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Architects shall inherit the earth



Architects might as well give up; they have succeeded. Architecture has not just tried hard to keep up with modern life, it tried to define it. To do this it has worked hard to “theorise its agenda” and place itself in the universe of conceptual space. Its success has been brilliant. Architecture has become a philosophical abstraction. It has forged relations with other disciplines through clever analogies and now it is so intricately connected to everything else that architecture has become the universe. Everything is architecture and architecture is everything. Those relative newcomers on the horizon, the computer people who also call themselves architects and who are out there looking hungry, the nameless youngsters with their weird and wonderful way of talking and their extraordinary riches have claimed the word that we have been so generous with. And good luck to them! What matters, is that we have been generous. Not only should we not be surprised, we should not even regret the fact. Architects, hartschitec…. What’s in a name? Utech ya hartschitec, and I hope you are happy with it.

The theft of the name architecture is peculiarly appropriate. After all, even in our more narrow sense of the word, architecture has come to mean the building of intricate concepts in concrete and steel: Venturi’s Ducks. So many buildings are brave and witty representations of metaphysical twists; they do everything to transcend or contradict their own limitations and the limitations of their creators. Buildings have become representations as subtle and finely argued as the all-consuming philosophical systems conceived by the great Thomas Aquinas. In fact Peter Eisenman is or was (is he dead yet?) our Thomas Aquinas, so happily absorbed with the number of angels poised upon a pin. He makes himself look so clever, so amusing, and if you bother to read the buildings sympathetically, so rich, especially when, unbuilt, they retain the ambiguity of the unwritten text.

In our own generosity with the name architecture, we have given away the clothes on our body and have discovered that we like being naked. Gone are all the special marks by which we could be identified. When Immanuel Kant first used the word “architectonic” in relation to his philosophy we felt so flattered, so pleased, so universal. Now our universality has given us a profession without a name. Yes, we are allowed to keep the one we used to lay exclusive claim to, but only through the disinterest of the true owners, the real conquerors. They wanted to conquer architecture, they succeeded and have now discovered that if they refuse us the use of the word, their trophy becomes meaningless. Perhaps, in our imperial nakedness, in our discovery that we look like everyone else without clothes on, we should now be brave enough to go back to square one. Architecture should go through a systematic reduction to find itself under the pile of dirty washing that has been discarded after the glorious orgiastic striptease party that was the twentieth century.

How should we go about this systematic reduction? One thing is certain: not as if the twentieth century never happened. God forbid! No, instead we should cherish our hangover, it is our only evidence of the party: “We were there; see my eyes, they are bloodshot with tears and laughter!” We must use this century’s profound lessons wisely while concentrating on the purpose of making good buildings. Buildings that “build” our faith in ourselves, buildings that do this on the premise that everyone should have a place for their own dignity and well-being. After all, what is wrong with human beings? We have a right to be here, we are part of the creation too…. Can we help it that our modicum of intelligence has brought us to both edges of our own imagination: the edge of disaster and the edge of the great mysteries? Of course we can. Therein lays our power. And architecture has the power to make places to live and work, well.



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