Feb '10 - Sep '10
We had mid-term presentations for our studio this past week, and during the latter section of the presentation on what my partner and I had been up to, I managed to make our visiting critic, Gregg Pasquarelli (SHoP), a bit angry with me.
Our studio has been divided into six teams, and for the past handful of weeks, we have been assigned six types of movement to investigate, define, communicate and model. The last three aims here are by Douglas Gauthier’s explicit prescription (not that it differs from what an architectural designer would do normally). Gauthier also prescribed to us the versions of movement we would look into; these are (and attach “motion (MO)” to the end of each term) linear (GO), rotational (RO), fragmented (BREAK), choreographed (CHO), evolutionary (GROW) and metaphorical (FAUX ). My partner and I were responsible for looking into choreographed motion, and all of us were expected to craft a position and definition of our term to use in informing a Rhino model using Grasshopper.
So to analyze these motions with the aim of generating a model can be a sticky business, but as we all moved along, I think we were all able to come up with some decent suppositions and products. The specific aim for my partner and I, in looking into choreographed motion, was not to use this brand of motion as a metaphor to create space (see Derrida’s “White Mythology” for ample reason to be suspicious of metaphors) but to use the human body as a tool to create it.
At mid term, our project was an investigation into how the movement of the human body can be used to carve out space (more specifically, what space the action of dance could carve out). Our proposal was some suggestions about what systems/situations could be used to do this. The precedent I mentioned for this idea was Archigram’s Spray Foam House; in Archigram’s project, a foam block would be delivered to a site and a family would begin to burrow into it to carve away and form the space inside to suit themselves; "Kids carving out playrooms, etc. Parents carving out rest" (David Greene, 1961). Our proposal would allow a person or a group a means by which they would make space for themselves. Because the role of the designer/architect is being replaced by the end user, one critic’s comment seemed to aim at reinstating the role of the designer/architect by arguing the importance of having a trained professional making decisions about space and not just some person or dancer at large; that the designer/architect is trained to make “better judgments”. Since this comment attacked the main thesis of the proposal, I countered intending to subvert the comment as a baseless argument for architecture (or rather, architects) to remain relevant, and that there are many examples of dynamic constructions that architects were not apart of (the example I presented to supplement that claim was the villages in Northern Ghana. In this region, the people build homes to fall apart each year and each year they rebuild after the harvest is complete. This practice allows them to recreate their homes in response to changes that occurred in their lives over the previous year (A baby is born and a nursery is added. A son is married and his room become the basis of a new home. Some one dies and their space is left to fall back into the earth)).
The fact that I was not buying into the idea that it is the “better judgment” we, as architects and designers, are in possession of as indication of the importance of architects persisting made Pasquarelli blow up. “That is such bullsh_t!” he began, and from here he went into a short tirade. From his mess of words, the main question he seemed to have trouble with was why someone who believes what I do would be in architecture school. My trouble with his question is why not. Being in school, I am insulated from the world, and here I have the luxury of wondering about the boundaries and limits of the industry and its activity, and based on his reaction, I would assume that I have stumbled upon one.
In a time when architecture and architects seem to be struggling to stay afloat, to engage in a type of rhetoric that is seemingly intended to dismantle the relevance of the practice, it might appear as though I would be sabotaging the very industry I am training for and planning to enter into once I leave school. This, however, is not the case.
To me, suggesting that there exists a “better judgment” would imply that there also exists a “worse judgment”. In recognizing these two brands of judgment as two points in reference to one another, we can begin to stake-out and imagine a gradient map demarcating what is good and bad with these two “judgments” located on it according to whatever criteria set to render a judgment on what is “better” and “worse”. Might this then suggest the existence of a “best judgment”, that is to say a judgment which is located at the farthest extent in the positive direction, and equally a “worst judgment”, located at most negative extent? If so, I would like examples of each. Can we be this clear about what is good or bad, what is better or worse, and what is the absolute best or the absolute worst? I would say no, and if we can not nail this down with some confidence, than I would have to assume that “better judgment” is not tangible or measurable, but is a figment in flux. And to place one’s value on a thing not easily measured would in turn render that measurement of relevance indeterminable. Therefore, to say that “better judgment” is what we learn in school, we are admitting, in some sense, how ephemeral this position and relevance is in actuality. As a result, I feel it is quite right to be free to wonder about the boundaries of the profession when its boundaries are so ill-defined.
Now, I would easily admit to the fact that school has helped develop a talent to think, without which I could not begin to question or assemble various bits of information into a logical whole. I would argue that this is what the architect does; that they assemble an idea, tested against constraints of a site and program, and presented to a client, who ultimately has the final say based on their own judgment. We, architects and architecture students, are gifted with a particular jargon that helps us appears as though we know what we are talking about. We study the intricacies of the field and are hopefully well versed on the constraints at work. We can begin to say that the architect is more informed, but upon the presentation of a project proposal, the client should become equally informed. And so, in the end, when both parties are aware of the information in play, neither the client’s judgment nor the architect’s judgment can be definitively deemed “better”. In this sense, with respect to the role of the designer/architect, the only thing I can say with certainty is that we simply gather information and assemble it. To me, to put limits on what information we are allowed to pull from and what assemblies we are allowed to put together would subvert the practice more than to simply admit that we are not in possession of “better judgment(s)”.
Sorry, Gregg. I didn’t mean to piss you off, but I still believe this.