“BUILDING. We know no formal problems, only building problems. Form is not the goal, but the result of our work. There is no form in itself.” -Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe
“Function is, of course, the primary element, but function without a sensual component is just construction.”-Erich Mendelsohn
An architect is a hypocrite towards his own desires. No other professional works in a field that so boldly skirts the line between the rational and the spiritual. Thus one can find architects from all walks of life and in many different points on opposing spectrums of lifestyles. One can find a staunchly conservative rationalist, a freethinking liberal, one indebted to tradition, or a revolutionary. Mostly, people with these extremes of viewpoint break off into the respective edges of a spectrum that has architecture at its center. An ultra Rationalist shall become an engineer, and an ultra Spiritualist shall become an artist. That leaves the people in the middle a confused, muddled bunch. Uncertain of their purpose and desires, the architect sabotages each part of their creative thoughts with the opposing forces of the other. After all architecture must be beautiful and have a conveniently placed toilet!
The Modern Wing, by Renzo Piano. Gehry in foreground.
The architect is a paradox. Certain famous architects practice with a major lean in one of the two directions of the spectrum. Frank Gehry leans closer towards the Spiritual end, creating bold visceral forms, aesthetically driven, designed to further mankind on a strictly spiritual level. A Spiritual architect molds pragmatism towards aesthetic forms. On the other hand, someone like Renzo Piano leans towards the Rationalist viewpoint of design. A Rationalist architect considers the factors of structure and program and creates a building based on logical decisions. The Rationalist architect molds form towards pragmatic requirements. A closer look at both of these exaggerated simplifications further evinces the subtle ways in which both of these “type” architects sabotage their desires for a truthful and honest expression in their respective idioms.
Look behind a Frank Gehry structure and marvel at the spider web of structure that supports his design. The pragmatic leaks into the forms dictating them on a somewhat subconscious level. Context and site and the unending pull of gravity push the forms towards something other than the initial sketch. Reality distorts a buildings honest Spiritualist nature. An effective Spiritualist architect has the skills to adapt the pragmatic into their forms without making it look forced: Putting a convenient toilet into a sculpture, and making it look like it was meant to be part of the sculpture.
The Rationalist betrays his logical solutions by applying rules of design to other areas that they wouldn’t necessarily apply. If the largest duct in a ceiling requires a certain amount of space, this will be the rule for the uniform height of the ceiling. The Rationalist applies the extremes of these rules to encompass all aspects of design. The constraints and limitations of the project dictate the forms, but in the Rationalists’ overzealous nature to create an honesty of logic, he subconsciously makes aesthetic decisions that clarify this honesty even though in truth they are misleading. These smoothing over of the complexities of design that give a rationalists building clarity are deceptions that dress up the truth. They are the lying truth.
This image shows how the rationalist and the spiritualist use program (labeled as B). The rationalist (on the right) uses program to dictate form. The Spiritualist (on the left) uses form to dictate the program.
Thus the Rationalist betrays himself by using the spiritual to cleanse his affirmations of logical thought, and the Spiritualist betrays himself by absorbing the lessons of rationality to create a more seamless, and less cumbersome sculptural form. They seek the truth in lying. A Rationalist is plagued by the Spiritualist, like a succubus on the back, and vice versa. A master builder learns to balance these opposing forces. A painting has much fewer limitations of expression, while the bridge has much more limitations towards expression. Architecture is the perfect purgatory.
How would I describe myself as an architect?: I am a Spiritualist in Rationalist’s clothing. I believe Mies Van Der Rohe was too, but that topic is for another time.....