1.0 - BY WAY OF INTRODUCTION -
After discussing with A a convoluted paper I had written in January, a tentative foray of a paper into the possibilities of critiquing sustainable architecture in world-view terms, we began one of those conversations, of the type that A clearly relishes, about the causes and antidotes to the environmental pickle we find ourselves in. To sum it up crudely, he posits the blame in a corrupted Protestantism, now indistinguishable from capitalism, and puts the responsibility for its resolution in the church’s hands also, by means of a critique from without rather than the popular but inevitably subvertable critique from within. Predictably this meant a protestant neo-monasticism. I take A with a pinch of salt, as I feel he does himself, it was the conversation I have found most fulfilling out all in my time here, it was not as perhaps it appears above, about them and us, nor did it contain a hint of the guns blazing monasticism with a capital M approach favoured by every other self-conscious emergent seeking to brand their intentional community into a publishing deal. (Too strong?) And this take on the affair lends a certain urgency and purposive direction t o a solution to our conversation-cut-short relating to how one might take the best of L’Abri home with you. If we were to make imperatives of those little pleasures that we are at liberty to take joy in here, the flower arranging, the high tea and sweat in the garden, and more than that, the placedness, the history and the pilgrimage, would we arrive at an environmental solution by accident?
Which I suppose leads me at a jump to thoughts of defining an archi-theology, how do I mean that I see everything though the lens of architecture? Certainly not in the limiting sense of everything being reducible to the built ego-theories of the last three hundred years, nor that my lens filters out all that is not a Cartesian architectural element representable in blue prints to some pleasing graphic effect.
“You talk of seeing the world as architecture. Would it make sense to you if I said I saw it through literature, as art. That is I'm exploring the relationship between literature and life and bonding them to be inseparable.”
This was how you phrased it in your letter and it has, without exaggeration, been on my mind daily since. I think if human life is story, then architecture is all at the same time the pages on which it is written, the stage upon which it plays out, and all the wardrobe, props and programmes that define and describe the action of it, of life.
So I am describing and prescribing a present and possible world and using 'architecture' as a lens and a language, claiming this method has the potential to make the world more beautiful. I stand at a difficult turn, obliged to go forward, to define, 'goodness' and 'architecture-ness', if only as working definitions, as a thing must be definable, as “more like this than this” or “not this” until eventually “this” for the blink of an eye, in the span of history, a definition stands and falls like those monastic ruins, a tribute to a former understanding.
Those who say we cannot define have surely never built anything, a brick on top of a brick absolutely is so, separating in from out. A definition may or may not last the breath out, but that is not to say that the task is fruitless or that people will not look at the carvings on a cathedral and ache for its beauty, knowing the beauty before them speaks of a time when people lived within a world sufficiently defined to build by. As your purchased Parisian letter proclaims that once there lived, moved, breathed and had their being, such p eople as took the time to celebrate the everyday. The question of 'right building' will be answered when we have established a realistic place for architecture within the attention of every soul, and this by setting out what exactly this thing, architecture, is. And so I should unpack this. I will come at this in two ways:
~2.0 – Architecture as a descriptive language for products.
~3.0 – Architecture as a prescriptive language for process.
2.0 – WHAT DOES 'ARCHITECTURE' DESCRIBE:
Architecture as a descriptive language for products: Architecture can be a language for describing things as they happen and come to be. And in this case, by extension or analogy, everything is a building: a meditated construction on a greater or lesser scale, everything is a building, every coffee table, every book, every marriage, every intentional action, every proverbial tower in life before which we should first count the cost.
2.1 - BUILDINGS AS TECHNOLOGY –
Form as inevitable given techno-economic force. Archite cture as engineering. Humans as machines. So ask: What wealth or power wrought this form?
We can view architecture as simply techno-economic phenomenon. This is an architecture of economics, it is trends and abstractions, a volumetric a rchitecture of developable areas extruded by profiteers, capped by planners, arranged by engineers, decorated by marketeers, purchased by statistics. This is a construction of reality and the reality of construction for many, but in this, popular and tragically fatalistic view we divinise the market and reduce architecture simply to impersonal grand expenditure. In this trajectory we get economistic architecture which looks, in form, increasingly like the diagrams and graphs, flowcharts and spreadsheets out of which it was birthed.
