‘The Guts of it’
This forum is seeking the ‘root of the root’ – of why we make the works we do and how once we have discovered that root, manage to construct methodologies of practice that communicate the intent within what we make. Before possibly considering what type of architect/designer/person will we become, we must consider what, who and why we are presently.
The widely accessible – and transforming- contemporary idioms within the modern English language associated with grey, pink and differently coloured elephants assist in communicating their significance and role within this discussion. In conjunction with such associations is their recognisable sense of presence – as a volume to fill and overwhelmingly occupy a frame – and their typical demeanor being noted as curious and eccentric, with astounding capabilities in forming expansive memories and complex social structures. These qualities can transfer and possibly begin to represent the time and manner in which we carry ideas, how easily we fixate on the overwhelming quantity of daily (or hourly) distractions and find/create nooks of space for ourselves internally and externally within complex, interconnected and globalised existences.
Arguably whales would have been a fair choice – but in the initial hand waving discussions my contemporaries’ immediately envisioned a mixture of proverbial pink, grey and differently coloured elephants (as did I). Though not wanting to assume a single formula echoes with all, the whale and their associations to the classic text ‘Moby Dick’ may generate tangents within the breadth of this discussion. While the recognised idioms are arguably more communicative then types of mammals themselves – the questionings that repeat and chase such ironically large yet elusive, encompassing entities applies to both. The desire to consider them, once identified leaves an echoing question of what to do next? Truce? Set it (mammal or self) free? Cage it? Cook it? Other?
Grey Ones– the proverbial grey elephant we are told not to think of but we invariably and persistently do.
An example: World of studio + World of practice
The world of design studios- where we learn to think, the world of practice- where we collaborate, compete and compromise to make. To the visitor the universe between these two worlds may appear incredibly odd – does not one simply flow to the other as a seamless and assumed outcome? The response: Rarely.
To those who have navigated the emptiness between them it is a knowing nod and a few words with dashes of dissatisfaction, thankful for reprieve that you are amongst people who understand the gap and there is no need to explain. But we take heart and press on as it is not always so bleak, we hear about a success here and there, chalking it up to good timing, correct fit or a random upturn in the industry. Students dream of practice: the actual – building, drawing, making and of course the culture – wine, cheese, unearned and inherited prestige, and for the very few to be related, work for or even become a ‘starchitect’. Practitioners as far as can be conceived from this distance- withhold much of the realities as to not dampen our simple enthusiasms. The remaining will visit studios and speak retrospectively about how studios are missed and longed for – the creative freedom, the studios engulfing manner consuming you and how as students we can allow ourselves to be consumed by it, free from the timelines, budgets and briefs.
Somewhere between studio and practice difficult realities arise, the architect is hard pressed to hold to the integrity of the design whilst navigating, bargaining and placating a plethora of limits and agendas. A myriad of constraints are engaged once the process of making begins – the role of the architect is to carve out a way forward to the realisation of the intended architecture whilst constructing threads of reference back to its idyllic origins.
The real question: Why would anyone do this? Is the money good?
Answer: I love it, for some reason and no.
Pink– The proverbial pink elephants are less defined than the grey – they occupy the corners of our minds – if they were square rooms. They pre-occupy us and in such obvious enormity – yet no strangers can perceive them and non-strangers have encountered them so repetitiously and intimately that they are practically invisible. A side stepped piece of furniture that is ‘easier’ not to see and if such an attempt is made; fortified blinkers may be required.
An example: My personal romance, fascination and hunger to know, behold, respect and understand every tree that has ever grown; and my insatiable curiosity in equally knowing how the diversity of type, species and places they originate from may inform the timbers use.
Anyone who has ever known me warns you: “Don’t talk about timber, no really it’s not a great idea, trust us.”
Different colours– The first thing anyone of my generation thinks is “Oh, like the horse from Wizard of Oz?”, exactly – a curious, strange but wonderful creature who can: 1. Change its entire colour 2. Change colour multiple times 3. The colour changes occur at pivotal points along a progression of refinement.
Architecture can flux, grow, mutate, collapse, begin, end, die, be a static thing or a elusive, ambiguous entity – but do not be romanced just by the object, cast your eye over its transformations, that is where the heart of many designers, artists and makers really lie – in the journey.
With every brief, project and problem solving opportunity the architect (cook) adjusts to a new or revisited landscape(domain, kitchen). The approach is often tested, as are new recipes – with increasing knowledge, efforts and test pieces – it is apparent that adjustments are required of many parts, processes, strains and demands to attain the elusive, yet attainable, BALANCE.
A note on methodology: from cowboys who create with uninhibited energy leaving a trail of carcasses and carnage behind them to the monk who tentatively plucks one component at a time, gently crafting and sensitively intensifying or relaxing the desired chosen elements.The outcome may result in a hot mess, palatable or not – beautiful, acclaimed, forgettable or poorly received – the outcome can often be secondary to the maker, it is the process which is most nourishing to them. The client however, seeks the end, so can I propose you engage in the process?
Do not settle for a poor fit – rework, tie off relationships and seek out the balance and harmony the project is capable of having.
Is this idyllic and impossible?
Perhaps. But if you aim low, that is what you will settle for – don’t waste the opportunity – aim for excellence, breathtaking, seamless, memorable and dynamic!! At least if you work and dream for the BEST – they’ll be a chance it will actually occur.
Do you cook them?
The title is not intended as a grotesque manner of questioning or imagery, but rather an acknowledgement of the obvious intersection. Once found, identified, somewhat understood and manipulated do you bring it to a point of finality or release it from current constraints? And if it – being the idea, predisposition, problem etc – is cooked, do you consume? Or invariably be consumed by it?
Architecturally speaking the exhibition ‘Architecture without paper’ suggests that staying in a space of marinating is best. Where as Robert Venturis ‘Vanna Venturi House’  would seek to cook and consume the embodied concepts and values crafted within.
The exhibition proposes the condition that architecture that is built in some way – can die. In contrast to death at a juncture of finality Venturis text ‘Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture’ and the Vanna Venturi House are unequivocally expressed as resolute and in their context and time- solved. Though Venturi later acknowledges that with time the discussion surrounding both has been added too – the fundamental roots between them are the same, to each other – embodied or espoused; and in time – as they were and are.
So then what to do? Who to align to? Where to begin?
I will help you find your way through. Promise.
 Croze, Harvey (ed), Lee, Phyliss C (ed) Moss, Cynthia J (ed), ‘The Amboseli Elephants – A Long term perspective on a long lived mammal.’ (Chicago, The University Chicago Press), 2011. p174, p246.
 Melville, Herman, ‘Moby Dick’, (Westminster, Bantam Books,) 1981.
 Sykes, Krista. ‘Constructing a new agenda: architectural theory 1993-2009’, (New York, Princeton Architectural Press) 2000.
 http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/22/messages/251.html. Accesses 08/08/2012.
 Unwin, S. ‘Twenty Buildings Every Architect Should Understand’, (Oxford, Routledge) 2010.
 Clark & Pause: ‘Precedents in Architecture’ (New York, Van Nostrand Reinhold) 1996. pg 1300.
 Venturi Robert,‘Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture’, (New York, Museum of Modern Art) 1966.
 Schwartz Frederic (ed), ‘Mothers House: the evolution of Vanna Venturis house in Chestnut Hill’, (New York, Rizzoli International Publications) 1992. p35