|The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence 2023|
[ID:1948] Designing For Change
"...in that Empire, the Cartographer's art achieved such a degree of perfection that the Map of a single Province occupied an entire City, and the Map of the Empire, an entire Province. In time, these vast Maps were no longer sufficient. The Guild of Cartographers created a Map of the Empire, which perfectly coincided with the Empire itself. But Succeeding Generations, with diminished interest in the Study of Cartography, believed that this immense Map was of no use, and not Impiously, they abandoned it to the Inclemency of the Sun and of numerous Winters."
This excerpt comes from a collection of articles by author Umberto Eco. This quotation opens the article entitled "On the Impossibility of Drawing a Map of the Empire on a Scale of 1 to 1." The commentary is a satire on the paradoxes that would arise if a map of an area were to be made at the same scale as the area depicted on the map. The feat is futile because a two-dimensional rendering of the area would never be accurate because of the constant progress of the inhabitants of the area. Thus, the unfaithful map would become useless to future generations. This article serves as a good analogy for how the ambitions of a certain group at a certain time will inevitably be lost, and the product created will become useless to their descendants. Creating monuments serves the creators only. To design structures that embody cultural values, the designer would have to allow for constant change by the peoples of that culture to keep interest and commitment in the monument. Architects who forget about the users and future of their structures are designing egotistically. A structure must embody its site and users first and foremost.
"Designing for Change" is my idea on the benefits of creating monuments that will entice people to affect the physical structure in some way. This way the people will become part of the structure itself. The synergy created from the changing building will last through time without necessarily freezing one particular moment. The people themselves will then become the monument without the structure having to stay forever the same.
To begin, a definition of each of the elements at hand is necessary. Two of the main elements at hand are culture and monuments. Culture is not tangible. It is made up of a group of people of a certain area sharing a common language and customs. A culture is defined by its people: their clothes, habits, religious beliefs, traditions, and values. Without the people that manifest it, culture is nonexistent. Culture evolves with every new generation that manifests it. As the people in a culture grow, die, and change location, values and morals change with these people. Culture is not a constant and can only be recorded or measured from a single instance in time and space. Each recording from a different point in time will depict a different culture. American culture in particular shows this trait. We are a "hodge-podge" of languages, religions, and traditions that make up our larger whole. When looking back through the United States of America's brief history, no claim can be made that the cultures of the early settlers and of the people of the new millennium are in any way the same. Of course, we are all Americans, and there are similarities in our entrepreneurial spirits, but the differences tip the scale. Today every new generation is named independently to emphasize their varying ideas and values: Generation X, Y, Z, etc. A single cultural belief cannot be simplified out of this constantly changing culture. It is difficult to identify. So instead of a single moment, why not materialize a forever evolving string of moments just like our cultural entities?
The definition of monument correlates with this dynamic culture because a monument is a frozen account of a particular moment in space and time. Monuments create immortality. Monuments are built in observance of a past event. They cannot recreate or replace this event. They simply serve as tangible structures that make cultural events immortal. But what happens when the next generation gets lost in the true meaning of the monument because they do not remember the time or embody the same cultural beliefs? The products of the previous generations will become obsolete and will be discarded just like the Map of the Empire. Each individual must feel an affiliation with the product so that they form their own personal connection with it. Monuments are social architecture. These structures must be accessible by all.
Architecture today is about creating new and cutting-edge structures that have never been seen or attempted before. But all architecture instantaneously becomes part of the past after its completion. Time cannot be stopped, so the moment the structure is finished, it is surpassed. So when architects strive to design with the newest materials and technology, they are designing out of vanity. They simply want their name associated with a phenomenal building. But there is no phenomena being created here. They have not stopped the rotation of the earth. They are forgetting that the users of their structure will begin to think of it as commonplace and eventually old-fashioned. And if the users do not feel an affinity for their habitat, they will not blink an eye when it is replaced. This is no monument. Architects must relinquish control by allowing time, the elements and other humans to alter their original designs. Social architecture is not owned by the architects, but by all that come in contact with it.
So how do you create monuments, with users who truly care about the structure? Design for change. Designing for the future is the answer to the question of how to design to embody the social values of one place, a particular culture and universal human concerns. Architecture will surely become an element of the past if it does not constantly evolve to accommodate change within a culture. Since structures are permanent, built objects, and culture is not, the design must be left open to growth, deterioration, additions, erosion, and development with each being that comes in contact with it. These monuments are not built for size, stature, occupancy, or longevity. They are constructed by the people of the area and built for interaction.
A sense of place must be achieved in the built environment. Not many cultures today are dominated by a nomadic, foraging way of life. Cultures today are about possession. People have a place and things, and they are no one elses to take. This idea of material possession is the utmost universal human concern today. People and cultures are trying to protect their sense of place. Internal battles and world wars are all fought over possession. Land, oil, food, all of these things start property ownership battles. So why can architects not see that people today have a desire to have something to call their own? Is it too hard to give them this? No. Ownership can be defined in many ways. Helping in the structure's creation can only be achieved by some. Additional ownership is found when people leave their mark on the structure. This evolution will show the culture's values over time. Every generation can participate in this process. The built structure will have no finishing point. It will forever be under construction and destruction. People from diverse times will see the beginning and end of certain elements, and the process of watching and being a part of this constant change will be their alliance with each other. This structure will therefore serve as a correlation between varying generations within a single culture and will be a link over time and space. No one moment will need to be frozen in time because every moment is now a part of the structure.