2.2 - BUILDINGS AS BURROWS –
Form as a conch shell. Architecture as biological determinism. Humans as red in tooth and claw. So ask: What wind or weather wrought this form?
We can read architecture as a personal shell or frame describing the lives and lifestyles of individuals and societies: as one might understand a cr ab by its crabshell or a tree by its timber. The home is the residue of habit, the calcifications of personal and family life, the glorious conch reflecting the health of that organism, that body that had its being singularly and particularly on that patch of earth. In this way we can view whole environments in their complexity and judge if they were conducive to life. A healthy animal leaves a beautiful shell, a healthy tree spreads its branches and all varieties of bird make their nests there, a termite colony living in harmony with its environment will construct a balanced and beautiful mound. Here we are talking of broad sustainability but in this we are essentially viewing the humans who live build and design building s as mere animals subject to the forces of nature, living by nature within a naturalistic universe.
But to move towards an architecture that more truly reflects reality we must consider the total human, who cannot be reduced to an animal or machine.
2.3 - BUILDINGS AS WORLDVIEW-FORMED AND WORLDVIEW-FORMING –
Form as poetry. Architecture as belief. Humans as believers. So ask: What will or wonder wrought this form?
In this way architecture is like any other art, you can read the philosophy of the artist and the spirit of the times in the substance, style and symbols of the work. However, architecture, for being more immediately practical offers to reveal literally the view of the world a people held and how they projected themselves onto the given natur e.
So, one has a certain fundamental understanding of reality, of life after death, value in life, confidence in the goodness of man and nature or not: a metanarrative, a myth structure, a story which makes sense of the absurdity of daily experience. Further, and born of this understanding, one then holds certain values, certain priorities towards which one applies the weight of one's energies: into a pursuit of wealth, of personal security, longevity, knowledge, justice, mercy, peace, enlightenment. And so then towards the achieving of those hopes, one lives in a certain way, orders one's relationships, orders one's lifestyle. And so th en one builds in a certain way. This is elementary, obvious even, you desire privacy you will build accordingly etc; however many of the motives are subconscious or made on your behalf by a collective consciousness, the city council, the ruling party; or the motive forces lie in ignorance. So you wish to deny God's existence you will build accordingly; a n ation wishes to clear its western consumer conscience through extravagantly displayed environmental concern, it will build accordingly; or you grew up nev er knowing the joy of placedness you will then build accordingly. So in all these ways architecture incarnates a worldview, but so much further, architecture speaks, creates the conditions for, even imposes a worldview on the people that follow. That is to say a worldview begets architecture begets worldview.
So, to live in this house with these views, on this plot, with this decoration, we are submitted to all the previous generations and all they built in their striving, all that they esteemed, protected or destroyed, then limits us, at any one time their total manpower exceeds ours. So in obvious practical ways we do not inherit a tabula rasa, but further, our imagination and subconscious are informed, coloured, limited by all the frivolous and practical concerns, superstitions, and politics of our fathers, these make up the palette of visual, practical, conceptual elements which constitute our present language, life and values. These are the sins or virtues of our fathers being visited on us unto the third and fourth generations, this accounts for the long sounding echoes of Christendom in many ways through its literal and metaphorical architecture.
It is a similar conversation to that which asks of violence in film whether it merely reflects a violent culture or if indeed it instigates violence beyond the cinema. And clearly the answer is both, but in the case of architecture, its message and coercion is inescapable, it is not merely on every street corner, it is the street corner.
Buildings moderate and govern human behaviour and relationship, effecting division or unity. They are instruments for liberation or incarceration, they are potentially fall-mitigating structures, like spiritual disciplines in bricks and mortar. Or otherwise they are a crippling weight to bear, vast and anti-human sprawls sapping freedom, dividing family, demanding burnt offerings of oil and commuter hours to sustain even a meagre existence. These anti-places, bear fruit of cynical wounded people, with impoverished imagin ations and seared consciences. We have in places built for ourselves a living hell, any number of science-fiction films, 2001, the Matrix etc, resonate with their viewers because we feel in some way that this machine we have created is killing us, drawing the life from us, as if once we knew a real world, the keys to which we have handed over.
