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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Creative Responsibility

This is a response to the note below.

Thanks for your messages. I admire the work you are trying to do, but you have to admit that you have an uphill battle in trying to convince a large number of architects to see things your way. The title of your blog seems to characterize well most of its content. As I understand it, you are mostly concerned about larger level issues that correspond roughly to the aspects of city design that are controlled by zoning regulations (an oversimplification of your ideas, I know). I don't see how the entry you direct me too adresses this issue of individual choice and the importance of emotional response until the last sentence which introduces this idea of dignity. Am I missing something? (emphasis added)

In any case, the word "dignity" is slightly suspicious to me. Like the word "authentic" it can be used to justify the judgement and control of the lives of others. (emphasis added)
Michael R. Ytterberg PhD., AIA, LEED AP
University of Pennsylvania
RE: Design Research

I’m afraid you’re right, Professor Ytterberg. I did stress research in my essay, “Architectural Research and Survival with Dignity” and gave scant attention to your other topic underlined above. I’ll try to correct that here. I also readily admit that my perspective represents an uphill battle with architects.  I don’t expect to win it in my lifetime; but I do believe that the study of intensity is a path to a brighter architectural future through improved public contribution, benefit and value.  

When opinion leads to choice based on emotion the result is random success. This is acceptable in fine art; but reckless in architecture and city design because the physical, social, psychological and economic implications of these decisions remain unknown. Emotion has its place, but not in the foundation of a decision-making process that defines intensity for generations. These decisions affect our quality of life within a Built Domain that must be limited to protect its source of life; and they cannot be left to opinion without knowledge. I’m simply offering an option to participate for a relatively untapped architectural resource, because it represents potential knowledge if it decides to expand its focus from personal talent to public participation based on the study of shelter intensity implications. 

          Freedom of choice is governed by the rule of law and the debate over balance between freedom and regulation will be eternal. In a sense, creativity determines the amount of law required and architecture is not immune. The argument over architectural choice became heated in the 19th  and 20th centuries when competition in the name of freedom produced tenements in the name of democracy. It’s happening again before our eyes in a different profession as financial competition in the name of freedom encourages choice that puts the future of nations, and the planet, at risk. 

          A principal proponent of individual freedom and choice has been the American farmer. Lower density permits greater freedom that he believed could apply to all, but the introduction of industrial pig and chicken farms is forcing him to reconsider as thousands of gallons of effluent force him to seek protection. The Industrial Age has surrounded the farm and freedom to choose is now bringing an emotional response from all sectors.  

          Jefferson understood that the enemy is human nature, and his solution was the farm. Invention and population have changed the equation, but not the structure of government; and compromise has become stalemate in the face of complexity that has only grown with success. 

          I can hear you asking what does this have to do with architecture. My answer is that regulation is needed to guide individual choice based on an improved understanding of intensity options. Architecture cannot be permitted to sprawl with abandon. Carefully chosen intensity patterns are needed to offer lifestyle options within a limited Built Domain.  

Dignity will be defined by the intensity options chosen within a city design for urban form that protects The Natural Domain. If we leave the definition to Mother Nature, dignity will be the least of her concerns.  

Architecture has a chance to introduce dignity if it begins to study the intensity it creates. The devil is always in the definition, however, and judgment will always be challenged in a democracy founded on mistrust and a separation of power. In the end, policy matters. Everything else is a detail where the devil lives. We have not made the decision to comprehensively study intensity in any profession. It is, however, a fundamental issue facing growing populations in need of shelter on an unstable planet with limited resources.  

Undertaking the study of built domain limits is a policy decision. Undertaking the study of intensity options is a policy decision. The city design of land use and intensity is strategic planning. The design of buildings is a tactical effort to achieve the objectives identified.  

I don’t expect policy and strategy to be resolved in my lifetime, but I do believe that shelter intensity options within built domain limits are part of the equation for a sustainable future. There is no question in my mind that those who participate will contribute to public benefit and professional value.  

You mentioned that, “…the word “dignity” is slightly suspicious to me…it can be used to justify the judgment and control of the lives of others.”  I agree that any word or phrase can be used to control of the lives of others because of our creative ability to manipulate. The word “freedom” itself can be used to oppress or liberate. “All men are created equal” disguised intent to control the lives of others. The “free market” disguises a competitive intent to dominate. Any word or phrase can be used to conceal intent. “Dignity” is just another word. Motive is your concern. From this perspective, “creativity” is the word to fear.

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