Updated: Oct 28, 2021
“What style is your architecture?” I seem to get this question a lot when I confess to being an architect. And the question is only second to, “What kind of architecture do you do?”. Houses? Hospitals? Museums? This is a similar inquiry, since we expect our houses to look a certain way (it usually includes a pitched roof and some divided lite windows) or to at least have a style. And I suppose it helps us to classify things, because then we can define them, and by extension control them. We feel comfortable with them because they have been contained. Certain taxonomies help us to define the world, to understand how it works.
Interestingly, we refer to style in our personal lives, in business and in relationships. When we refer to it in these contexts, it has more to do with how we engage the world. ‘Style’ is what suits our personality, not something applied as a template for behavior. Of course this isn’t true in architecture. Perhaps this is because architecture on some level is expected to be universal, so style needs to fit into boxes that can be understood by everyone. We crave familiarity. But this type of style is a symbol of something other than what architecture actually is – it is an overlay, an application, and a symbol of a ‘lifestyle’, or a period in history – but not what is now, or even simply what is. I can only speculate, but perhaps this is out of fear: fear of the future, fear of change, fear of discomfort.
I try (with varying success) to begin design with ideas. And I try to allow the design to develop out of a process. I hope that this isn’t a style of design, or a style of architecture, but a method of creating architecture. We talk about adaptation, and that word is the best I can find to describe the method. This is in the context of many constraints (regulations, use patterns, budgets) and all of these affect how the architecture will adapt. And it can be said that all design adapts – so give it a focus. Frank Gehry focuses on compound curves, Liebeskind on pointy ends. These are architects with style. With A style. But somehow the style always seems superficial, about the outward appearance – like so much Victorian molding. But consider Rem Koolhaas, BIG, Herzog and Demuron. The work of these architects is less about the style of form making, and more about building an idea that evolves through a process.
In the end, an architecture of ideas captures my imagination, and I believe it captures the imagination of others. It might be about an unknown future. It might be about change. But in the end, there may be nothing to fear. It might not be so uncomfortable. We might learn, renew, and grow.