Theory vs Practical Debate

Quoted by poster “Architecture must first and foremost fulfil it’s most basic function: it must be usable, pragmatic and must work, spatially and contextually. Everything else is just icing on the cake. Even aesthetics.  If your building doesn’t work or is not practical… it has failed…unless you intentionally want it to be non-fuctional (hey, some maniac out there might want it to), in which case your building becomes…. just a structure.”

We don’t just do basic functions. We also do advance functions at the same time. Like after going to the toilet to perform basic function, we go and write a script or an article. We have both functions intermingling. Architecture is quite like a human being – many functions operating simultaneously even, like writing a drama while (err excuse me) crapping, for example…

There are three parties involved in getting the concept and design built. They are the Client, Designer / Architect and User. Problem is we only consider the first two and often exclude the user/s. For example, people with poor eyesight can bump into a glass wall if there are no embossed or coloured strips on it, or can never use a glass stairs as they cannot see the threads. So the architecture only got 2 out of 3 right  if it did not fulfill the user/s requirement.

Quote from poster “No amount of rambling about theory is going to make it a better building.  Theory is just used to further rationalize (or more often than not, post-rationalize) the design. Using theory in architecture is just another sales gimmick. To put some interest into the building, and to create something different.”

Theory is a “breathing living thing” and one that makes something real. Without understanding theory or the theoretical part of your concept / design, you will never know who is the “author”. Theory explains about the identity of the person who creates. Theory cannot be just theory when it comes to practice of the architect / designer. It must be together with philosophy.

For example, the philosophy of the businessman architect is “cut-cost and follow standards only”. Ethically that is fine. If the philosophy is “cut-cost and don’t follow standards” then it is unethical. Like many buildings in Malaysia…

Quote from the poster, “Why? One reason is because architects as professionals can’t advertise themselves. The only legal way they can is to write and publish books.”

Errr…they can advertise through blogs (can kan?) or their buildings advertise for themselves.

Quote from the poster, “The other reason is because there are so many damn architects out there so in order to stand out, you got to do something different.”

To me, like that, the architect got no balls lah … do something different just for the heck of it. I mean, if it is senget building and can make a user feel ‘vertigo’ sickness, then it has not fulfilled the requirement for the user.

Quote from poster, “Rem Koolhaas is now considered the one of the most famous architect in the world by the masses of lay people. He achieved it by good publicity:talks, lectures, writings and publications. Personally, I feel not all his work is very good. He’s just a damn good businessman (and publicist!)”

Never been inside his buildings so no comment lah. However have been to Libeskind’s Imperial War Museum in Manchester and will give a rating of 4 out of 5. Still lacking on the users bit, but as a whole, it does give the effect of “fear and doom” in war through its massive space.

I think concept does not really become a concept in the total sense when it does not get built. People like Koolhaas, Hadid, Libeskind…I am so glad that they managed to get their concepts built then I can “evaluate” their concepts. When the concept is appropriate to the “brief” then more often it will be a success taking into account the “user/s”.

Quote from poster, “Theories come about from theorist trying to explain how things work or behave. like Einstein about relativity, and Descartes about philosophy and rationalism. But remember, these are just theories and have not been proven.”

Theories coming from philosophers such as Einstein or Descartes sometimes used by architects to justify their concepts is to me is part of the debate. Always important that those who are debating are at the same level of knowledge, if not it becomes superficial.

Quote from poster, “Architectural theorist, more often than not, take this theories and manipulate it into architecture. Same like the Decontructivist architects with Derrida’s writings. It was this “need” of some architects to belong in some group or “movement” and the preoccupation with labels.”

Often people like Gehry and Hadid did not want to be labeled. Its the historian or critic that likes to put them into groups or categories. They are subjected to society’s interpretation and acceptance. For two decades Hadid was not able to build and just taught for example. Whether it is trend or what, that is the demand from society to accept these types of styles like Deconstructivists.

Quote from poster,” Good architecture can stand for itself. You go in, you use it happily and it makes you feel good with it’s amazing spaces and points of interest. You don’t need to read about it to understand or appreciate it.”

What is important again is your identity as a designer. If you want to write or sell your idea, then go ahead. Don’t expect everyone or anyone to buy it. If many people buy Hadid’s style, that’s fine isn’t it? That is part of society’s demands.

Quote from poster, “My point I’m trying to make: before you try your hand at theory, make sure you understand all that is necessary to make buildings work, even down to the minimum size of bathrooms and heights of tables.  Remember, even  if you design a splendid looking house, the user will curse you for the rest of his life each time he squeezes into his tight shower cubicle.”

Obviously, you need to go back to designing for the user/s and that includes everyone, wheelchair user, blind people and so on, hence you need to study universal design and barrier-free concepts and all. So the more parameters you have considered the better your design.

