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    Architecture of Responsibility

    Vincent DeFazio
    Feb 19, '15 9:15 AM EST

    Wasteful Architecture: A Clarification

    Wasteful Architecture received quite a large amount of critical response - much of which mirrored the basic questions being asked in that specific piece.  Just a few of those:

    • Wastefulness of aesthetic or wastefulness in general?
    • Architectural efficiency of materials or sustainable efficiency?
    • Structural rationalism or minimalism?

    Applauding the thoughtful repertoire of the general audience, there seemed to be a general consensus regarding the entire argument of the negativity of waste that architecture produces, but at the end of the day it kept coming back to two simple questions.  What is wastefulness in architecture?  How can it be solved?  Specific to Wasteful Architecture, wastefulness was defined as excessive celebration of style or brand for the sake of self promotion and hollow expressionism.  Zaha and Gehry were mentioned at length - a duo to be expected when speaking of architectural expression and iconic styles. The last piece even went as far as pointing the finger at both architects to a response that should be expected by an enamored architectural community.  To digress, this blame for the issue of wasteful architecture should not be placed on the shoulders of two artists who have discovered profound success in a world muddled with codes and laws. The issue that exists here is much larger and deeper than two vanguards who have pushed progression in architecture beyond plausibility.  Rather, wasteful and irrational design as a trend can only be placed on the architecture community as a whole.  

    Wasteful Architecture morphed itself into an essay regarding the responsibility and ethical approach architects have when it comes to waste (as defined above).  While the idea was only subconscious at the time of writing, it has become clear through numerous remarks and conversations - there are going to be architects who take responsibility for the environment, society and practice, and there will be others who emphasize only themselves.  Is it okay to be selfish and design to a specific stylistic approach?  Once again, how can architecture be both expressionistic while being responsible?  The real question that was raised and under the surface of the last post was really one of liability of design.  There is a thin line that defines responsible practice and aberrant implementation of self-imposed designs.  This debate has shifted to how to effectively juggle progressive ideals that may consume many resources versus conservative responses that boast sustainability. What is an architect's true duty to the world?

    Nature

    Sustainability has come to the forefront of importance, largely at first in the architecture industry but recently growing ever more important in society.  Wasteful Architecture sought to identify a more efficient architecture that utilized less materials and strove to be more honest with its expressions (inherently).  While it may seem that all buildings would adopt a married stylistic approach of Modernistic Sustainability (21st century's attempt), this more stringent way of building would reduce the consumption of materials and fabricate structures from only what is needed.  It is left up to the designer to work with a kit of parts and make them unique; note this kit would contain millions of different pieces.  Zaha and Gehry may be guilty of over-zealously utilizing materials in (possibly) inefficient manners but to their advantage, steel falls between 25-90% recycled material. Does that mean it is open to be overused at the designer's discretion?  Not necessarily, but as many peers pointed out, there is much worse happening in the world right now.  

    An example of this at a much larger scale than the Disney Concert Hall are the Olympic games which come and go every two years. Both the Summer and Winter games have grown to epic proportions which requires epicly proportioned stadiums, facilities and even entirely new cities.  New cities are being constructed for a series of games that last a little over a month! Not only is land disrupted for the purpose of constructing new developments but raw materials must be tapped for the billions of tons of materials going into these buildings.  At the end of the day, many of these Olympic villages have been found to be abandoned and unused after their lifetime is complete, thus the materials and efforts put into them have gone to complete waste.  Atop this, developments such as the UAE's project Dubai have become an architectural playground boasting overly poignant buildings while trying to condition the spaces behind thousands of feet of glass in the middle of the desert.  When will the grotesque facts of global warming sway developers and architects alike to invigorate their designs to incorporate systems that make sense and materials that add up to net zero?  Our responsibilities go well past avoiding development on greenfields, we should be concerned about the materials (what are they, how were they extracted or obtained, and why do they make sense), siting (why site a building a certain way and in a certain location, how can it take maximum advantage of its natural context), and operability (what are the systems, why do they make sense, how will the be the most efficient use of energy) of the buildings we construct. Building's account for 40% of energy  consumption and a large portion of materials extracted from the earth - what can be done to cut back and improve performance besides tacking on a bike rack for a few extra LEED points?             

    Society

    Without a doubt, our biggest clients are not our clients at all.  The permanent scars we impose affect a large amount of people - whether it's a positive or negative experience lies in the hands of the collective decisions made by first the architect and then the owner.  Skipping the obvious responsibilities that belie architects to society such as health, safety and well-being - the experiential elements of each project we construct have impacts that go well beyond the surface of human interaction.  

