PAPER ARCHITECTURE—REAL OR NOT REAL?

MOST PEOPLE EXPERIENCE THE WORLD OF ARCHITECTURE THROUGH PRINTED PICTURES, NOW WITH THE INTERNET, YOU CAN SEE THE MONUMENTS ON LINE. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BEING BUILT IN THE PAST , EXISTING TODAY, AND WHAT IT COULD BE IN THE FUTURE IS ALL RUNNING TOGETHER TO FORM THE WORLD OF ARCHITECTURE.

GREEN MACHINE, GLEN HOWARD SMALL, AIA ARCHITECT 1980

TRADITIONALLY THE ONLY BUILDINGS THAT COUNTED WERE THE BUILT BUILDINGS. ONE OF THE LOVES OF ARCHITECTS IS THE LARKIN BUILDING IN BUFFALO BY FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT. A MAIL ORDER BUSINESS THAT FLOURISHED. IT WAS TORN DOWN TO CREATE A PARKING LOT. MOST OF US NEVER SAW IT IN REALITY, BUT FEEL WE HAVE BEEN IN THE GRAND INTERIOR SPACE AND HAVE WALKED AROUND THE OUTSIDE. WE SAT AT THE DESKS AND HEARD THE CLATTER OF TYPEWRITERS.

ZAHA HADID HAS DESIGNED A PERFORMING ARTS BUILDING FOR ABU DHABI. I HAVE SEEN HER BEAUTIFUL MODEL AND DRAWINGS OF HER SCHEME AND FEEL I HAVE BEEN THERE. THE PROJECT IS ON HOLD AND PROBABLY WILL NOT BE BUILT. CORRECT ME IF I AM WRONG. IS IT DEAD OR ALIVE? FOR ME THE IDEA HAS BEEN BORN AND DEPICTED IN A WAY THAT SAYS THIS IS REAL ARCHITECTURE.

PERFORMING ARTS BUILDING, ABU DHABI, ZAHA HADID

THE POINT BEING IF YOU CREATE ARCHITECTURE ON PAPER THAT IS COMPREHENDED, IT IS ARCHITECTURE. I WOULD ARGUE, IT IS THE ULTIMATE ART FORM OF ARCHITECTURE.

BY THAT I MEAN THAT WHEN AN ARTIST CONFRONTS A CANVAS THERE IS A FREEDOM OF EXPLORATION AND LIBERTY TO DO WHATEVER MOVES THE ARTIST. LIKEWISE WITH PAPER ARCHITECTURE THERE IS A FREEDOM TO DESIGN THE BUILDING AS PROGRAMMED WITH WHATEVER INTERPRETATION OF FORM THE ARCHITECT DESIRES. THE ULTIMATE PAPER ARCHITECTURE IS WHEN THERE IS NO SET PROGRAM AND THE ARCHITECT CHOOSES TO GIVE THE WORLD WHATEVER THEY FEEL IS APPROPRIATE.

I HAVE SPENT A LOT OF TIME TEACHING AND HAVE WITNESSED STUDENTS BEING HIGHLY GUIDED BY A STRUCTURED PROGRAM. THE RESULTS ARE PREDICTABLE AND EVEN THE WEAKEST STUDENTS SURVIVE. BUT WHEN IT GETS TO BEING ON YOUR OWN, LIKE A THESIS PROJECT, WHERE THE STUDENT CREATES THE PROGRAM AND PUTS TOGETHER THE FORM, MANY STUDENTS WITHER AND FEEL VERY INSECURE. THEY ARE RESCUED BY SOME HEAVY HANDED PROFESSOR WHO SAYS DO THIS IF YOU WANT TO GET OUT OF HERE. BUT THEIR SOUL IS DESTROYED, AND HARDLY EVER AGAIN WILL THEY VENTURE FORTH WITH THAT FREEDOM.

IN CONTRAST THE BETTER STUDENTS TAKE OFF LIKE A JET WITH IDEAS, EXPLORATION, EXCITEMENT AND RESULTS. THEY HAVE DRIVE TO EXCEL. THUS THEY ARE COMFORTABLE BEFORE THE CANVAS TO CREATE .

THIS IS NOT TO SAY THE EXCELLENT STUDENTS WILL DO WELL IN THE PROFESSION. KNOWING TOO MUCH AND PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES DOES CREATE PROBLEMS.

THERE IS A SAYING THAT A STUDENTS END UP PROFESSORS, B STUDENTS END UP WORKING FOR C STUDENTS.

THE BOTTOM LINE IS DRIVE. I HAVE WITNESSED MANY AN EXCELLENT DESIGNER STUDENT END UP AS A CARPENTER AND THE AVERAGE STUDENT WITH DRIVE AND DETERMINATION EVENTUALLY LEAVING EVERYONE IN THE DUST.

