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Architecture at the Pace of Reality

Thoughts at the Intersection of Time, Space and Place

Diagram of the Six (6) waves of innovation that have occurred in the past 300 years. Henry Longfellow wrote during the Second Wave. Frank Lloyd Wright produced most his work in the third wave. Source: The Natural Edge Project.

We architects have been set up at least since Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, to be inspired in our career pursuits that Ah to build, to build! … that is the noblest of all arts. We are supercharged by the indomitable Frank Lloyd Wright to know that Architecture is the Mother of all Arts. This stokes our professional passion to accept no cause not improved by new buildings. Seemingly there is no problem that we cannot build our way out.

Great stuff. Empowers architecture. Makes for beautiful looking urbanscapes. Wonderful ‘Insta’ backgrounds too.

Back in the proverbial ‘day’, when virtual was not a form of reality, when buildings and buildings were made of mostly sticks and stones, the only places that culture could be explored was in cities. Maybe the motherhood thing made sense …

But now? In the 21st century? Full technology replacement cycles occur at a pace of 18 months or less. Global media half-life cycles last as little as a day. Climate change devastation is now measured by the season rather than the decade, let alone the millennium.

Is it reasonable that buildings - which take at least 3-5 years to design and build, and last 70+ years on average - represent culture as the mother of art? Considering the massive demands they take to build and operate - they represent 42% of all energy consumption while offering only 6% to the US GDP – could the better analogy for architecture be Arts’ resource-demanding distant cousin?

But is this position inevitable? Is it irreversible? Is it even a problem? Could we or should we just do away with buildings? Our opinion - in former-to-later order – is: no, no, yes, not necessarily

The attached presentation, introduced at the AIA San Francisco ‘Next’ Conference in 2019 considers the disconnect between aspiration and reality, and then considers how the relevance gap may be bridged once architecture embraces a more symbiotic and dynamic position with today's and tomorrow's culture.


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