It is easy to misplace the essence of architecture in an imperious world of pretentious jargon, perpetuating a growing disparity between buildings and their users. The spaces and environments in which people work and live—the spaces in which individuals spend the majority of their time—have become disconnected from the kind of Architecture that is spelled with a capital “A.” Looking at the context of the built world with its users is an incredibly valuable discussion, and there can never be enough opportunities for engaging the public on issues related to the built environment.
“What Has Architecture Done For You Lately?”, an archiTEXT exhibit showing at the Design Exchange until May 31, explores architecture “through perceptions of success, equality, emotion, health, and the environment.” The goal of the combined charette series, exhibit, and book is to reach a broader audience, and to bring design back to a level where its users are both contributing to and benefiting from architecture. But the exhibit was more confusing than anything else: not only did it not answer its own question, “What Has Architecture Done For You Lately” doesn’t even pose that question in ways applicable to meeting the exhibit’s goals.
How can we design architecture that is humane, functional, sustainable, and beautiful? The exhibit poses variations of the title question to the exhibit’s participants. In one section of the installation, “the endangered species of architecture”—concrete block, batting insulation, plywood, and a can of paint—are showcased in glass display cases, implying that architecture as we know it is heading down a road toward obsolescence. Nuts and bolts are museum artifacts, but what replaces them?
On the archiTEXT website, the exhibit is described as being based on the charette series, which is an interdisciplinary design exercise intended to yield many ideas in a short amount of time. In the curator’s statement, however, the exhibit is clearly intended to “use conceptual art to generate dialogue.” The charrette series and exhibit are both creative methods to have people respond to these issues, but the two are totally independent of one another except for their posing the same questions. At the exhibit, evidence that these questions have been asked elsewhere is lacking.
Last night at the exhibit opening, the event staff—wearing hot pink—were dressed as trendy architect-scientist hybrids and, in many cases, completed the look with jokey accessories such as hard hats or Corb glasses, an inside joke in the profession. Zahra Ebrahim, the event curator, described their purpose as documenting conversations and the “general zeitgeist of the room.” Throughout the evening these surveyors would approach individuals and ask what architecture has done for each of them lately, marking the answers onto hot pink paper on clipboards.
So what, exactly, has architecture done for some of the exhibit’s attendees lately? Guests were asked to answer this question on hot pink sticky notes and contribute their responses to the writing on the wall. The numerous reactions included:
“I am designing a house with no budget and I am going to hell”
“I want a client who asks for 7 bedrooms, 8 bathrooms, and…”
“Architecture helps me to increase cultural awareness”
“Architecture makes me look up. It hurts my neck”
“Buildings need lables”
“Daniel Libeskind hasn’t done anything for me or anyone else lately, or ever”
“Architecture sculpts my emotions”
“I want to live on an island in the shape of my ass”
Perhaps all of the answers collected during this exhibit will be compiled and published in the series’ upcoming book, and hopefully the book will connect back to the design of spaces. Or maybe Ned has the answers, and is still on his/its way. But with all of the hype surrounding the coming of Ned, he/it was nowhere in sight, leaving yet another important question unanswered.
Photos by Jamie Bradburn/Torontoist.