While it’s useful to rely on consistency and standardization when it comes to making buildings, it doesn’t typically inspire creativity. Lately I’ve been interested in the limitations of professionalism and the repression of critical thinking, in part because I haven’t heard much discussion on the subject. I believe alternative viewpoints warrant consideration, particularly when the volume of one particular point of view is loudest.
Unprofessional Architecture, Bolivia.
Magazines and architecture blogs give us competition winners and glossy images of spectacular, high priced forms and precision crafted details. In my view, big budgets often lack a certain degree of challenge; it is often easier to start new than to sort out how to work with what you have in front of you. Moreover, these promoted forms and details often follow formulas that were established long ago, furthering the ease of use and circumventing imagination. Projects that don’t follow the correct formulas are passed over.
In the current cultural climate, it is difficult to find architecture that embraces the rough or raw. Slipshod, slapdash, bricollaged, improvised, and the mashed up are not typically part of the architectural discussion. With enough promotion, it’s easy to see how a cycle of convention perpetuates itself. The consumption of culture catalyzes its own acceptable ideology. One must follow the standards of the profession, its norms and values, to be seen as valid. The rest is potentially offensive.
Unprofessional Architecture, Vermont
However, looking to the less polished may offer new inspiration. This Jim Jarmusch quote pretty well summarizes why:
“I still consider myself to be an amateur filmmaker. And I say that because in the Latin origin of the word amateur is the word love, and it’s love of a form, whereas professional implies something you do for money or for work.”
The excerpt is from an interview where Jarmusch speaks about Gimme Danger, a new documentary he created about Iggy Pop. His interest in punk rock has to do with the embrace of the amateur. He discusses how that encouraged him to make films before he believed he was really qualified to do so. I can appreciate the perspective. I came of age during the tail end of the punk rock era, and the culture epitomized the unprofessional. I still carry the sensibility with me today. It’s why I’ve suggested that we “make it ugly”, which to me means, try to think from a different perspective.
To be unprofessional is defined by Webster as “below or contrary to the standards expected in a particular profession”. In other words not constrained or tied to a specific methodology. Too much respect for the established process can cause one to follow the given path too closely, whereas a bit of irreverence allows for exploration out of bounds, where new ideas are formed. Divergence from the norm provides the opportunity to consider alternatives, even if we’re searching for something very polished in the end. Jarmusche films are case in point.
Thinking or acting outside of conventions or established norms may create discomfort. Provocation can be viewed by the definition ‘to evoke, or stimulate’, as in an intellectual provocation. It asks you to think. In another sense of the word, provocation means to ‘create anger’. In fact they are the same thing in some cases.
Architectural Provocation, Oakland
Thought that occurs outside of conventionally agreed upon ideology may be upsetting to those entrenched. But this type of provocation is essential to our evolution an humans. To quash alternate points of view in favor of the majority is a step backwards in our search for freedom and independent thought. Those that promote dissent may only be concerned about it when they are in the minority, but when that minority becomes a majority, it shouldn’t be forgotten.
Allowing space for diversity of thought translates well into the urban environment. I may not believe it is possible to recreate a Victorian Building properly; that it speaks to a different time and is not relevant to the world we live in today. But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand that others disagree. I would never suggest that all Victorians be torn down, or that another should never be built. I only ask that I be allowed to express myself in the way I see fit, unfettered by regulations defined by majority preference. I believe this to be important, as critical thinking and freedom of expression are in many ways at the core of what gives us meaning.
It should be noted that none of this is meant to deny our professional responsibility as architects. Building owners entrust us with large sums of money; the public entrusts us with their safety and well being. These are all responsibilities we should and do take very seriously. At the same time, standards should be periodically scrutinized for relevance to new technologies and ways of life. Only then can we be sure we are performing at our best.