Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Inspired by David's thesis

I am about to meet a very interesting architect who has written a fascinating PhD thesis and designed the Papua New Guinea case study I will be visiting soon. His thesis has inspired the following thoughts:

In David's thesis he talks about Darwinism and its links to the evolution of architecture. This made me think about movements such as colonialism and modernism which are themselves an enforced break in the natural evolution of regional architecture. This is why looking back at indigenous architecture and its reproduction is seen as nostalgia. This type of architecture, that naturally suits the environment and culture it sits in, has not been allowed to evolve to the present day. Modernist design means progress and wealth to a lot of people in developing countries. This is why people in Bolivia choose to build in brick, even if it is just the facade. It is only in developed countries that the concept of sustainability can also be linked to prosperity. If we are to convince people in developing countries to embrace sustainable design we will have to convince the richer population first. This will encourage poorer people to aspire to the same ideal.

In addition, though we can represent different cultures by a group of ideas, practices, costumes, beliefs. Within these groups are a myriad of individual ideas. Therefore one type of house will not necessarily suit all. Even the culturally sensitive case studies I have and will be visiting, will not suit everyone in that particular culture. People need to have the right to be individual within their own boundaries. Therefore these case studies that I am visiting are just one solution, with a million variables possible. In fact it is this individualism that inspires Darwin type evolution in architecture.

Another thought; David discusses the Cartesian theory that sees the human body itself as a machine (p287). I think this is a major problem in business practice today. Human error is seen as a major fault in the machine. Human error in developing countries produces an attractive addition to a facade giving character, or an individual piece of work. Far from causing a problem, human error is to be treasured. With all our western university educated ideas, opinions and intellectualism, through the machine mentality we are losing the sense of what it is to be a human being and this represents itself in our architecture.

Instead of working with the environment and materials available, we are always trying to dominate. Using technology for climate control. Using steel to reinforce and control movement. Creating fixed paths and boundaries to control people's flow. In fact the best ways to deal with our environment and all it throws at us is to be flexible. Flexible structures deal best with earthquakes, buildings that breathe work well with fluctuating temperatures and damp, a flexible plan allows for changes in family dynamic.

I think this is the key to designing really good buildings that embrace people and environment and do not control them. Lose the machine mentality!

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