This picture I have painted thus far of buildings might equally, if to a lesser degree, apply to all culture, all art and enterprise. I view all things in terms of their order and potential through one lens, I call this lens 'architecture', it perhaps needs to be broader, a 'meta-architecture'. But I will for now continue to call it architecture as I make my meaning understood most easily in these terms, and to zoom out would be concede a place for private architecture as a subset in this system and it would be to run away from the redefining of architecture's place that needs to be done. It is not to privilege buildings over other arts, but rather there is still a need for 'architecture' as perhaps it might once have been, as a bridging language for all crafts.
3.0 – HOW DOES 'ARCHITECTURE' DESIGN -
Architecture as a prescriptive language for process: In this way Architecture is not merely a way of seeing the world, but a way of being and a way of doing life. If we substitute 'architecture' with 'the good life'? How do we make 'architecture' happen, who is allowed to participate and where? By what process do we hope to build our future? The definition of the practice good 'architecture' hangs on the hope placed on democracy, despotism or delegation, if you will. Thus:
3.1 - 'ARCHITECTURE' AS TOTAL -
On the one hand, everyone is an architect and architecture everything, it is a second skin, an extension of the self, an expression of how we wish and will the world to be; as a word it is interchangeable with 'technology'; it is all exercises of dominion; it is a means of describing the reconfiguring of natural resource and all the ways of bending nature to serve our individual will, our need, our comfort and survival. The hope expressed in this totalising movement is valid, it is motivated by frustration at former arbitrary definitions, however, it goes awry when it makes architecture of anything and everything I decide to call 'architecture'. Leaving a thin soup for culture, an unfenced playground, no rules to play by, nothing less architectural about a toothfilling than about a towerblock. Presumably this school of thought has a name. Positively and initially, it opens up routes to a more flexible and cross-pollinating artistry, and ideally impresses on people their responsibility as part of the whole, for the whole; negatively this is incarnated as a militant relativism motivated blindly against the abuses by those formerly in a position to define architecture, wounded and angry young architects would rather have architecture be everything and nothing than concede their own mortality, specificity and limits. Any obligation to history is sacrificed on the altar of possibility, in a world without fathers or story or judgement.
3.1.1 - A PROBLEM IN THIS MAXIMALISING DEFINITION -
There is a striking parallel in this totalising re-jig of definitions towards a hope of painting a more cohesive, integrated view of the world in the debates defining 'Spirituality' in these last terms at the Manor. A damaging side-effect of the 'Comprehensive Spirituality' campaign by JP and EP is that having worked so hard to define 'spiritual' as 'that which is truly real', they confuse and disable people from discussing things which are spirit by nature, which is an impoverishment of language and muddies the water they hoped to clear. So too as I try to re-indigenise, popularise and make-human our built environment and relationship to it, if I go about it by defining all actions in space as 'architectural' then we strip language of a word to conjure the depth of that specific family of crafts related to shelter fabrication and leave a definition of limply thin vacuity.. Oh I don't know..
