If you want to be a successful architect you have to work a lot. And when you become successful, you have to work even harder. Often there is no spare time to do anything apart from architecture. One would think that starchitects should be the busiest in the world with offers coming from all directions, but it seems that recently they are having less work. At least some of them. This is visible from the recent statements by mega architecture star Frank Ghery:
98 percent of everything that is built and designed today is pure shit
and partner of OMA Renier de Graaf:
The vast majority of the built environment is of an unspeakable ugliness
Looks like they finally managed to get away from the office, had a day off and simply walked around the city. They got away from great creative minds in their offices, the soap bubble of perfection, and faced the obvious reality behind the office walls — architecture is not beautiful. Strange that only now, after so many years, they got some time to simply observe their surroundings. But I guess, this is a bizarre life of an architect — to be so busy that there would be no time to see what built environment is all about.
This revelation that architecture is ugly as shit baffles me — doing beautiful architecture today is a sign of bad taste! This is what students are thought at architecture schools, this is what famous architects are telling during their lectures. So I am really confused when suddenly somebody says that majority of architecture is ugly and it is a bad thing. Make up your mind!
I guess all this confusion and frustration about beauty in architecture comes from changing meaning of the word “beautiful”. Nowadays biggest blasphemy is to say that the main idea behind the project is to look beautiful. There must be always practical reasoning, either it is technical, urban, cultural or social. If we have this practical reasoning, then there is a legal permit to use a word “beautiful”.
Latest trend is to make socially responsible projects. And somehow almost as a rule every socially responsible project must look unspeakably ugly. But when we hear that undeniably ugly looking structure is providing a cheap and efficient shelter for a refugee hospital, we change our mind faster than a blink of an eye and start admiring genius of the design.
It becomes extremely difficult without a full story to say if a building is really beautiful. Meaning “beautiful” by these new practical standards. So I do not know how Renier De Graaf managed to objectively understand all the contemporary beauty and ugliness of the Dutch suburbia just by a glimpse of an eye through the window:
Even while writing this (on a train on my way to work) I could not help but be overcome by a sense of shame when I paused to look out of the window.
Probably it is impossible. Or was he looking for this formal beauty? The same one which would be brought down on its knees the moment it would be proposed? Beauty is so subjective and so fast changing (in architectural terms of time) that we had to invent these practical measurements of technical, urban, cultural or social to let us reach a common opinion.
This change in our beauty perception did not come over night, it was a very gradual and slow movement to an existing situation. So I doubt that there are a lot, or even any, architects who could make just plain beautiful stuff. I guess that most of the architects would become really desperate if the client’s only demand would be a traditional beauty. Not a social, technical, cultural, strategical beauty, but just plain old school beauty.
Same with art and artists today. This weekend I wandered through two different museums — National Gallery and Tate Modern in London. The beauty of the impressionist paintings in The National Gallery is just striking. There is no need for a text, there is no need for an audio guide (although they could add extra points), paintings are just simply miraculously beautiful. I guess that this type of architectural effect Renier De Graaf was looking for. Old and unoriginal. At least this how this is seen today. Art pieces in Tate Modern are provoking and ugly. Sometimes ugly on purpose, sometimes as an outcome of artists lack of interest in beauty. Nevertheless it is almost impossible to fully understand an art piece without further explanation or deep artistic education. Like most architectural projects today. Modern art is perceived in similar way as modern architecture.
Forget beautiful architecture. It is a thing of the past. Like this unspeakably beautiful painting by Claude Monet… It is just plain stupid to ask for beautiful architecture, Frank, Renier. Let’s celebrate meaningful ugliness!
This text was originally published on Medium.com.