Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Should Architecture Shock Us?

(Image from The View From Rome)
Should architecture shock us?


No, no, no.

Over at The View From Rome, the great Steven Semes explores the work of Daniel Liebeskind as it relates to historic architecture. It is a great post and I recommend that you check it out. Liebeskind has made a name for himself by, among other things, creating jarring, jagged, harsh Modernist additions to historic structures. Semes handily dismantles this approach.

However, this discussion brings up a larger issue in my mind. He quotes Liebeskind as saying " We must create a new context and puncture past beauty with raw, powerful contemporary architecture—buildings that shock and amaze..." 

I couldn't disagree more. Whether buildings are historic or new, Mondernist or classical, they must delight us. Delight must be the primary goal of architecture. Specifically, architecture should delight the greatest number of people possible, over the longest period of time possible.

We live in an era of tremendous challenges. Climate change, peak oil, population increases, water shortages, governmental budget challenges, and many other problems all are pushing us to live more compact urban lives. Growing middle classes in India and China, while inarguably a good thing, will put an unsustainable strain on energy supplies and air quality if manifested as American-style suburban sprawl. Part of the solutions for all of these problems include large numbers of people voluntarily and happily choosing to live in walkable cities. At the risk of being the fellow with a hammer who thinks that everything is a nail, the future of mankind depends in part on the city of the future being dense, walkable, and loved.

We don't have the luxury of shocking and provoking people just for the fun of it. We don't have the luxury of indulging architects who seek only to befuddle and upset the masses while thrilling the architectural establishment. Provocation, contemplation, and shock has a place in art, but let's explore these concepts with sculpture, painting, and similar art forms. If we want people to choose city life, the architecture of the city must delight them.


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