3.2 - 'ARCHITECTURE' AS BY AND FOR THE ELITE -
The other end of this pendulum swing places architecture in the exclusive hands of those great high priests, architects. There is a sense in which architects have seized a monopoly power to call their work 'architecture'. Marketing their skill as a mysterious, complex task quite beyond the scope of the ordinary home-dweller, and even if the plebian masses were competent to form safe and stylish abodes by themselves, it would be, they can argue, inefficient that way. 'Architecture' here quickly becomes a dark art, a philosophy, the work of a closed club of brutally initiated genius form-givers, an intellectual exercise in a coded language impenetrable to all but those well-schooled in post-modern literary criticism (and even then... to steal the metaphor, the experience of many in architecture school is of that dark room in which blind men are looking for a black cat that's not there). Architecture is dropped out of space as a joke at the expense of the pedestrian; architecture is violent spectacle assaulting the ground it stands on; architecture is illusion, the new clothes of the emperor, the art of selling facile glamour to the insecure, shallow prestige to a short term government, an air of ironic sophistication to the knowing middle classes. It could be argued this conceit emerges when architecture is argued for as a self-consciously distinct discipline, which it has a long history of doing, of elevating itself above the humble crafts of which it eventually consists, to a cerebral discipline, and this is the Greek and Romantics' heritage. In this way conventionally labelled 'architecture' is in many ways unhelpfully so delimited, as such a separation divisively severs such things which should be ordinary from the ordinary people who will daily use and inhabit this environment, it is a power game by an intellectual elite who eschew ritually unclean manual work.
3.3 - A THIRD WAY: 'ARCHITECTURE' AS AN INTEGRATED ARTISTIC LIFE? -
I am not looking for some inoffensive middle ground that satisfies both the totalisers and the cerebralists, there must be a third way. A way by which architecture is not an abstract solution imposed by an isolated genius, but neither is architecture as a word and concept stretched so thin as to denote every and any accident and void in the spatial realm. We can redeem the word, the process and the fruit of 'architecture'.
Here I am looking across displines for writing defending craft, human touch, artistic expression and poetry. Seerveld in Bearing Fresh Olive Leaves extends his proposal for the normality of the artist and their role in a community some way in this direction. If his thoughts were applied, the need for a bridging language and its fluent servant enabling the integrity and coherence of the whole would be more apparent. If we all spoke a language which had signifiers ascribing value and importance to place, story and unity within a wider total vision of the human life, we could more directly speak of our loss.
In all this I hope there is the potential for an architecture born of the seamless integration of the artist and ordinary life, for buildings as the logical and beautiful by-product of life lived relationally, for 'architecture' as the life-skill and for an infinite personal architecture, truly sacred space.
3.3.1 – URGENCY -
This misfortune, this inconvenience of less than picturesque architecture is not a grand and lofty luxury we have fallen short of. Architecture such as this, personal, allusive, human and relevant, is as necessary as poetry, and conceivably more tangibly. The absence of poetry is the lack of something life-giving and sustaining, without which we would bleed to death for lack of joy and lack of understanding, here however we are dealing with the rash sprawling of its antithesis, the weapon drawing that blood. We presently face a vacuum of language defending the value of place and beauty in our experience of space. The loss of present, relevant local art is not a victimless loss.
4.0 - THE ARCHITECTURAL PROBLEM -
Given those two previous sections discussing extensively and by analogy the 'Architecture' that could be, let us talk now about the architecture that is: Buildings and life as we know it. Let us expand where architecture is broken, and veer all over a landscape of apocalyptic language and hyperbole...
4.1 – DISCONNECTS -
So far I have tried to limit myself to definitional problems within our conception architecture, which of themselves make of architects men less than fully human, and bear the fruit of buildings, alien and aloof. So there is this, and then a breadth of wider societal problems and disconnects whose causality is to and fro with an impoverished architecture: as we view buildings today, there are notable disconnects, of architecture/art from daily life to a professional sphere of its own; the loss of responsibility for the physical environment at all by its inhabitants; a loss of story, of meaningful interaction with the narrative of built history in which our chapter falls. So, this is to say that architecture and the various individuals and forces that bring it into being are disconnected from the people it belongs to, the ground it stands on and the time it is occurs in. Christians are apt to be those most acutely complicit in these disconnects, if they hold a glibly fatalistic theology of the fall, that somehow these disconnects are to be assumed, to be expected, to be tolerated and coping mechanisms devised for surviving within them, and coping mechanisms largely drawn from the individualistic self-help philosophies that constitute the atmosphere of counsel they breathe from a secular culture.. And this rather than going for the jugular.
