AMICABLE VOCATION

Patrick Lynch of Lynch Architects reflects on the tactile, emotional and addictive relationship architects often have with the changing world of practice.

 

I sometimes think that practising architecture is a form of optimistic madness. This is when I think about it, which is usually in moments of exhilarating peace, when everything seems to be in active disequilibrium, perfectly poised briefly, in-between possibilities and action. When I have a chance to think I mean. It’s hard to remember these moments, brief minutes of creative pause and hopeful imagination: the rest of the time it’s a sort of slog, a never ending battle against disorder and seeming immanent disaster. I’m exaggerating obviously, a bit. But architecture, and in particular starting an architecture practise, is obviously not a subject for people afraid of melodrama or hyperbole, or fear.

If it’s like anything, architectural practice, it’s like addiction; an exciting and terrifying one that you need to manage and to try to cope with, essentially attempting to keep reducing it’s capacity for danger and harm. This sounds both arch and pessimistic I realise, but on one level, along with “delayed gratification”, “damage limitation” is a very precise definition of architectural practice. Buildings are dangerous, building sites treacherously so, or can be. We don’t make a Hippocratic oath as architects, maybe we should? Perhaps we should pledge also to try to look after ourselves?

The Class A drug of choice for architects, along with its artificial derivatives PDFs, JPGs, DWGs, etc., is construction. The bloody smell of brickwork in the morning; toffee-warm sun on concrete in the evening; the torn-grass of freshly sawn timber; the sweet acidic tang of cut metal: building sites are like sweet shops for a peculiar sort of perv, entrancing, seductive, sexy.

The silhouette of a building at dusk - half finished and yet complete in one’s mind’s eye, when it’s suddenly there before, above and below you, inside and without - is like a sort of waking dream. It’s as painfully beautiful as a love affair in its infancy, or the birth of a child. If any of this resonates with you, you are an addict too.

Architecture is messy, physical, strangely musical, satisfyingly rhythmic, exhausting, and some claim, better than sex. It’s a capricious lover though, and not always amenable to designers’ desires. This volatility is hard to get used to, hard to regulate your life around.

Capitalist economics in general are exhaustingly manic depressive, and seem to be getting less and less stable. We call a major recession a “depression”, and it’s opposite, a boom, implying that contemplation is the opposite of an explosion. It’s very hard to cope with, never mind to talk about this polarity. In weak moments I worry that architecture actually makes people ill. It’s not just the fluctuating workload, it’s the hope that kills you, the inherent POSSIBILITIES that enchant and disappoint so.

The discipline required to keep making good work offers some succour though, the repetition of daily reflection: Quality Surveying. Architecture is impossible without the rigour of testing, honest looking, self criticism that is neither just rhetorical or too partial; this is the secular credo of good practise, it just about allows one to keep the faith and stay sane.

But it’s getting harder to persuade, teach or argue for the consoling rhythms of drawing and making. The narcotic rush of computing mimics the fake euphoria of capitalism, exaggerates and mirrors its narcissism and deluded solipsism. It’s pretend speed and manic formalism inverts creative practise, conning everyone that there’s a short cut to creative conclusion, by-passing editing and careful judgement. CAD is the petrol on the bonfire of an over-heated profession (although BIM offers some redemption, bizarrely, because you actually have to THINK as you draw, I’m told, as if you are BUILDING an idea in your imagination).

Yet the actual daily practise of modelling and drawing is mostly all but forgotten, stripping the imagination of the reflective fearlessness required to transcend individualism. But there, in concert with critical conversations, lies the reverie necessary for creative communication; communication with the others who will one day dwell in the fruits of your imagination: where you remember - remember? - that architecture is a vocation.

 

  

Patrick Lynch (Lynch Architects)

Lynch Architects are Supporters of The Architecture Foundation