The cynicism and navel-gazing that infect the field of architecture at this moment - the whining malaise and never-ending complaints of powerlessness and economic hardship and marginalization and irrelevance and on, and on, and on - set me on fire.
This past week Bruce Mau, the brilliant designer, published a piece in Architect Magazine that has raised a small amount of (intended) controversy. In the piece, Mr. Mau takes the entire profession of architecture to task for an attitude of self-pity. Mr. Mau's article is, to say the least, inflammatory. And it is also intellectually dishonest, intensely so.Mr. Mau opens the article with an anecdote, a scene at Harvard in which he proudly, and brutally (his word) takes apart a graduate student for daring question Mr. Mau's own work. He then launches into a screed against architects for similar attitudes, as if the probing question of a graduate student in the grips of a critical education represents all practitioners.* Mr. Mau perfectly constructs a straw man here. He fails to cite a single architect, throughout the entirety of the piece, in his takedown of the field of architecture. He condemns architects, rather offensively, for their (supposed - again, no sources) complaints. He says that architects are not suffering like HIV-infected children in Malawi or imprisoned drug addicts in the US. As if any architect ever made that comparison. --
If you understand that the practice of architecture - the practice of synthesis that generates coherent unity from massively complex and diverse inputs - just might be the operating system that we need to solve the challenges that we face in meeting the needs of the next generation, then join the movement.
Mr. Mau closes with an idealistic, eloquent, uplifting, and laudable paragraph (one which contains the above quote), one in which he urges architects to recognize their position of privilege and our opportunity to assist in the growth and progress of future generations. His position here is inarguable. But his charge has already been taken up - by Cameron Sinclair, by Rural Studio (and several other firms in Andres Lepik's fantastic "Small Scale, Big Change" show, recently closed, at MoMA), by the architects participating pro-bono as part of DesigNYC, by Common Ground (an organization for which we do work and which entrusts great responsibility to their own internal and tireless architects), and by many others who work, namelessly, in the interest of societal and social change. Mr. Mau could have (and should have) acknowledged them, instead of generalizing - without any sourcing - about the self-pity that has overtaken this great profession.
But that wouldn't be so controversial, right? * look, grad students aren't notoriously tight-lipped. Once, during a professional practice seminar, we compared a partner at HOK to a famous WWII war criminal. To his face. We did this after he dared compare his own work to that of Rem Koolhaas'. So we aren't inclined to buy into the anecdotal single student as a stand-in for the attitudes of an entire profession.
(minor non-substantive edits made post-haste - AB)