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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Criticism, Questions & Ideas

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This string excerpt should be read from bottom to top. My comments are at the top. The entire string appears on the AIAKnowledgeNet in the Committee on Design section under the general title, “Seriously?” See also, "A Serious Reply"

The great periods of architecture symbolize cultural answers to questions that became thresholds of awareness. Architecture is now facing a threshold of its own and symbols are not the answer. The AIAKnowledgeNet implies that the answer is knowledge, and I agree; but it must be built on a foundation of questions and research that makes information productive and convincing. This accumulates to form a body of knowledge. Observation alone produces frustration until you think to ask why the apple fell on your head.

Mike wrote a sentence that touched my soul. “I reckon it’s safe to say that at some point both of us loved it.” Economic stress is an insidious enemy. It can also be the stimulus for re-evaluation. The term “repositioning” implies an answer. It’s why I would like to read Mike’s replies to Robert Ivy. I don’t have the impression that we grasp the full extent of the questions facing architecture, much less the answers a leader must find.

There is just too much static at the moment to tune in the station. It can only be reduced by organizing thought and facing some unpleasant questions. This will involve research and opinion that may threaten the status quo. This is the most difficult phase of “progress”. Sam Adams got his tea party but John Adams had to focus the energy. Galileo wound up under house arrest and heretics are still figuratively burned at the stake because opinion prevails until the majority changes its mind.

Many have learned that data can lead nowhere when the wrong question is asked. “Listening” provides data but may not lead to questions. The time to forge frustration and opinion into constructive questions is long overdue. The time for answers may be premature; but answers can begin with people willing to listen -- and that time may be now.

Criticism is not a question until it is rewritten. It is opinion that is difficult to decipher when listening. I’m sure Edison was unhappy with the gaslight, but he turned criticism into a question and produced the light bulb.
Mike Mense, FAIA Comments
“Continuing in my apparently non-responsive, defensive and self-congratulatory mode, I need first to say that yes, again, I am listening. I also need to say that all of the criticisms denied by Ms Basham in fact did appear in pile on emails subsequent to Mr. Catherall's original post.

But the most important thing for me to say is this. Although I don't know what all is included in Ms Basham's vision of the future, can't be sure I understand what her words mean to her, I will go out on a limb and say that I am in complete support of her comments. I have conveyed similar concerns to Mr. Ivy's repositioning exercise twice now. Emily, I would be happy to share those comments with you if you are interested.

What is the point of my response? It is that, yes, I think you are onto something and rather than complaining, I wish you would get involved and try to save this profession (from itself). I reckon its safe to say that at some point both of us loved it.

If you are already making these efforts, tell us all about it here. I bet you will be surprised how many of us agree with you.”

Emily Basham, AIA Comments
“So many of the responses to the original post are non-responsive, defensive, and self-congratulatory, they inspired me to participate. The post did not accuse the AIA of being elitist. It did not deny that experiencing a building is better than looking at photos. It did not state that US architects should not be interested in European architecture. "Was this Ralph Lauren's idea?" says to me: the AIA is out of touch with the rank and file architect, concerned with appearances instead of substance. Such a decision, at this moment in our ravaged profession, shows poor judgment at best and intentional blind stupor at worst.

Many of us believe, in this decision and others, the AIA is not "the voice of the architectural profession and the resource for its members in service to society." The AIA behaves more as purely a PR organization whose mission is to put a big happy face on a deeply troubled profession. Regularly we get articles such as "Billings up for the third month in a row" which translated by a financially astute person means "continued drop in billings not as steep lately." "Recent architectural grad designing Web pages"- as if we should be pleased she may be able to pay off her student loans- never mind how the next generation of practitioners will gain experience. I searched in vain in the AIA for research with statistics on unemployed architects- how many have lost their jobs? What percentage are women/ minorities? How many single practitioners/ small firm owners have closed their doors?

If the AIA (with all respect for our sister architect in Scotland, "A" stands for American) is not willing to take on the deeply structural problems in our profession, honestly, fearlessly, and openly grappling with how our profession will survive and thrive in this uncertain time and difficult future, they will find themselves utterly irrelevant. I just hope that the profession does not follow in those footsteps.”

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