Little Maps

Last UpdateAPRIL 2020

Field

What can architects do?


-You’re in a field at the edge of your town. Sitting on top of a low hill where you have walked to get a better, clear perspective of the context. In your hands, the brief that somebody has given you. It might be a short email, a full academic task, a competition description or a long document put together by some team in your client’s company. Most of the times the task ahead is so vast that’s it’s ok to feel a little anxious.

This field might be the site. You could even camp there if you can. You have come here to be able to read carefully, without distractions. You read once, twice, without prejudices or preconceptions, to figure out which are the needs and hopes of these people, and how you could be useful when embarking in this uncertain and complex journey you’re about to start. These are a few of the things that you could achieve as an architect.

This is what we are mapping.

-Can you draw the field of your current assignment?


UNCOMMON SENSES

-What can architects do?

1. TO HELP.

-Our job is to help others build what they need.

Architecture is a collaboration, an act of empathy and generosity.

We have to be useful to others. Help them live in peace, be free, and be healthy. We won’t be able to do it if we don’t live in peace and freedom ourselves.


2. TO IMPROVE.

-Our role is to provide solutions, not to create bigger problems.

-Our job is for the community to which we belong, not to business or power. It’s a search, not a career.

-We can think places so they work better and people can feel good in them. That is so for the whole construction cycle: from our collaborators, to the builders and dwellers. To improve the life of others and the ecosystems we are part of. We can strive to give others the maximum comfort with the minimum energetic and material waste.


3. TO MAKE IT EASY.

-To make things easier, not to make them more complicated.

-To think as clear and simple as possible. To help others to build and live easier.

-To make architecture is a very simple activity, that answers very complex questions, to which architects too often give very complicated answers.


4. TO MAKE IT POSSIBLE.

-To turn restrictions into possibilities. To open up.

-The organisms we make must allow as much options, reversible actions and constant adaptation as possible.

-To disturb life the least possible. To increase diversity and complexity of our ecosystem.

-To materialise the maximum possible worlds that help people come together.

-To make the earth, not only inhabitable, but our home. And it’s only our home if it’s everyone’s.


VITAL CONSTANTS

-If architects were not compulsory by law, how would they be necessary?

-An architect is useful when researching on, and accomplishing the synergy of these four matters: DWELLING (the action), TECHNIQUE,  SOURCES (energy, matter and information) and LEARNING.


1. Dwelling.

-Architecture is the animal’s act of inhabiting the earth, by adapting and transforming a particular environment. Most animals use their habilities to turn their physiological limitations into an advantage. Builders are the members of the human species who are responsible to make the environment inhabitable, by developing, gathering and sharing specific knowledge, for the maximum number of people and generations possible.

If mankind didn’t have these habilities, our species would have become extinct. If mankind didn’t have these limitations, we wouldn’t need to build. If we don’t change our ways of doing right away, the only hope for survival will be through genetic modification of our bodies, so we become more resistant to cold, heat and maladies. Then we won’t need to build more separations between our bodies and their environment.


-Architects should the specialists in all this. When we design, we need to research on how to improve these habilities and limitations. Therefore, we’ll also start from the needs of the dweller, the possibilities and constraints of its physiology and psychology.


-Is the role of the architect to build buildings?

-His role is to make human habitats possible -today, in the far future and for the past-, using construction techniques to improve the dweller’s -and all other people involved in the process- health and happiness.


-Is a building architecture?
-Architects have built some of the most extraordinary places to live in. But architecture is the act of dwelling, otherwise it’s just stones.

-Is architecture a noun or a verb?
-I’m not sure if architecture is a noun or a verb -most likely it is neither of these. But I’m quite certain that it is not singular but plural. It is not about you or me. It is about us. If there is no us (including our fellow animals, plants, minerals and atmospheric elements), there is no architecture.


-From ‘a house’ to ‘at ‘home’.  Some years ago, the program organised some fixed actions, times, contents and relations. Now we must include the factors that will make people feel at home.

-From programs to possibilities. We live in a world in constant transformation. We need to think the future actions that a construction might host in the most open way possible, allowing unforeseen uses and all kinds of changes. At the same time, they must adjust with precision -as a clock- to the expected uses.  Any program should become a home with the minimum changes.

-We need not only a better understanding of uncertainty, but to incorporate it, working with open and adaptative systems, that not only accept changes and accidents, but that improve from these. We change from minimizing uncertainty to maximising the alternatives, foreseeing them.


2. Technique.

-Until today, mankind has used technique to try to dominate the environment -and other humans-, adapting it to the physical characteristics -abilities and limitations- of our bodies.


-Our abilities are reason and communication, love, memory and the fabrication and use of tools. Our limitations, fragility of our health and our children, a low adaptability to the outdoors, predators and enemies.


-Our extraordinary capacity to make tools and machines, and the idea of a world of endless resources, has taken mankind to the destruction of these resources and the contamination of nature. This was a primitive state of technique. To save us some effort and energy ourselves, we built machines that consumed even more.

We can start using our inventiveness so that mankind and the rest of nature can live with less effort, less uncertainty and without destroying itself. We need a new understanding of technique, so that it becomes the means by which we adapt to the environment, diminishing our limitations and separation from it. From an exogenous technique to an endogenous one. We need to develop a new, inverse technique to come closer to our environment and still make our lives much easier. Instead of making the earth smaller, making it bigger.  From a mechanicist paradigm to an instrumental bio-logy.


3. Sources.

-As we see today, when there is a lack of money, people don’t hire architects. An architect is requested when there is a surplus. Could architects be more useful in times of lack of resources than in times of plenty?