4.1.1 - Aloof professionalisation: This and the academicisation of architecture. This is architecture by a self-proclaimed elite, where architects, for reasons known to themselves elected to elevate their role above the sweat of brick laying, and create an intermediary role, uniquely schooled in the mysterious language of architecture. They make for themselves an insecurity in the nature of their role as divine form giver and they suffocate themselves with the bureaucracy of this tertiary craft. This pattern is set in school, the building crafts, seldom taught within the syllabus, are considered as the inconvenience to be overcome in the realisation of a paper dream.
4.1.2 - Complexity of the building industry: This has reached a point such that architects are by necessity reduced to project managers and image-mongers. No one architect can sufficiently master all the specialisations, so even prominent elements within a design, windows, landscape etc, are sub-sub-contracted. Quite aside from a resulting lack of coherence visually, artistically or otherwise, this super-specialisation makes buildings completely unrepairable, it is systemic planned obsolescence. Further, the more complex and high-tech a building is, the more anonymous manufacturing steps between the human crafting and the human inhabiting there are, the more alienated the inhabitant will feel.
4.1.3 - Consumer Culture and 4.1.4 – Placelessness: Placelessness is consumer culture applied to space, as space becomes only a consumable commodity, it loses its placeness, to coin the phrase. The culture of consumption has roots philosophically and sociologically, it was made possible in its present incarnation by the industrial revolution, its was made probable, even appealing by the corrupted work ethic and individualism of the reformation/renaissance. It has been suggested that this culture is a form of empire, its is not the only and logical outworking of technological advance, oil-driven possibilities are pursued and marketed by the vested corporate interests of a select few, advantaging them at the expense of the weak and voiceless, the poor and the environment. Consumerism, becomes an ism at the point we define ourselves first by what we have, when this shift in identity is made a house is reduced to an image of a house, and so the upwardly mobile, geographically promiscuous migrate north from postcode to postcode to postcode to postcode as each annual city bonus allows them. It is not a great leap to see how this will effect shallow places, anonymous neighbours, unrelated neighbourhoods, further nuclearisation of the home, higher walls and less patience, an faddish disposable architecture of speed, spectacle and expediency.
4.1.5 - The infatuation with and intoxication by the virtual: The unreality in which we can be sovereign: that virtual universe, that 'life' online, is a place where we can be omnipresent and omniscient, we can be the identity we wish to be with power to bring into being anything out of nothing, our finitude touches infinite possibility. These are the same hopes that drugs and religion are made of, and you can sense well the addictive power of it. The effect on architecture and place is manifold, chiefly 1. people expend their energy, time and resource within an unphysical, impermanent, essentially unreal dimension at the expense the real, this is Narcissus wasting by the pool, these are slums with satellite dishes, the blue-white cathode flicker on the living-room ceiling of every ugly house in suburbia. And 2. they are disappointed by the real and physical, just as pornography will torpedo a marriage. This is ultimately a glory exchanged for an image, this escape from the physical and contempt for manual work have philosophical roots, gnostic ideas of man as spirit etc.
4.1.6 - A denial of beauty: This is done in subtle ways, where the question is marginalised on the grounds of it being arbitrary or uneconomical, although I have had more heated confrontations in school with tutors who feel more strongly against the power structures implied in the word. There is a degree of legalism around ornament, tradition and story. It is spilt perfume all over again. And I struggle to explain except by a flight from God, beauty points to something, has its origin in something, commands gratitude to someone. Beauty in a random universe is not beauty at all.
4.1.7 - The collapse of community: And so now we study abroad, commute to work, fly on holiday; we have abandoned the church, the local grocer and the village hall; we are bowling alone, living in single-person dwellings, unmarried, divorced, and childless statistically. If we consider this only pragmatically, we are living technologically enabled but vastly inefficient lives, or to term it less economically, we are living ineffective lives. The precious 24 hours we are gifted each day are frittered away in the car, infront of the microwave, paying off our personal mortgage and trying to bring up a family on your own. To live on one's own costs more to heat, costs more to light, cost more to feed, costs more period. And you simply haven't the time to decorate, embellish and enjoy more than to throw a handful of Ikea candles about the apartment in the image of homeliness.
