Above: John Hejduk, BERLIN MASQUE (1983), architectural typologies
Recently, a journalist writing an article on how the present economic situation might affect the practice of architecture interviewed me. His particular question was: “Now that building commissions were getting more scarce, will architects turn to making ‘paper architecture?’” By that term he meant speculative and theoretical projects that explore the possibilities of architecture outside the strictures imposed by clients, budgets, codes, and municipal building departments. The underlying question was, “With more time to reflect, will architects return to a more basic questioning of what architecture is and can be, even what it should be?”
My answer was: “No.”
Architects who have not already been thinking about the deeper nature of architecture and speculating about it in drawings, writings, and models, either within their building practices or in independent research, are simply not able to pick it up because they find themselves with spare time. As the old saying goes, “It ain’t that easy.” To imagine that it is simply denigrates the field of architecture. Would someone ask the same of a physician: “Now that your patient load is diminished because of the escalating costs of health care and so many people losing their jobs and benefits, will you take up cancer research?”
Hardly. Research is a serious, lifelong vocation, not a sideline taken up when there is nothing better to do, then abandoned when there is. Perhaps the question speaks of a certain frivolousness architects have unwittingly promoted about what they do: creating new styles, new shapes, repackaging the old, the already known, but little else. If that is the case, architects cannot blame journalists, who are ‘the messengers,’ but only themselves.