    Contextual interaction with both other structures and those humans using the building have impacts that can be profound yet daunting.  Since Zaha has been on the forefront of the discussion thus far, let's bring her proposed design for the Tokyo Olympic Stadium into the conversation.  Slammed by many and loved by her infatuated followers, the stadium will overtake a community and massively outweigh itself against its context.  While part of this blame is to fall on the planning committee for siting the stadium in a contrasting area of the city, the architect's job as a designer and problem solver is to figure out how to make everything work in harmony, even when everything seems weighed against their future project.  Stadiums are very large, but is there a way it can be more efficient?  Not only structurally, but perhaps in how it presents itself to its surroundings, here there is a blatant disregard for that immediate community for the enjoyment of "society" for a few short weeks.  Disregarding her overuse of materials for her own branding and style, Zaha has failed to provide to perform all of her duties as an architect for society.  

    This is perhaps where the line becomes the thinnest.  As many readers have mentioned, cultural and landmark buildings/objects are usually some of the most expressionistic pieces. These objects are said to represent a certain portion of a given society, but how well are they doing if those directly in contact with it on a daily basis despise its existence?  At the same time, buildings such as the Sydney Opera House have become iconic expressionistic (decorative) pieces of architecture that cities have come to identify with.  Massive public input is an absolute necessity that is born when a proposal is initiated for anything that is for the public.  An architect's responsibilities for society stretch far beyond those the AIA preaches - they lie in the regard of how the objects we materialize affect even the smallest activities on a daily basis.

    Practice

    An architect's responsibilities to professional practice are far too many to recount in a short essay.  Rather, let's focus on a couple of the most important obligations that befall an architect today.  

    Progressive ideals and virtuous work ethic.

    There are several other things that fall beneath an architect's wings when it comes to the profession, but two of the most intrinsic duties are to be progressive and to be virtuous (to everything).  A progressive mind in a field that often defines trends and movements is a valuable thing.  As many architects can see the profession becomes stagnant after lulls in the economy or lack of new projects due to over-concentration, but what's most important in these times is to redefine the wheel.  Our jobs as problem solvers, creative thinkers and trendsetters is to find new things that inspire those around us.  Inspiration directly leads to new opportunities to employ our minds - something that is always welcome in any studio around the world.  Taking this progressive mindset and being virtuous in all aspects of its creation and implementation is what sets an architect aside from many other designers.  The two other responsibilities listed above (nature and society) don't always broadly apply to industrial designers or graphic designers such as they do to architects.  We have a standard to uphold and maintain, the ideas can continuously flow out of our minds like a Hadid building flows from the ground, but we must know how to properly plan, design and build these ideas else we've not completed our equation.  An incomplete equation represents a lackluster and mistrusted practice with little external value.  

    At the end of the day, it really wasn't about wastefulness to begin with.  It was about the obligations architects have.  As a practicing member of one of the most esteemed professional communities in the world, an architect should find no issues falling into each category above.  This argument was never quite about how steel can be misused to make 'set-design architecture', rather the impacts those decisions can have on the profession and society and nature as a whole.  Architecture is the most impactful art form, it can not be allowed to escape the grasp of the responsible architect for it can wreak havoc on an already faltering social, economic and natural ecosystem.  How can you be wasteless?  How can you ensure all that you (help) create is what it must be, nothing more and nothing less?  

    This post originally on DEFdesign



     
    • 7 Comments

    • awaiting_deletion

      Vincent great piece and it's obvious to me you really think each statement and paragraph through to a very high degree. Your social bit mentioning Zaha reminded me of a quick blog post by Lebbeus Woods in which he discusses receiving a postcard invite to a new Zaha building. The photos on the card did not show a single human being - https://lebbeuswoods.wordpress.com/2011/03/27/zahas-way/ ..... in my opinion the 'incomplete equation' is very lopsided right now and I am unsure how we will remedy it......BTW you ironically (I guess) promote yourself at the beginning and end of this essay. Your work speaks for itself, I looked you up after the first essay you wrote. I also think you should submit these two pieces to a non architectural publication, I think others outside our profession should be reading this.

      Feb 20, 15 8:03 am  · 
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      I'm disappointed in the piece. The first one was more critical in specific areas, an aspect which has been lost here. Then you devolve into progressive values and virtues - pure fluff - without setting up any actual counterpoint to the now missing specifics. It is uninteresting and non-informational.