-Today architects should be more useful than in 2007. What has happened is irreversible. We won’t come back to nothing. There’s no past when things were done the right way and that we should miss.  We should remember all important things we have forgotten about, keep improving what works fine and research for new architectures to answer all key needs that haven’t been solved yet -which are the majority of basic questions.


-It is evident that we are a small part of nature. If we take care of our body health, why do we make the earth sick? 

-Man has never lived in balance with his environment. He has consumed whenever he can.  Increasingly, however, we live in an environment of resources scarcity and a huge surplus of people, production and construction.  We should focus on how to address these two constraints so they become potentials. We should come to see ourselves, not as conquerors of the land but rather, as humble members and citizens of the biotic community.


-Architects have been one of the main agents in the entropy increase on the earth. From now on, can they help to diminish this entropy?
-Yes. Our goal is to build the minimum to fulfill someone else’s needs. In order to achieve this, our priority is to use energy that has not been transformed by man yet: sun, wind, rain…  To make these energy resources available for everyone.

-In popular construction, as from pork, they make the most of everything. Now, not only must we work with resources that were considered rubbish, and make the most of all the resources that we have at hand, but to create new, organic ones. This will give birth to a new closed-cycle industry and craftmanship.


-Is ‘passive house’ the new energetic paradigm?
-No. We should change from passive systems to dynamic ones. Passive systems made sense in abundant and close material resources environments. We can’t consume so much material any more. In the XXth century, most buildings were made under the premise that the flow of man-transformed energy was endless. Buildings were climatised using highly inefficient heating and cooling systems, electrical devices multiplied etc. Today, the building itself must solve these issues. That’s why a construction that is identical in summer and in winter, in the night and in the day, makes no sense. We don’t need new paradigms, but a dynamic architecture.


-We are moving towards an architecture that is not an energetic blackhole, but that generates its own resources and gets inhabitable energy straight from the natural sources of its environment. Before, we depended on highly-centralized-and-contaminating producers. Now, thru intensive research, our whole territory can become a fountain of resources.


-We can stop being parasits and start living in symbiosis. It’s time to give back.


-Isn’t it more bio-logic to have fewer needs and not more needs?
-We know for a long time now that an economy based on ilimited growth is not viable in the long term. We must do architectures that don’t consume.


4. Learning.

To think.

-The most important resource for an architect is its own mind. After that, the ear and the hands. Legs and arms. A blind man can be an architect, somebody who doesn’t listen cannot.

-Architects are world famous for saying one thing and doing the other, when what’s interesting about our job is precisely the contrary. To do and say things for real. To talk about these things is a little embarrassing, because on the XXIst century, professional ethic and self-criticism should be taken for granted. This is not an ethical statement, but a way of making things work better.

-The architect is not important. What he does is not too important either. What’s important is what it provokes.


To think and to make. To see and to understand.

-All our body parts are important in order to think and to make.

-We need to train to see with our own eyes. It’s not about looking, but about seeing. To observe so we understand the working principles of our environment and its agents. To be more focused everyday. To react fast. To strengthen our concentration and resilience.

– We work from the synergy of practice, research and production means, because in fact they are the same.


To learn.

-As important as thinking and making, of understanding and knowing, is the ability to learn. As architect’s tasks are a constant search, they need constant learning.

-We start learning architecture inside our mother’s womb. How to learn to make architecture is an unresolved question yet. How architect’s job is taught and learnt in architecture schools is, at best, just a small part of the picture, and in most cases a waste of the best creative and energetic years of all learners. There is a false dichotomy between defenders of learning-by-thinking and learning-by-doing, between discipline and self-discovery, between mind and soul.  We could start from a synchrony of these talents in order to help younger people to achieve all their astounding potentialities. Architecture schools need to revolve or they will definitely become dead and useless institutions.

To unlearn.

-The false expectations of what an architect does are not just a responsibility of university, but also of high schools, elementary schools,  and architects themselves. Most of the young architecture students start university with their minds already confused and stressed. As John Dewey said: ‘Indeed, he is lucky who does not find that in order to make progress, in order to go ahead intellectually, he does not have to unlearn much of what he learned in school’. So unfortunately university at best becomes a place for unlearning.

-In just a few years, we’ll be facing a challenging dilema as a species: when we have universal access to our genomic information, will we decide that only those born with a builder’s genetic design will be allowed to continue their training as such?

To feel.

-The fact that we are technicians doesn’t mean that we are machines. As humans, we feel all the time. As architects, we must train and nourish our capacity of feeling a place. Why do we feel good or bad in a specific place and/or moment?


ARCHITECTURE TECHNIQUES

-An exceptionally gifted mind could design thinking about everything at once, minimising the time necessary to think and make, and verbally comunicating it to whoever was in charge of materialising this design in a clear, precise and complete way. He could also produce one drawing which contained all the necessary information for the builder. His constructions could last a thousand years, ever adapting to all the changes and accidents, ever improving. They would make everybody happier.

If this supermind also had an extremely gifted body, he could build this design by itself, without getting tired or sweating, and no drawing should be produced. No energy and material would be wasted on the way.

Average minds make up these capacities for learnt tools, direct experience, constant learning and dedication, practicing everyday, organising the process in steps.  We use drawing to verify thoughts and to explain to somebody else the actions they have to carry in a clear, precise and complete way.

-An architect is not somebody trained in an official or informal institution. It is not a title. An architect is somebody whose actions architecture. Therefore to architecture is important, not the Architect.

REFERENCES


ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXUPÉRY, 'Le Petit Prince'. 1943.


DANIEL DEFOE, 'Robinson Crusoe'. 1719.


IVAN ILLICH, 'Dwelling'. 1971.

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