Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Short History of the Agony of being an Architect

“If you see in any given situation only what everybody else can see, you can be said to be so much a representation of your culture that you are a victim of it”

S.I. Hayakawa

We all have our architectural idols. Foster, Hadid, Corbusier, Mies, Holl, Piano, Gehry, Koolhaas, etc.

We marvel at their creativity and wonder at their skills. We pore over their works in magazines, travel to see their buildings and gush over their drawings, details, material choices, etc.

What makes these “starchitects” special? Are they born with more skill than the rest of us? Are they more fortunate to have better projects than the rest of us? Are they simply better at the business of architecture than the rest of us? Or is their success a mix of opportunity, chance and “connections”?

We will examine the history of architectural practice, focusing on the changing role and definition of the architect, with the goal of providing new perspectives on how we design and build today. The course begins with 16th century Italy, moves through 17th through 19th-century France and England, and finally traces the evolution of practice in India from independence to the present.

We will also explore each of your idols one by one, analyzing their ascendancy to fame and reverence. You will delve deeper into their practices, beyond the glossy pictures in magazines, and develop a deeper understanding of what made these architects what they are today.

Each student will be expected to be passionate about their choice, whether current or historical, and develop a detailed analysis of the architects’ growth from obscurity to acclaim.

And then, the tricky bit. Let me explain with a little story.

A friend of mine is making a house for himself in Bangalore. He’s not an architect, not related to the construction business in any way. He insists on not taking my help or from anyone who knows anything about making buildings. He “knows” he can do himself since all the information he’ll ever need is available in articles on Wikipedia, videos on YouTube, and hi-res pictures on He’s not a miser either. He just believes he can do it himself.

The worrying question for someone in the final year of college, i.e., YOU, is how you will remain creative or avant-garde in this age of globally available information. When every time you design something, a million similar results are out there, documented, researched and available in 1200x1600.

Global access also means global plagiarism. While you can wiggle out of B.C. reports on curtain wall by spending 20 minutes on Google, it also means that any innovative curtain wall detail you make in the future is going to be almost instantly duplicated by some second rate architect in China or Chennai. It works both ways.

We will be discussing the impact of abundant information on original thinking.

And the Future of Architects.

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