Monday, September 20, 2010

the glasgow school

it seems Steven Holl has unveiled his design for the Glasgow School of Art. his building is for the site opposite their main building, the one presently occupied by several buildings (one of which is a dingy wooden thing by Gillespie, Kidd & Coia). I'm not exactly sure what I think of it, and never having been to visit a Holl building I'm not sure what the renderings and sketches might turn out like, but at first glance I'm slightly disappointed. it just doesn't seem to compare favourably with Mackintosh's main building and I have my doubts about all that glass. I wonder what Grafton Architect's proposal would've looked like?

further illustrations of Holl's proposal can be found here.

who do you think you are?

the more I think about it, the less certain I become that architects are the ones most suited to write about architecture. architects are way too caught up in the actual making of buildings to be able to analyse them in a good way. it's very presumptious of us to not only think we're the ones best suited to design buildings but also to be able to analyse them properly. especially considering just how complex they are, both as technical systems and as the backdrop against which we all live our lives.

but who, then, would be better suited?

an art historian? the ones I've come across have always been too focused on the visuals and on the 'intention' behind different parts of a building for me to take seriously. and as we know there's a lot of post-rational explanations put forward by architects so that they won't have to say they just liked something. an architectural historian would make more sense in the way that most of them are educated as architects and thus – at least partly – aware of what it is to design a building. they are also aware of some of the constraints society put upon us in the form of regulations and maybe even the constraints procurement brings to a building. but as they're educated within the discipline they know the hidden codes (the 'lore of operation', in the words of Reyner Banham), and are thus not able to analyse a building for what it is, without an overlay of Architecture. they can be great for that, though, – analysing a building and it's relation to other buildings in the canon of architecture – but that's not what I'm after.

I'm looking for someone that writes about architecture and how it interacts with its users and its surroundings. someone caring as much about the performance as about the art of a building. maybe what I'm actually after is a novel, any novel really, or even just films. but most definately not those films so adored by architects, say Playtime. not the arty, very stylish and artificial films but films where people move about in buildings, unconsciously: most films. or maybe that's just me that having very naïve view of what it's like to make a film? maybe all films are so choreographed there's nothing unconscious about them?

I don't know, maybe I've just spent a little too much time reading history books about the Modern movement recently. it is an odd thing, though: history books dedicated to the frozen moment a building is new. history ignoring the passing of time, a history of Platonic Forms rather than of anything in the world of substances. I guess it's an acknowledgement that architecture is mainly ideas, but with the tiny problem that as soon as you start analysing built works you're no longer dealing with the idealised but rather with the incredibly mundane.

I know, I know, the theoretical hunt for someone 'unspoilt' is futile and history is full of examples of people trying and failing. more importantly architectural history is full of people trying and failing, but that's for another post some other time (and that'll be an opportunity to revisit Reyner Banham).