More serious than this, is the loss of community, in particular intergenerational community. Only if we live with children are we reminded daily and personally of who the future we are affecting is, only if we live with the elderly are we truly aware of our own frailty and mortality, in them is a wisdom which cannot be penned, in them is a life's experience communicated tacitly. If we lose this breadth of community we lose our place in the story, we need go back to the beginning and start over each generation. And this affects architecture in a number of ways: we lose a timeless way of building and replace it with spectacle, we lose the foundations for visual consensus and we lose craft and an entire consciousness which values it because we lose the embodied knowledge in which consisted. And I think we lose confidence in our place on earth, contemporary architecture swings between timid parodies of former domestic style and violently bold cries for attention.
4.2 - DISCONNECTS: FRUITS -
The measures of this lost architecture are read in the losses within ecology, as something or someone has to pick up the bill for this profligate existence. The trees felled, green fields sprawled over, oil drunk and carbon exhaled. It can be read in the loss of the human, both in the resulting extra-human scale of urban environments, super-human machine polished finishes and in the sub-human work done by an underclass reduced to a form of slavery, mindless joyless work simply to put bread on the table. And further in the loss of story, loss of ornament, increasing hardness..
I would argue that bad architecture is killing people, through unsafe space, depressing and hopeless space, divisive, exhausting and unnatural space but here, if I have not already I am sailing into spurious conjecture.
5.0 - A THEOLOGY OF THE ARCHITECTURAL PROBLEM -
In this discussion so far I have dabbled in threads and narratives, I wish to venture a meta-narrative, I believe the architectural problem is better understood and the way forward more clearly navigated in the light of the God who is there and who is not silent. Theology threatens to be but another layer of terminology and disagreement to derail us, and yet, and yet, the beauty of the person of Christ, the coherence of his alternative and the witness of history's happy houses draw me onwards.
5.0.1 - A CHRISTIAN ANSWER?: A WARNING FROM HISTORY -
I recently discovered the writing of Quinlan Terry, who has written and practised in the area of architecture and theology, he comes out in favour of a pseudo-classicism which I have not yet reconciled, but provocatively he begins what I suppose is his main treatise on the subject thus: “My subject is architecture and theology, or rather Art and Faith, the place where architecture and religion meet. The two great authorities on this subject from the last century were Pugin, who designed the Houses of Parliament, and Ruskin, the celebrated artist and writer. Both started their lives as devout Christians, and ended their days in a mental asylum...” And so timidly I tread..
5.1 - THE FALL -
So, roughly the theology is th is, a perfect world fell, along with all its subsequent architecture, but they can be redeemed. The fall, a chip in the windscreen slowly growing to completely fracture the pane, where the integrity of the pane had consisted in those crucial relationships of us to ultimate reality, us between ourselves and that between us and created order. Fallen-ness is the inherited orientation of every human being towards the self. Psychology finds a common belief by people that once we were at peace with our environment but that we have lost that connection irretrievably, the largest part of other religions address this selfishness and the guilt of it.
If broken, one should then ask how a knowledge of this helps us. A theology of the fall should allow us to say that things are not as they should be, that human nature defaults to selfishness and self-destruction and that people are not perfectible. This can be taken too far, often by evangelicals, to crushingly low expectations of human possibility, but done well it saves us from modernism's naïve hope that human nature is intrinsically good, which expressed itself in equally naïve utopian architecture for perfect people. Further, such a theology of the fall makes plain the impossibility of our saving ourselves, and relieves architects of the burden of saving humanity as they are apt to aspire to.
If people could be saved from this fallen state they ought to be observably liberated to form better architecture. But if true, I would argue this myth provides a coherent structure which connects the moral flaws with the poor architectural fruit they bear. Thus bad architecture is fearful architecture, selfish architecture, deceitful architecture. Having spent the largest part of my time at university attending a tin warehouse church, I am conscious this jump is not self-evident.