RECENTLY I HAD A STUDENT THAT HAD DIFFICULTY IN MY CLASS, WHEN I QUESTIONED, ” WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WHEN YOU GET OUT OF HERE TO PULL OFF YOUR DESIGNS?” THE STUDENT ANSWER WAS, I WILL HIRE SOMEONE TO ASSIST ME. A VERY SMART ANSWER FROM A PERSON OF FINANCIAL MEANS. I AM ENVIOUS OF ZAHA, WHO HAS TALENT AND HIRED THE BEST PEOPLE SHE COULD GET, EVEN WHEN THERE WAS NO FINANCIAL RETURN. SHE HAD FINANCIAL MEANS TO JUMP START HER CAREER WITH THE BEST HANDS AVAILABLE. SHE IS A SUPER STAR NOW, SO THE RICH GET RICHER IS A FACT OF LIFE. BUT YOU HAVE GOT TO PRAISE HER FOR USING HER MONEY WISELY. A LITTLE SIDE STORY ON ZAHA. SHE WON THE PEAK COMPETITION IN HONG KONG, WHICH WAS HER BIG START. SHORTLY AFTERWARDS SHE GAVE A LECTURE AT SCI-ARC. WHEN I ASKED HER WHY SHE HAD SCRAPED THE SITE CLEAN OF TREES AND PLANTS, SHE ANSWERED SOMETHING TO THE EFFECT SHE DID NOT LIKE VEGETATION. SHE WOULD BE BOOED NOW WITH SUCH AN ANSWER. BUT SHE WAS THE NEW RAGE THEN, AND GOT AWAY WITH IT. AS USUAL, MANY PEOPLE IN THE AUDIENCE FELT I HAD EMBARRASSED HER WITH MY QUESTION…BUT LIKE THE HERE AND NOW PERSON SHE IS, SHE CHANGES WITH THE TIMES. CURRENTLY SHE TALKS ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY. MORE POWER TO HER.

I HAD A VERY BRIGHT STUDENT, RENEE, WITH VERBAL SKILLS. HER FORTE WAS ASKING THE VISITING POWER ARCHITECTS AT SCI-ARC CHALLENGING QUESTIONS CONCERNING THEIR SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL APPROACHES. THE AUDIENCE USUALLY WENT INTO SHOCK,  AS THE SUCCESSFUL CORPORATE CONFUSED ARCHITECT STUMBLED AROUND TO ANSWER WITH ZERO CONVICTION, AND THINKING WHY AM I TAKING THIS ABUSE. I ASKED HER WHY SHE DID THIS? HER ANSWER, YOU ONLY GO AROUND ONCE AND YOU HAVE TO SEIZE THE MOMENT.

PIRANESI. THE FANTASY ILLUSTRATOR OF ROME 1720-1778, WE HAVE ALL SEEN THOSE SPACES OF FIGMENTS OF HIS IMAGINATION. A VISION THAT HAS ENDED UP IN MANY A BIG WAREHOUSE RESTAURANT, WITH BRIDGES AND STEPS AND LIGHTING FROM ABOVE. NOW WAS PIRANESI AN ARCHITECT? BY ALL MEANS HE WAS AN ARCHITECT.

PIRANESI, JONATHAN SCOTT, ACADEMY ST. MARTINS, CARCERI, PLATE XI

SEA LION CAVES IN OREGON JUST NORTH OF FLORENCE ON 101 DEPICTS THE FEELING OF HIS SPACES. ONE APPROACHES IN A TIGHT TWISTING STAIR SPACE CARVED OUT THE ROCK BREAKING INTO A VOLUMINOUS GRAND CAVE SPACE WITH ROCKS JETTING OUT OF THE SEA FLOOR AND A COUPLE OF OPENINGS TO THE SEA AT EITHER END, RAYS OF LIGHT BOUNCING ACROSS WET AND DRY SURFACES TERMINATED BY STONES HANGING FROM THE RUGGED CEILING. THE SEALS BARKING ,FLOPPING AND LAYING AROUND, VERY POWERFUL AND EXCITING IF YOU CAN STAND THE ODOR.

LEDOX AND BOULE WERE FILLED WITH IDEAS OF HOW THINGS SHOULD BE. DID THEY INFLUENCE ARCHITECTS WITH THEIR UNBUILT IDEAS? AS LEDOUX SAID, “I AM DOING IT FOR POSTERITY.”

ARCHIGRAM GOT THE WHOLE WORLD EXCITED WITH THEIR COMIC BOOKS. THEY WERE FRESH AND PUSHING THE TECHNOLOGY, BUT OSAKA 70 WAS THE BUILDING OF THEIR IDEAS BY OTHER ARCHITECTS. THE MATOBOLISTS WERE THERE FIRST, BUT ARCHIGRAM WAS THE SPARK THAT DROVE THE MOVEMENT.

WALKING CITY, RON HERRON, ARCHIGRAM

I LIKED THE HIGH TECH TECHNOLOGY, BUT I WAS WAY AHEAD OF EVERYBODY OF COMBINING NATURE AND TECHNOLOGY. SOLERI WAS STILL DOING THE BATHS OF CARACALLA.

