often comes at the expense of functional buildings that utterly fail at their assumed function. Case in point: the new(er) addition to the Denver Art Museum. The last I heard, the **crashed spaceship** building was on its third roof, and the interior spaces are extremely hard to present art in. Interesting sculpture, terrible building.

But what does it mean? I’m sure there is some high-concept deconstruction of the concept of “museum” in there somewhere, but to me that’s just so much mental masturbation. The same thing happened to me in literature classes during undergrad: so much of reading and critiquing seemed to be about finding hidden meanings, ones that were often contradictory to what the author had actually said. Or modern art, where you have to go through all sorts of mental gymnastics to talk about how a completely blank canvas speaks to the artist’s disillusionment with the treatment of puppies in the 19th century.

*takes a deep breath*

Another issue I have, and this may be purely philosophical differences, is the glorification of big-name “Starchitects” whose work is venerated because of the name attached to the design documents. It’s people like Le Corbusier, who named himself “The Crow” and submitted that he knew how to make Paris better (by razing it to the ground). It’s the city of Denver getting excited about having a “Libeskind Building” even though the roof keeps on leaking. It’s Frank Gehry crumpling up a piece of paper, throwing it on the floor, and coming up with the design for a concert hall that later has to be sandblasted because the shiny surface is blinding office workers across the street. It’s any time quality of the name is valued over usability of the building.

All right, some of those may have been apocryphal.

In my opinion, good architecture should be anonymous. It should do its job competently, but in a way that doesn’t draw attention to itself. A great building should be prized because it is great, not because of who designed it. Admittedly, that doesn’t lead to fame and fortune. But it can result in places people want to spend time in.

So much of the practice of architecture I encountered in school seemed to be no more than architects ensuring they were needed, even if it was just to understand their work. It was the walling off a clubhouse, then feeling superior to the people on the outside.

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