The study of Architecture is, perhaps, one of the most interesting “ideas” to consider at the level of undergraduate education, and even into larger discourse of what the true roll of education is in the career of an Architect. There is a somewhat naive understanding of what Architecture is before one attends school. I myself was unaware as to the breadth of knowledge, ideology, and vast philosophical, social, political, artistic, scientific… you get it. Architecture education by nature, has evolved into something that is much, much more than just creating buildings – if it ever was just that. It is something that is constantly changing. As we develop our world, advance our technologies, create new problems and try to solve them, only to find that we created more, architecture must adapt… or so you would think.
Architectural Theory is, for me, a place for philosophical discourse on the profession. A place where the role of architecture and the “Architect” find infinite interpretations. To be fair, such is the nature of any creative field. The power of design goes beyond the creation of something aesthetically pleasing. It goes beyond the selection of colors that go well together, or the particular selection of what material you want your flooring to be. That is merely “subjective shopping”. In other words, anybody can do that. Rather, Architecture’s role in society has the power to change lives.
An interesting point was brought up in my Theory class that I wanted to address with my own thoughts, as I feel, having lived in an established city like NYC, a developing city like Doha, and an established, historically rich but small city like Syracuse, that I was able to make a very clear connection to how that has affected my persona. Georg Simmel, a German Sociologist, writes in “The Metropolis and Mental Life”, about the psychological effects of the city on its residence. Simmel argues that the intensity of the urban condition, (lights, car horns, subways, vendors, tourists etc.) causes internal stimuli within each of its occupants. This “information overload” becomes too fast for us to internalize individually, and results in the blocking out of these diverse stimuli, treating them all as equal. Having lived in NYC, I can clearly say that when walking through Times Square, it is impossible to accurately internalize every action, every person, every sound, every light, and every smell that I encounter. Rather, my version of Times Square has over the years developed into a zone of the city that I prefer not to walk through. There is too much information and I begin to lose track of individual people, what they do that is different and how they are unique. Instead, they are all lumped into that experience for which I have no interest. Projecting to the future, we can see that personal relationships can be strongly affected by this phenomenon. It’s not only an issue of design, but we see it within technology and various other fields that are constantly developing at an incredible pace.
While Doha is on it’s way to becoming an urban machine, it’s not there yet, and within its pockets of bare land there is a chance for reflection. Having lived there for 3 years, I believe that my development there allowed me to reflect on the life I lived in NYC, but also on the way that living in NYC made me think. I could not think the same way when I lived in Doha. The experience of living there in an architectural sense is vastly slower than that of New York. My brain did not have to work as fast to process everything happening around me. It’s “lack of” an established, constructed, urban environment allowed me to develop my own ideas of what any particular space could be. There was a filtering to the visual information I would receive. People in Doha, as per my experience, are less stressed, not as in a hurry, and more noticeably happy.
But why am I talking about a psychological phenomenon? Well that is exactly my point. Architecture is more than buildings. In an exaggerated claim, architecture is the means by which we design our lives. Times Square did not just happen to become to crowded. It was designed that way, it was designed in a way to overload the viewer with information. How many of the ads we see there do we really remember? Is it the LG ad, or the American eagle ad you remember the most? I’d argue that many people didn’t even notice that those two signs were there. Rather, their experience of Times Square can be summarized into the simple notion of an overcrowded place with tons of lights and sounds.
Architects have the power, and should have the DESIRE, to ensure that our experience of built environment is one that can promote human interaction. One that allows us to interact with each other – that is, one of, the true powers of Architecture. Our obsession with the urban as centers of “business” and “economy” and “trade” could potentially be the demise of human interaction. We could be creating the very places that could ultimately strip us of our human characteristics. My argument is not to abandon cities all together but rather to design for moderation. Ah! Yes. Moderation – but that’s a discussion for another time.