5.2 - WHAT IS THE GOSPEL? -
In the light of this fall, Christianity claims God became a man in history, died and rose again. Demonstrating life is a story not an accident, language has grounds for meaning beyond itself, beauty has a source, death is not the end. So there is nothing to fear in life, you can be confident in death, you can be confident in poverty, you can be confident in suffering and fearless in everything you do make say and build. So to the disconnects:
5.2.1 Aloof professionalisation gives way to an acknowledged creatureliness, servant architects, sacrificial and anonymous building.
5.2.2 Complexity and the machine are no longer means to salvation, human personhood has grounds in the transcendent. Technology – which is never inevitable or neutral – is put towards the end of realistically sized community. Physical work is no longer unclean, expediency gives way to patience.
5.2.3 and 5.2.4 Consumer culture no longer pretends a monopoly on joy, a market economy give way to a gift economy, identity is grounded beyond your stuff. Place is of specific value ordained by an author god.
5.2.5 The virtual loses its addictive appeal, there is a god so we don't have to be, and there is nothing to fear and nothing to escape from in the physical world.
5.2.6 Beauty, truth and goodness are grounded in a transcendental signifier.
5.2.7 The gospel and its ending of fear makes community possible, it makes a unique oneness possible. The gospel demonstrates, requires and makes possible an integrated life. The gospel is the beginning of the gift economy which begets community. Further, a common centre makes community possible. A purpose to our differences makes community possible. I believe that the gospel correctly understood, enacted through intentional community, will bring truly good and redemptive architecture.
5.3 - QUESTIONS OF A 'GOOD' ARCHITECTURE -
Means of judging the goodness of architecture:
- Is it good work? - was the piece and its constituent parts brought into being by individuals working in such a way that they would do it regardless, if they were unpaid? ~ as in CSL's 'Good Work'
- Is it alive? - does it operate to contribute and cooperate within its local ecosystem? Does its bring dignity to the humans building and inhabiting? Does it sustain a certain relational ecology – this rather than cancerously massive cells within an organism society. Who is glorified?
- What does it say? - does it speak a message of hope or cynicism, is it afraid, fearful architecture or is it joyful? Does it take a Sabbath, is there leisure painted on it, is it one seventh frivolous? What is its attitude to the ordinary? How does it relate to its elders?
5.4 - TOWARDS A 'GOOD' ARCHITECTURE: HOW SHOULD WE THEN BUILD? -
What is argued for here is a paradigm shift, not merely at the level of the beliefs of those at the top who presently effect architecture, but a shift is the nature of the 'top' all together, like a mustard seed or a virus, a grass-roots movement (there is a tired phrase) from the ground up (and the clichés sparkle on the water) compelling other people by the joy of such a community, by the very presence of God among them demonstrated by their unity, to leave their consuming addictions (and puns as well, this letter must nearly be over).
The social critique must go deep enough, deeper than Ruskin's, deeper than Quinlan Terry's. There must be urgency, abandon and action not talk. There must be a clarity in our understanding of our physicality and of heaven and of 'need'. There needs to be a reassessment of place through family. There must be a commitment to the long haul in a specific place. We must effect an integrated life, food, building, education, and this by the spiritual disciplines. We will live by Unity Humility and Prayer.
6.0 - END -
I'm just throwing bullet points around now. If you are still reading and have anecdotes, refutations, illustrations, to put flesh on these bones, fire away.. I have tried to present the lens I see through, the problems of art in the world that motivate me towards a new way of seeing, and a new language for discussing goodness and necessity in buildings and life, I have called it 'architecture', as it were a qualitative term, one equally might use 'poetry' to name this language and form.
So concluding, in this letter and at lunch tables we are writing about writing, talking about talking, speculatively communing in discussion of communal possibilities as if the talk were an end in and of itself. It is as if this whole period at L'Abri as been an introduction, the preface to biography, the hypothesis of an experiment. And there is a certain irony in arguing on paper against paper architecture, in criticising criticism culture, and in asking using the medium of theory to propose a move away from theory. Irony, nay arrogance; here like every other brave opponent to modernity, I will be subverted by its empire unless I go beyond its city gates, this should read untriumphant as a suicide note, here in concluding should be offered the quickest directions to the known horizon of present possibility, that is the only humility.