      The premise is excellent - responsibility and wastefulness - but you have pretty much abandoned it. My advice is to go back to the drawing board and start over. Define waste, examine all the aspects of wastefulness in detail including programmatic requirements. At that point you will have created the program to design a solution to - and can define in great detail and specificity a model for responsible practice. 

      If you can accomplish this you will have a piece that can be widely published and highly influential.

      Some pointers: Don't be afraid to ruffle some feathers. Style is irrelevant. Be thorough and intensely analytical. Don't be afraid to take a position and defend it.

      /end crit

      Feb 20, 15 9:16 am  · 
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      Thank you both Chris and Miles for the range of commentary.  Chris I am still working on getting the just right piece to be published...Miles I think  you're onto me there, perhaps I took the safe road after the last post and I even felt that after I had published.  Let's talk.

      Feb 20, 15 9:29 am  · 
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      awaiting_deletion

      Pissing off people who believe in fluff is never a bad thing....I see Miles read as well now and this is partly what I meant by that degree of thought in each statement. It was a sort of parachute retraction of the aggressive piece, hence the two pieces go together well, but the way you did it was hefty with regard to word placement. Maybe take a simple hard line on the Architects responsibility in the profession and go from there?

      Feb 20, 15 6:54 pm  · 
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      Its a bit easy to blame Zaha for her project in Tokyo. I am curious that you have assumed she is doing something to the community that is there right now. I would like to know who that community is. The area has been mostly left to the dogs for the last 50 years already, and is mostly composed of a madly fenced off series of baseball diamonds plus a parking lot and an aging stadium, all built on a formerly symbolic part of the city. The symbolic part was overwritten by an elevated highway for the last olympics plus several decades of complete disinterest in history. Which is to say, the same thing Japan has done for the rest of Tokyo. There are more than 30 million people in Tokyo. 8 million or so are living within spitting distance of the stadium. Is that the community? If so the scale may be large, but it is entirely swallowed by the city itself. I would bet you that only a handful of that 8 million have any idea that part of the city even exists, even though its right next to a hugely popular and trendy part of town. Yes some people will need to move in order to build this thing, but how is that different from any development project? This isnt anything like China. People have property rights here. There is no eminent domain being invoked. As properties go this one has been treated with indifference and filled with indifferent architecture for decades...

      The stadium is definitely too large, but how does zaha deal with the context? What is her responsibility to a parking lot and to fenced off bits of land that no one has cared about for 50 years? In her original plan she at least made a real effort to tie the city back into the site. Since the latest VE session that connection is now more or less gone. Who did that? It wasnt Zaha.  

      A better urban design would be awesome. No doubt.There is a lot going on in that space and lots to argue about, but is Zaha to blame? The person who fucked up the city is all of us, simply by living here and by the choices we allow to stand and the politicians we selected for the last 50 years. Maybe we should be fighting this project, calling for a restoration to what it was before the city became all urban and stuff. I am not convinced yet. There are bigger issues to manage in my mind before putting so much effort into what is after all just a single project. The city has other problems. So does the country for that matter. There are thousands in Tohoku who still live in temporary housing since the tsunami ran through. Is Zaha an ass for not doing that work instead?

      Socially engaged architecture is fascinating. MASS design group is awesome. Should we only recognize them going forward and send a sweet fuck you to everyone else? Where is the line?  Seems rather arbitrary to put all that on zaha or on anyone for that matter. In the meantime we have a prime minister  with advisors openly suggesting a turn to apartheid as a model for how to treat westerners in Japan (because it worked so well in South Africa). Does Zaha need to address that? Maybe she should. That is a harder call. Saying that she is dumping on some Tokyo community with her project seems a bit of a strawman argument though.

      Feb 21, 15 4:29 pm  · 
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      Zaha is a product of economic culture, but that doesn't prevent her from taking a more responsible stance or being a visionary in regard to sustainability and human need. What prevents her from doing that is a titanic ego that is probably the result of her stupendous success.

      As such she is an utter failure, clearly evidenced by her various comments and legal actions regarding worker deaths in Qatar. "Not my problem" seems to be her motto, exemplified by her architecture.

      There are thousands in Tohoku who still live in temporary housing since the tsunami ran through. Is Zaha an ass for not doing that work instead?

      Those people and conditions may as well be non-existent as far as Zaha is concerned. If they weren't, she'd be doing something about them. With her global celebrity and moneyed connections she could bring serious forces to bear.

      Feb 21, 15 5:28 pm  · 
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      awaiting_deletion

      she has this fancy perfume feel to her....expensive smelly water.

      Feb 21, 15 6:39 pm  · 
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