Sometimes when people talk to me about architecture, they think I am stuck in the past. “Why are you against progress?” they ask. “Doesn’t the world need to change sometimes?” they press on. “You just really like the past don’t you?” and with that they have resolved to reject me.
The truth is, I really don’t mind new design. It can be provocative and exciting. From time to time it engages with the new world in a brave way. When someone knows what they are doing, they can make something truly magical out of today’s resources. What I mind is that most people don’t understand how design engages with ideas and philosophy. People don’t know how the built world is a reflection, not just of the imagined world, but of one’s entire outlook on the nature of things and how they think life should be interpreted.
Varying beliefs on cosmogony, teleology, deities, and human life will produce varying designs. The belief systems that led to the creation of the Parthenon and The Guggenheim are not the same. Both buildings are designed to hold a congregation in order to celebrate something, one is for the gods and the other for man. In this statement I make no judgement on which in correct, just that philosophy matters. The way one answer the fundamental question of why we are here has all sorts of implications.
Aldous Huxley attempted an answer to this in his work A Brave New World. It’s actually a book I don’t like very much, however sitting here I am finding it surprisingly poignant. People often read this sort of book and say, “I guess I could see how that might happen...maybe...someday...but probably not.” Sitting here bathed in a noxious glow of millennial pink, gorging myself on £72 per person cakes, sandwiches, and champagne, all I can think of the excess of the New World. Everything and everyone is encouraging each other to eat more, take more Instagrams, pay more for a bit more satisfaction. I can almost hear the low hum of the people chanting “orgy-porgy.”
Pinpointing one source of my dissatisfaction would be impossible. I assume later on I will be told that my headache from all the sugar caused me not to enjoy my experience. But I don’t think that is right. Whereas, many great building, old and new, are a celebration of something, Sketch is attempting to be a celebration of everything. There is too much color, too many ideas, it’s too sweet, there are too many sandwiches, and too many people. There is even a bar in the bathroom. In case being away from the indulgence for a few minutes is too much to handle.
Nearing the end of the reign of classical architecture there was a similar phenomenon brewing. Buildings were growing excessive. Rather than being directed toward the celebration of a deity they began to reflect the growing wealth of the elite. Many elements were highly ornate and even gilded. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this coincided with growing social tension in Europe and the eventual rise Marxism. A wholesale rejection of the old ways was in order. Ornate architecture was replaced with the austere that reflected human progress and the rise of the machine. If the gods couldn’t save man, maybe man could save himself. Today we live in a world over one hundred years on from that, yet, our problems look starkly similar. Sitting in Sketch I see the people saying, “if man can’t save himself, let’s eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”