Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Theory Base for Architecture

Kimbell Art Museum, by Louis Kahn (file licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.)
Bill Kleinsasser strongly believed in the need for an inclusive structure of architectural principles. In his mind, this meant a coherent theory base (and values base) upon which architects and others could build genuinely good places for people. He rejected the view that the use of coordinated principles would reduce intuitive effort or otherwise impair creativity. Instead, he considered the principles he set forth as interesting and challenging, and as sources for inspiration rather than by-the-numbers solutions. 
It seems to me the present architectural discourse seldom attempts to be as comprehensive and at the same time as specific as Bill’s efforts were. It’s a shame this is the case, because today’s built environment too often betrays an absence of the consideration he implored designers apply to every project. Bill’s words about the need for a useful theory base (below) ring as true now as when he first committed them to paper during my years as one of his students: 
Architects today are under great pressure to respond exclusively to short-term economics, to technological and constructional expediency, and to the deceitful rules of ephemeral fashions. The discouraging results are all around us: places that are crude or pretentious or too private in their meanings, places that become obsolete too soon and then perpetuate unwanted situations, places that offer far too little of the poetry that people need in their essential seeking of memorable experiences and self-renewal. When we look at the built environment critically and honestly today, we do not see much that measures up to the best we can imagine and hope for, not much that is as good as it could and should be. 
Many people place the blame for this on society generally, arguing that society today wants no more than this, that society shapes architecture rather than the other way around, and that architects are trapped by society’s values. Of course there is truth in this point of view and it is comfortable logic for architects, but it has also led to an abrogation of professional responsibility. I believe that architects and architectural schools should contribute fundamentally to the shaping of values that will make the built environment—public as well as private—genuinely better. But the fact is that many architects and, worse yet, many architectural schools, have failed to develop the comprehensive theory base that must be present in the design of good places. 
[Synthesis] attempts to outline a theory base for architecture that will help make the built environment better. Deliberately concise as well as comprehensive, it presents eight objectives that seem to be basic to the design of good places for people. Its central and unceasing aim is to give assistance to the creation of genuine architecture, by which I mean those buildings and places that provide significant and lasting support for their inhabitants and users.

WK / 1983

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