In February the AIA (American Institute of Architects) launched a new public relations campaign to elevate the architecture profession into the public realm and engage the public to think of Architecture in more personal terms. This campaign began with a video and a new website – ilookup.org. There has also been a more grassroots social media campaign that has been picked up by many architects across the country that you can follow by the hashtag #ilookup. But why does this matter to you, the non-architect Average Joe/Jane, and why should you care? Recently this campaign was slammed in a Boston Globe article by a writer, Alex Beam, in which he asserts that “Architecture is adrift on the ever-changing sea of taste and whimsy.”
I don’t disagree with Alex’s view, but I also do not think that it is helpful or remotely justified to make the case against this current ad campaign based solely on your personal feelings about architecture and architects in a purely superficial and shallow manner. This is precisely the “taste and whimsy” which he calls the profession into question for. If you’re going to take a position against something, or at the very least call into question the validity of a thing then you need to form your argument from a foundation of substance, not feeling. Feelings are great, especially fuzzy ones, but they have no place in a intellectual debate or discussion about the merits, pro or con, of anything.
Architecture, as a profession and as an art, is about so much more than a facade or an outward appearance. Architecture, like art, is also about the process of it’s creation from sketch to construction with respect to its function and place as well as the experience of it’s users. The success or failure of any piece of architecture will change over time as the society within and around it evolves. So in order to craft an argument for or against one needs to start by understanding that process and that change over time.
Looking back over the previous generations there is a clear and widening division between those who design and those who build. This division was created by architects and the profession as a whole, and I’m sure at one time the justification for this was a positive one. But gone are the days of the Master Builder nonetheless and what we are left with is a profession that relies on the “taste and whimsy” of the day and our cities suffer for it. We no longer design buildings with an expectation of longevity measured in centuries, but rather decades….if we’re lucky. The reason I look up is precisely to change the mindset that architects are nothing more than starving artists and that we play a significant role in the shaping of our cities and communities. I look up because it is time for the profession to take back the responsibility of the Master Builder and to think less about the taste and whimsy of politics and social media and popular culture and instead think about the generations that will come. It’s time to prove Peter Buchanan wrong when he says that “[Architecture’s] utter irrelevance to the urgent problems of our times are so obvious future generations will be aghast it was ever taken seriously.” The AIA is helpless to change anything. Only we as architects can re-elevate the profession to its former glory and responsibility.