Dialogues: Architecture Is Big

I used to post comments to this article that I found on ThinkArchitect.

Lee Calisti wrote: “My question is can we give to the profession while serving our clients? Or is our duty solely to the client paying our check? Do we have a duty to the local community, the larger environment and to architecture as a profession? If so, what are we doing to further the practice of architecture in our day-to-day work? See, to me architecture is bigger than just the client or their single project.

In “Architecture Lessons: Ancient Rome” I was trying to tel the world the lesson that I was teach visiting the ancient ruins: that a city is not built by architects and engineers. It is built by its community. The architects contributions to the hundreds of termaes, theaters, circuses, public places, aqueducts, temples etc is a minor contribution. What they did it was to simply answer to a very specific public and private order.

You may say that if architects and engineers were not over there, the history would record all those buildings as being very ugly buildings. I think the care of the public and private clients made the architects express in such beautiful ways. I think in that ancient society, a cruel society, it would be such a shame to build ugly.  The whole society was so keen to take back from its city those public constructions that used to serve the entire community. There was a free entrance to the Colliseum. During the hot afternoons, both plebeians and aristocrats bathed in the same termaes. All citizens debates in the forum. All people could get judgement in Basilica Julia or in Basilica Aemilia. The Senate was their representative power.

The sense of the development is not from the architects to the Romans. The Romans made the Roman Law and then they built the basilicaes. They elected the elders to run the community, then they built Curia Julia. They wrote and played dramatic plays and then they built the theaters. They wanted healthy lives and they built Cloaca Maxima and aqueducts. They meant all of this to last, so they built them as good as they could. They have “stole” ideas and shapes, they invented the arch, the concrete, cranes. They used their whole creative energy.

Now, back to Lee: There is no effort from any architect that could replace this will of the entire society. There is no theory or style. There is no warning, no study to do this. The society, larger or smaller communities will have the cities and towns and villages their vision will allow them to have. We can wonder another millennium in front of the ruins of the lost republic. If a change that comes from the inner society won’t start, there will be no change. Except postmodernism after modernism and postpostmodernism after postmodernism.

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One thought on “Dialogues: Architecture Is Big

  1. Octavian, I have no problem with your premise that cities are built by communities. Yes I agree. We as architects contribute to that, but do not necessarily dominate that.

    However, the dynamics in the culture and the way cities were built in the time period you mentioned were so different to the way the American culture is today and the way buildings and cities get built in America today that it is a bit of an unfair comparison. The American “kings and rulers” today that commission great civic works are not the same as in the day of Rome. We are in a totally different paradigm.

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