There is no “perfect house“, at least not as a single unit. Each client has specific needs, and what is perfect for some, may not be perfect for others. The same can be said about almost any other type of project. We live in a world where nothing is exactly like something else; to summarize in a sentence: we are full of variety…
When a group of architects design different proposals for the same building as it happens in architecture competitions or in the assignments that all of us have done while studying at the University, you can get multiple versions of the same project, all very different, and that all of them (or at least some) work fine. Another example of the variety with which we live.
I always remember that, in my thesis defense presentation, a couple of professors / jurors began discussing in relation to the location of each of the parts of the program of my design (a prison for pregnant women and / or with children http://bit.ly/asdCk9 ): “I would place the rooms in the lower floor and the factory in the upper floor…” “I would place the day care in the front and the recreation area in the back”… Finally, a third teacher intervened and said: “I would place what is up, down and what is in the front, in the back, but it is not about what I would do, it is about what she did, and what she did, works…”
This last sentence is one of those that remain in our memory forever and helps us to be strong in difficult times that every professional has at least once in life. But this one in particular, became something much larger and significant; it became the reason of my doubts about the way we coexist with other architects. More than giving me confidence in what I had created and my ability as a designer, it made me understand the lack of solidarity among architects.
It boils down to two words: “architectural criticism”. In my case, it is inevitable, to hear these words, not understand or interpret them as something negative.
The term critique can be defined as “a formula, a positive or negative opinion based on argumentation and analysis. This implies judging, appraising, censoring” (R. Eliexer S).
The problem is that most architects seem to take the last sentence of this definition as the correct one when talking about architecture. “Judge, appraise, criticize”; three strong words charged of approval or disapproval as appropriate.
Perhaps the reason we are as we are, so critical, is because part of our training as professionals involves learning to see beyond the obvious, to look for what others cannot see, this has made us be on the defensive when facing a project “something must be wrong and I know I can find out what it is”. And the worst thing is that when we fail to find what is wrong, then we say “I do not like it” as if through liking we could make objective analysis.
Architects have a tendency / inclination (sometimes unconsciously) to analyze projects based on our own way of designing, and we often give more importance to the aesthetics that we should. If the building is pleasing to the eye or not, is subjective: pleasing to who´s eye? to one critic in particular? That would be fine as an opinion; everyone is entitled to have a say, but I think it should not be the most important thing when delivering a critique in relation to a building. This is not to say that the image of the building is not important, of course it is, but I think it should be the result of a study of the context / environment / function. A building created on the basis of this study should be in harmony with its neighbors and by being harmonious, it should be pleasing to the eye.
We must put aside our ego when analyzing a building. Criticism should not be, “I like it” or “I do not like it” or worse, “I would have done this way or that way”; it must be something much deeper than that. Constructive criticism should be directed toward an objective observation of the architectural project to consider.
In addition, each person is unique and unrepeatable, and while theoretically, an architecture critic should analyze buildings according to certain key points, such as functionality, style, building materials used, environment, context and aesthetics (I insist, I have doubts whether this last point should be included or not), why analyze / criticize the work of architects as if we were all made by the same mold? We all have unique and special design processes, and so must be analyzed.
The challenge when analyzing a building could start by “undressing” the architect behind the building, asking ourselves basic questions: “how did he/she do it?” “why did he/she do it that way?”, find the logic behind every particular architect, discover what makes him/her different and unique, to then be able to analyze his/her work.
enough criticism!, let’s begin analyzing.
And above all things,
Let´s celebrate variety!…