Architecture - It's Not About The Building

Have you ever looked through those glossy, gorgeous and carefully selective house magazines, or scanned the architects' awards in the paper and, like me, thought 'How the hell does anyone live/work/relax in that thing'? Sometimes I admit to wondering what some architects are on, and who are they actually working for...

Back when yellow was still considered one of the purest of colours, a chap wrote a book called 'It's Not About The Bike'. He was right of course, it was about things that went on in the background, hidden things that might not be immediately obvious - hard work, dedication, discipline, commitment and such like. And drugs as it happened.

So is an architect's work about anything other than beautiful, sculptural and photogenic buildings? Television and the printed media might suggest not.

I have, though, come to the obvious (yet hidden) conclusion that the most exciting and invigorating thing about any building is not so much its sculptural beauty, striking lines, exquisite materials or pure detailing, it is how it is able to affect the people that use it and for which it was designed.

The buildings we remember and truly love are those that make us feel exhilarated, surprised or comfortable and nurtured. Buildings are actually judged by us on a day to day basis as to how they feel, how they affect us emotionally, not by how much they cost, or their size, or the clever use of materials...

But the majority of buildings that are churned out make us feel underwhelmed. They are designed simply for profit, for shelter, for convenience or to conform to some perhaps outdated or pedantic bylaw. Some too perhaps for the self aggrandisement of a property developer seeking to raise their self esteem, or they may be a sculptural effort by an architect wishing to 'make a statement'.

We can though, by connecting people with how they want to feel about their house, their school, their office or club, and by describing what those spaces mean to them, arrange simple materials and common things to create forms that engender feelings well beyond their individual value to make a building that is truly memorable and thoroughly loved.

So next time you are asked for an opinion about a home or any other building for that matter, try not to concentrate on what it looks like, and ask yourself 'how does this feel?'. You'll discover that emotional responses to situations are intuitive, and straddle culture, race and demographic, and that in that context architecture is easily understood by everyone, You'll also find that good architecture is in fact not about buildings at all, it is actually all about people. And you won't need drugs to understand that.

John Durkin



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