It’s go for best practice, not minimum standards, isn’t it. Whatever your styles, rhetoric or theories are it does not matter, what matters is your concept work when it is being used!

Quote from poster, “My question to the floor: “how can architectural theory benefit architecture?”

Architecture must have theory as in, each designer / architect must have a theoretical stance and design philosophy, if not the building does not have an identity. The identity of your work is not felt. It does not provoke the senses, so why not you just don’t design or build it if there is no identity, no theoretical objectives… like replicating the same old prototype that you had done 10 years ago – JKR designed school buildings and plonking on the site regardless of topography or replicating someone’s housing scheme but not taking into account the user.

(That’s why not easy to do prototypical design like schools and houses…)

Debate continues….

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4 thoughts on “Theory vs Practical Debate

  1. Architects give the concept of “theory” a bad name. A lot of what is claimed to be theory is merely rhetoric – which is the polite word for bull*hit.

    In the field of science, theories have to be carefully argued from assumption to conclusion. And they must be framed in falsifiable terms. If the arguments for a particular theory are not logical, or empirical observation does not support it, then the theory must be abandoned.

    Read most architectural theory and you just have a stream of assumptions, speculations and fancy writing that tries to pass of opinion as fact.

    I suppose ‘architecture as expression’, will always be subjective and will always be surrounded by rhetorical argument, and students are well advised to have a sceptical mind

    But ‘architecture as practical solution’ would be able advance much faster if architects adopt a more rigorously scientific approach.

  2. Well,this is a debate all the time. Here, i have some opinion to share.(may be right,may be wrong)

    For me, theories of architects is reflect the his/her ideology to society, living environment,and people. I m agree that architects should have the philosophy on the design, if not better just to be a draftsman.

    ironically, the ideologies are very personal and not acceptable for everyone. Therefore, somebody will say that are bull ****. But that problem still can be proven when time goes through.

    However, the requirement(expectation) from public is different towards architects. They want fast effective. They want economic effect. They want this. they want that. Everyone even wants to be the building author( most of the clients). Architects just a person who can draw the CAD and help them to submit.( mostly in Malaysia)

    in the end, architects = draftsman. architects= businessman.
    architects= problem makers.

    The big environment is not able to give a space for architects to breath and develop the theories part. Eventually, they only speak what is very shallow and not even been proved.( may be some of them just lazy to do that, We always want FAST ma.)and bull **** .

    So, would u believe the theories from that kind of persons for the build environment? If i m the client, i wouldn’t.

  3. Well,this is a debate all the time. Here, i have some opinion to share.(may be right,may be wrong)

    For me, theories of architects is reflect his/her ideology to society, living environment,and people. I m agree that architects should have the philosophy on the design, if not better just to be a draftsman.

    ironically, the ideologies are very personal and not acceptable for everyone. Therefore, somebody will say that are bull ****. But that problem still can be proven when time goes through.

    However, the requirement(expectation) from public is different towards architects. They want fast effective. They want economic effect. They want this. they want that. Everyone even wants to be the building author( most of the clients). Architects just a person who can draw the CAD and help them to submit.( mostly in Malaysia)

    in the end, architects = draftsman. architects= businessman.
    architects= problem makers.

    The big environment is not able to give a space for architects to breath and develop the theories part. Eventually, they only speak what is very shallow and not even been proved.( may be some of them just lazy to do that, We always want FAST ma.)and bull **** .

    So, would u believe the theories from that kind of persons for the build environment? If i m the client, i wouldn’t.

  4. Dear Mazlin & KY,
    I am reading a book named “Basilica: The Splendour and the Scandal: Building St Peter’s” by RA Scotti. The novel takes the reader in a very enjoyable and readable journey of the Pope (as client) and the architect from over a century of building St Peters. The ever-changing Pope and the numerous architects trying to change the designs to suit the situation. Some popes just not committed and some were the driving force. Its true to say that the architect would want to take the credit of the design but at the end of the day, the patron / client pays for the vision. Our vision is up for sale. Hence that is why we see the architect as servicing the client, even during those Renaissance times in Italy.
    Like public art, architecture is in the public’s eye and the layman has their own opinion. That is one audience. For the architect, his/her audience is not the client, nor the layman, but his/her contemporaries – other architects.
    But in Malaysia, we do not have this discourse that they have in some countries in the West, where even the layman gets into debates about how good a piece of architecture is.
    Referring back to the book that I was reading, many people did not like the end product completed by Della Porta, and wished that Michelangelo’s version of St Peter’s should have been materialised externally. But without Della Porta finishing the building, it could have been worse due to the political situation at that time. St Peter’s may even changed drastically or not built at all.
    So when we have work of art by geniuses not getting completed, we get exasperated, but there is no loss for some…
    At the end of the day, who is the audience listening to these architects…
    Perhaps, we had been forced to listen to speeches by others often so we became reluctant audiences. Hence, the bullshit…

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