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Uncomfortable with architecture

March 17, 2005 ・ Blog

Rick Poynor’s experiences of writing for Blueprint and other design magazines early in his career seem to mirror mine very closely. I too hold a distinct discomfort for writing about architecture. I’ve consciously avoided doing so, unless there has been a sure story there to reflect the building against.

I’m still not entirely sure why. Poynor says that for him it was partly because architects generally come across so self-important and grandiloquent. A lot of people say this sort of thing about architecture, including myself now and again. But I wonder whether this is a little unfair, and not entirely constructive.

Designing a building is necessarily more complex than designing a chair or a poster, and it demands a correspondingly high level of discourse. Buildings are large; they require the input of many people and skills, and they involve many design issues - spatial, material, behavioural, philosophical to name a few.

It’s no wonder then that I find the thought of writing about it so daunting, and I know that much of my disdain for architectural theory is to do with the fear of not being able to understand and communicate it. And the fear of being ridiculed by a group that occupies a definite intellectual high ground, whether it deserves it or not. I feel more at home with furniture and product design, just like Poynor does with graphic design because it’s just so much more tangible - and easy.

And like Poynor, I also find it easy to sneer at the impenetrable archi-bollocks that goes with most writing about buildings. Architecture very much needs the voices of people that can distil theory into a more human-centred form that reinvents all that guff. Under all the theory, buildings are actually tangible things and they’re designed for people, so writing about them should reflect this. Perhaps this means I should try harder to engage with them. Perhaps Poynor should too. After all, it’s probably the best way of bursting that grandiose bubble surrounding architecture and architects.

Not that this doesn’t make it any less daunting to tackle.