Conflict, Architecture, and an Ugly Messy Grayscale Tapestry


Conflict and its relationship to architecture may involve something as catastrophic as a border skirmish, or as mundane as a disagreement between two individuals. We certainly have the work of the late Lebbius Woods to explore the catastrophic, which is an interesting place to begin. In his works on architecture and war, Woods makes the case that a new architecture should exist in the wake of armed conflict. This architectural typology would be grafted onto or into the voids that are left when cultures are attacked and / or destroyed. Such attacks are violent not only to people and material, but of course to the history of a place – an attempt to erase even memory. Woods seems to suggest that structures should not be rebuilt, nor monuments erected, but that the scars of the injury be maintained and incorporated into the urban fabric. The patches and sutures become visible. (This relates to my last post on impermanence, in the suggestion that the trace, and by extension memories, be incorporated into architecture.)

While we don’t usually deal with problems on the order of magnitude of war, we do see the daily battles that take place on a personal level between interested parties on a project. Even so, these seemingly small, ordinary conflicts have greater implications than is immediately apparent. In any case, this is more of a down in the trenches point of view (pun not intended) of what takes place when working through a design with the various players that are typically involved in a building project. There are always competing interests – the owner, the occupants, the neighbors, the planners, the engineers, the contractors, and of course the architect. And it’s usually our job to synthesize these concerns into a solution that will satisfy all parties. So it is also important that we are versed in what is typical of those parties, and that we simultaneously remain open to atypical concerns.

In conflicting relationships between people, there are often relatively fixed positions from which there may not appear to be an alternative. Many of us imagine a loss as the result of any compromise. The result is often two parties screaming ‘my point of view!’ at one another. Returning to earlier posts, we often conjure up an intransigent, all controlling hero as our ideal (American) protagonist. He inhabits our psyche. He is the cowboy. The maverick. The trouble with him is that he either succeeds, by mowing down everyone and every thing in his path (perhaps Robert Moses is an apt character to conjure up here) or he fails. He is subjugated to the will of the masses, suffering an anguishing death at the hands of those who do not realize what is best for them, because it came from his ego. Not only do we take on these extreme positions, but we see them as the only solutions – black or white. The reality is likely more of a gradient with infinite shades of gray between.

When you look closer at the potential range of possible outcomes, what begins to emerge is a method not so much for resolving conflicts but more a method for allowing them to exist. Perhaps it’s not necessary to erase the conflict, nor for there to be definitive ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in order to find the best ‘solution’. While there may be truth in the phrase ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’, and the idea that every project needs leadership, it is not necessarily of the authoritarian type. It is possible for leadership to process multiple points of view and weave them together, gracefully, allowing all of the aspects to exist simultaneously. Just as positions can exist on a grayscale, the result of weaving in many complex points of view results in more of a tapestry.

In this light, it is interesting to reconsider the scars that are suggested by Wood’s work. Like scars on a body, or a mind, they all serve as a reminder of lessons learned. They also tell a story, the story is always unique and explains a history. It removes the generic and renders an identity. It would be convenient to say that the struggles give us wisdom and build character, or that they make us stronger. But not always. Like architecture, we are complex and messy. Better to embrace that as our nature, and make the most of it. Better to love the ugly messy grayscale tapestry.

This entry was posted in Academic, Theory.