At this point, a redefining of "monument" is in order. These built structures are not to serve quantitative functions, but qualitative endowments. Height, size, occupancy, technology: these are all arrogant details employed by the architect. What about the quality of the environment they are creating? Do workers really want to go up into a monolithic tower just because it is the tallest in the world? What about their safety and comfort? A monument needs to be something special to each individual. By giving them a sense of ownership and property, a link is being created between something solid and an intangible value. People rely on architects to design environments that serve this purpose. So now we see monument not as a solidified, frozen entity, but a forever-changing tangible sense of cultural values.
Social architecture can only begin to be made when meaning is incorporated into design. This means more than simple functionality. If we continue to design like this, a world of strip-malls and parking lots will prevail. Structures need personality. But it is hard to fix this problem in today's economy. Robert Venturi addressed this issue in his book entitled "Learning From Las Vegas". "Pop artists have shown the value of the old cliche used in new context to achieve a new meaning - the soup can in the art gallery - to make the common uncommon." This is not the solution. We must not look to the past to move forward. This is a contradiction. We need to move forward in our designs just as cultures and people are constantly doing. Architectural designs must be equipped to move with change, not against it. Architecture also must be used to initiate change. Different forms of architecture can force change onto its environment. Remodel parking lots and take them out completely - people will still come, they will just find other ways of getting there. They will change. Humans have a strong adaptive nature.
Kenneth Frampton in his article "On Reading Heidegger," best sums up the ways in which people have forgotten what architecture is supposed to be. "We exonerate the strip, ever fearful to admit that we might have eliminated, once and for all, the possibility of ever being anywhere. We vaunt our much prized mobility, our "rush city," to coin [Richard] Neutra's innocent phrase, our consumption of frenetic traction, only to realize that should we stop, there are few places within which any of us might significantly choose to be." We must be reminded of our quality of life so that we put much more care and thought into our surroundings. People use these low quality structures willingly, but should be revolting against them. We do not need more space, we need more place.
So now we are faced with this labyrinth of contradictions. A monument is erected to freeze a moment (although time cannot be stopped). This monument solidifies values and events (that are not tangible). The only answer is to create a monument that will forever change with the people who value it. Each metamorphosis becomes a new verse to an infinite poem. The structure will take on a new form with every passing year, but will always be consistent with the people who are currently involved with it. Our most valued monuments today are the surviving reminders of exalted priests and kings. The slaves and peons who built them are not around today to relish in their accomplishments. Why are we saving these pyramids, rock formations, and temples around the world? Is someone coming for them? It is fine to appreciate them as artifacts and works of art to study. But we should not magnify them as embodiments of our cultural heritage. Our cultural heritage is now. If we keep our heads in the past, we will miss out on our time to leave our mark. Our cultures have changed, and instead of focusing on the changes and the ways we arrived here, let us look to the present and build upon it. A destruction of our valued monuments is not necessary, but an appreciation for accomplishments of our own time is. As architects, we can pay fealty to the past by building on, and not necessarily rejecting the works of our predecessors.
To create the immortality we desire so much through monuments, we must give them as gifts to our descendants. The new generation will take in the values and principles the structure embodies. After this inclusion of the gift into their beliefs, the new whole of what the current ideas and the gift encompass will be a new entity. This must now be portrayed in a mew monument to give to the next generation. But instead of building a new structure, the gift received will be altered. The sum of the two manifestations is passed on as one instead of each individually. This equation will go on infinitely. Thus, a new definition of monument has been created.
All architects working towards a final crescendo in their art form must stop immediately. The end does not exist. Architecture is an art that people rely on indefinitely yet have little to nothing to say about it. So why is this cognitive dissidence applied to architecture? Because we as architects are shutting out the people. We are feeding them parking lots and strip malls. We are erasing our ability as a species to influence our present as well as our future. Human interaction is necessary in architecture. All aspects of our daily lives are relative to our perceptions. If we see the same monotonous environment day after day we are drowning our imaginations and are as free as any prisoner. Architecture can be the one art where everyday will bring something new. For example, materials that erode and age (such as limestone and copper) will slowly alter the structure. Another example is growth. Additions to our buildings make them new, as well as removals from the buildings. These changes will allow everyone to witness the evolution of a distinct part of the structure and they will embody it forever.
Our cultural heritage is not behind us. It is now. And now is every moment we exist. Time passes, people grow, environments change, and cultures evolve. The structures we leave as gifts to our descendants should embody these qualities. To try and avoid this would be vanity. Our mortality can be embraced in our buildings and not negated by them. The equation is easy: build upon the architecture that been left to us, and pass the new structure on with the hope that it too will be altered for all eternity.
i. From "Viajes de Varones Prudentes", Suarez Miranda, book IV, chap. XIV, Lerida, 1658. Quoted by Jorge Luis Borges, Historia universal de la infamia Etcetera, Buenos Aries, 1935.
ii. Eco, Umberto. "How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays". Harcourt Brace & Company, 1995.
iii. Venturi, Robert. "Learning From Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form." MIT Press, 1978.
iv. Frampton, Kenneth. "On Reading Heidegger." "Theorizing A New Agenda for Architecture." Kate Nesbit, editor. Princeton Architectural Press, New York. 1996.
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