Sep '09 - Feb '12
This semester has been a strong test of my general approval of architecture, and more specifically, my place within it. Of course, I'm not talking physical architecture here, but rather the industry, practice, and teaching of architecture. To sum it up neatly, I've realized for myself, like so many before me, that architecture is a sham and a general waste of time.
I don't know when my resistance to the whole concept began, but being in Italy has definitely proliferated my disdain for architecture to a higher degree. I think this is because my main grief deals with the authenticity of our practice, and for me currently, the authenticity of architectural instruction. Over winter break I picked up a book randomly from the architecture library at school, Architecture Depends by Jeremy Till. I was only able to get through the first few chapters before coming here to Florence, but in it he offers (among other things) an unapologetic criticism of the architecture studio, often humorous, but at the same time painfully true. The main message of the book isn't exactly this, but Till relates the architecture studio to an autonomous culture, trying so desperately to separate itself from society being both self-referential and pushing its own bourgeois stylistic code.
Unfortunately his critiques are incredibly relevant for me when I consider my current existence. But for me it's not so much the professors expecting students to perform at certain standards, thus assimilating into the “society” by using meaningless words, designing projects with catchy one-word concepts, and accepting the aesthetics and trends of contemporary design to name a few, but rather the students' apathetic acceptance of these ludicrous methods. Because let's admit, passive acceptance better guarantees a good grade, and a good grade will eventually lead to an (idealized) well-paying job. I asked a fellow student a while ago, who had said he didn't come into architecture school expecting what he found (being that architecture to him meant the traditional-style house he grew up in), if he truly believed in what he was now doing. In short, his answer was no, and even openly admitted to conforming to the architecture world in assumption that that was what he had to do. And I know that this doesn't just happen at Kent, but that it manifests itself in programs across the world with schools pumping out “architects” who are merely shadows of unsubstantial ideologies.
I said earlier that Italy has been a catalyst for this realization, and in fact being in Florence at this time has very conveniently lined up with my griefs in that being here has proliferated my hated towards the inauthentic. Here in Florence I have been unexpectedly bombarded with fakery...namely the presence of tourism as an industry and all the atrocious things that spring from it...more so than anything I could have experienced before in Ohio where tourism is admittedly a foreign concept in the realms of coexisting with everyday life. So it bothers me, and I mean this in the worst possible way, that Florence is a Renaissance amusement park. This amusement park is only fun if you remain ignorant to truth, believing that everything around you really is from past eras, traditional, and authentically "Italian" as the people here want the world to believe. In fact, so much here is a sham that the boundaries between what is faking authenticity and truly authentic are horribly blurred and almost indistinguishable. To complicate this, when I try to seek out the authentically Italian I don't know where to start because I don't know what the point of originality is here. But more than that, ironically attempting to study contemporary architecture in a culture that is outright against what I am here to learn would make anyone uneasy and a little bit disillusioned.
So what do I do and how do I reconcile the fact that the world that I am a part of and feeding into is so inauthentic? My response thus far has been a complete lack of motivation or inspiration and the work I've done in studio to this point would reflect that. And what does that say about me if I realize all of this but still remain without a single creative urge? Is the joke ultimately on me, because I can observe all of this in incredible anguish and nobody cares? I came into architecture with a very innocent and naive aspiration of changing something about the world, but I never would have thought that I would end up wanting to change something about architecture. And I find that very disheartening.
Certainly the story doesn't end here, but starts here. In the case of studio, motivation has (somehow) found me again and over the past two weeks I managed to push my project (slightly) forward. My battle with authenticity is just beginning and I think that accepting this is probably the best step I can take at this point. A friend recently reminded me that school is about finding yourself and what you're actually interested in, despite the polluted situation we find ourselves in. I'd like to think that this personal battle is evidence that I'm doing exactly that, but if not, then it at the very least helps keep it all in perspective.