THE LIST IS ENDLESS FROM MIES, CORBU, WRIGHT, RUSSIAN CONSTRUCTIONIST, ITALIAN FUTURIST, EXPRESSIONISTS, FUTURE STUDIO, ETC. OF PAPER ARCHITECTURE THAT HAS BECOME BUILT ARCHITECTURE—OR WAS IT ARCHITECTURE TO START WITH?

WHICH LEADS ME TO PAPER ARCHITECTURE AS ARCHITECTURE.

WITH THE COMPUTER PROGRAMS NOW AVAILABLE THE REALITY OF PUTTING THE IMAGERY TOGETHER WITHOUT PHYSICALLY BEING BUILT IS HERE. THEY CALL IT VIRTUAL REALITY. I LIKE IT IN BOOK FORM. THERE IS A COMFORT TO READ AND STUDY AT ONES OWN PACE WITHOUT SOME MOITOR CONSTANTLY GLARING AT YOU. WITH THESE TOOLS IT IS OBVIOUS THAT WITHIN A SHORT AMOUNT OF TIME A BUILDING, COMPLEX OF BUILDINGS, OR A LARGE URBAN SPACE CAN BE CREATED IN A MANNER THAT LOOKS AND COMES ACROSS AS REALITY. THIS MUST BE FRIGHTENING TO THE ESTABLISHMENT COMMUNITY THAT HAS BUILT UP A MYSTIQUE THAT ONLY THE SELECT HUSTLER BAND OF APPROVED ARCHITECTS CAN DESIGN. RUBBISH, THIS IS THE AGE OF FREEDOM TO EXPORE IDEAS WITH THE BEST TALENT AVAILABLE. A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD.

ALL THIS IS LEADING TO: IT IS AN EXCITING TIME TO BE AN ARCHITECT .

FOUNTAIN IN EXISTING POND WITH SURROUNDING MOUNDING 1965
GLEN HOWARD SMALL AIA ARCHITECT

I HAVE BUILDINGS BUILT, BUT MY SIGNIFICANT CONTRIBUTIONS TO DATE ARE PAPER ARCHITECTURE PROJECTS. OVER THE COMING MONTHS I WILL SHARE THESE WHAT IF VISIONS.

WISHING YOU THE BEST,

GLEN HOWARD SMALL, AIA ARCHITECT

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8 comments

  1. GLEN,
    THANKS FOR SHARING THESE REFRESHING INSIGHTS. IT SEEMS THE YEARS OF BITTERNESS ARE ERODING AWAY AND THE INSPIRING VISIONARY I REMEMBER, IS RE-EMERGING. YOUR DETAILED MEMORIES OF LIFE EXPERIENCES ARE AMAZING.

    KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK, LOOKING FORWARD TO MORE!

    • HI RALPH,

      (AN EXCELLENT STUDENT THAT WORKED ON THE GREEN MACHINE, HONG KONG PEAK COMPETITION, AND DID AN EARLY CREATIVE MOVIE ON BIOMORPHIC BIOSPHERE.)

      THANKS FOR THE ENCOURAGEMENT FROM AN ARCHITECT WITH TONS OF TALENT.

      GLEN

  2. Enjoyed your article. I enjoyed it up until the last bit when you farewelled that you’re an AIA Architect. I dislike it when people do this, like they need to confirm that they’re trustable or so important they need a title.

    :)

    I’m being cynical.

    Thanks for the article.

    • ANONYMOUS AIA

      THANKS FOR YOUR COMMENT.
      READ INTO IT WHATEVER YOU WANT. I WAS GOING ALONG QUITE WELL BEING A REGISTERED ARCHITECT FOR ABOUT 9 YEARS, WHEN THE ADMINISTRATOR AT SCI-ARC, WHOM WAS BASICALLY AN ACCOUNTANT, MENTIONED ONE DAY I WAS NOT AN ARCHITECT. I ASKED HER WHY SHE THOUGHT THAT? “YOU ARE NOT AN AIA” WELL THAT TOLD ME A HUGE AMOUNT ABOUT HOW THE PUBLIC RELATES TO BEING CREDITABLE. I JOINED UP THAT YEAR ALONG WITH ERIC MOSS. JOHN LAUTNER WAS AN FAIA, AND I RESPECTED HIS DECISION.

      NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING CYNICAL, BUT YES I NEED TO MENTION I AM ONE OF THE GANG. I WAS NOMINATED BY THE LA CHAPTER FOR FAIA AND WAS REJECTED AT NATIONAL LEVEL. ANOTHER BLOG.

      GLEN

  3. Fantastic Article touching on a very strong issue that is present in the lives of every Architect.

    In my opinion, it is entirely correct that it is the age of exploring new ideas of architecture. But for it to be a level playing field is hard to justify with all the architecture out there that is dare i say fashion and will only last a season.? ….now Zaha has got talent, she also has the smarts like you mentioned to be successful in transmitting that talent into build-able want-able architecture…But there are people with not much talent in conventional architectural qualities such as (space, effect, light-play, etc) who are stamping their footprint on our built-environment, because architecture has opened up its doors and allowed for the playing field to be much larger. In doing so have shortened that small pool of visionary van-guards…….

    the argument continues………

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