identity crisis

mr. ole bouman landed in barcelona last week to lecture at the cccb. i was terribly excited to see what this courteous and brainy oddball had in store for us. his tall, dark and toned-done elegance contrasted with the hodgepodge of a presentation he delivered, true to the spirit of volume. mr. bouman shot back and forth between hypertechno-looking architecture, dubious renderings, illustrated indian learning aids for kids and low-res headshots of george clooney drinking nespresso; all this to put through the fact that, in mr. bouman's words, "architecture is a profession in trouble." the causes of this architectural identity crisis were treated as obvious, but not really pinned-down: chronic boom and bust cycles, professional fragmentation, managerial skills filling in for analytical and creative skills--the problem solving approach against the true "constructive," critical approach--, the decline of western values and of western dominance, the threat of the collective and the "network" to the identity and worth of the individual, etc, etc.

there were two key moments in the presentation, though; both were instants of mr. bouman distilling guidelines for helping architects and designers out of the mire. first, he reassured the audience that architecture is still a profession for those who want to "make a difference", this is, either change the state of things in the world, or at least leave some sort of imprint on it. for those who want to "count" in architecture, mr. bouman enumerated five alternatives:

1. be ultraconservative and stubbornly or fashion (the believer)
2. be "topical", stick to the here and the now (or the media type)
3. be hip (the peer amongst peers)
4. be relevant (the politician)
5. be visionary (the prophet)

i wasn't too convinced up to this point, and quite shocked to hear that mr. bouman himself thought one should opt for the last one. i think the notion of the architect as prophet is undesirable, possibly dangerous. as the argument advanced, i understood the visionary more as a critical and creative type than as a true soothsayer, someone who can go beyond received ideas and given concepts in order to actually understand, discuss and alter culture and production. mr. bouman defended the notion that architects should still strive to "address culture and participate in it" at the same time.

so what should the architect focus on? again here mr. bouman cut to the chase: he called for architects sticking to the "essence" of the profession, the most basic values of architecture:

1. dialog
2. fairness
3. sustainability
4. security
5. shelter

is this where the future of architecture lies? will these values prevail in the context of our dubious, profit-driven, swindling times? can architecture--a profession that is too often looked down upon for its superficiality, its egomania, its dabbling approaches and all encompassing views--remain true and relevant?

if you ask me, i really couldn't say. i'm not an architect.

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