The world is filling with ever more kinds of media, in ever more contexts and formats. Glowing rectangles have become part of the scene; screens, large and small, appear everywhere. Physical locations are increasingly tagged and digitally augmented. Amid this flood, your attention practices matter more than ever. You might not be able to tune this world out. So it is worth remembering that underneath all these augmentations and data flows, fixed forms persist, and that to notice them can improve other sensibilities.
Architecture, the most durable of the arts, is inextricably linked to issues of memory, nostalgia, and history. Yet, in this impatient century, the discipline’s relationship to the past has become increasingly fraught. The stream of readily accessible information has trapped us in a perpetual present, and our attention spans have been reduced to 140-character bursts. As archives overflow and data multiplies, these accumulating facts lack any theory of significance. Is history still relevant in a media landscape where time passes at an accelerated pace?
Although we spend more than ninety percent of our lives inside buildings, we understand very little about how the built environment affects our behavior, thoughts, emotions, and well-being. We are biological beings whose senses and neural systems have developed over millions of years; it stands to reason that research in the life sciences, particularly neuroscience, can offer compelling insights into the ways our buildings shape our interactions with the world. This expanded understanding can help architects design buildings that support both mind and body.
In Auditions, Rob Stone proposes a new and transformative view of architecture and sound. He offers a radical rethinking of the inhabitation of architectural space in terms of its acoustic dimensions, presenting a concept of aurality as an active, speculative, yet conditional understanding of the complexity of social spaces. The aural architectures he discusses are assembled from elements of architecture and music—including works by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and John Cage—but also from imagined spaces and other kinds of less obviously musical sounds.
When architects draw even brick walls to six decimal places with software designed to cut lenses, it is clear that the logic that once organized relations between precision and material error in construction has unraveled. Precision, already a promiscuous term, seems now to have been uncoupled from its contract with truthfulness. Meanwhile error, and the always-political space of its dissent, has reconfigured itself.
Expansion, convergence, adjacency, projection, rapport, and intersection are a few of the terms used to redraw the boundaries between art and architecture during the last thirty-five years. If modernists invented the model of an ostensible “synthesis of the arts,” their postmodern progeny promoted the semblance of pluralist fusion.
Money plays a paradoxical role in the creation of architecture. Formless itself, money is a fundamental form giver. At all scales, and across the ages, architecture is a product of the financial environment in which it is conceived, for better or worse. Yet despite its ubiquity, money is often disregarded as a factor in conceptual design and is persistently avoided by architectural academia as a serious field of inquiry. It is time to break these habits.
Buildings, although inanimate, are often assumed to have “life." And the architect, through the act of design, is assumed to be their conceiver and creator. But what of the “death" of buildings? What of the decay, deterioration, and destruction to which they are inevitably subject? And what might such endings mean for architecture’s sense of itself? In Buildings Must Die, Stephen Cairns and Jane Jacobs look awry at core architectural concerns.
Why would an architect reach for a pencil when drawing software and AutoCAD are a click away? Use a ruler when 3D-scanners and GPS devices are close at hand? In Why Architects Still Draw, Paolo Belardi offers an elegant and ardent defense of drawing by hand as a way of thinking. Belardi is no Luddite; he doesn’t urge architects to give up digital devices for watercolors and a measuring tape. Rather, he makes a case for drawing as the interface between the idea and the work itself.
The usual history of architecture is a grand narrative of soaring monuments and heroic makers. But it is also a false narrative in many ways, rarely acknowledging the personal failures and disappointments of architects. In Bleak Houses, Timothy Brittain-Catlin investigates the underside of architecture, the stories of losers and unfulfillment often ignored by an architectural criticism that values novelty, fame, and virility over fallibility and rejection.