Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam recently saw “Look Up!” – the TV ad beamed around the country by the American Institute of Architects. In his latest piece, “Look up, there is a problem with architecture,” he seems not to have been impressed: “How did the profession of Michelangelo and Frank Lloyd Wright get reduced to hyping its legitimacy in paid promotions on CNN and Fox News?” Beam then recounts the growing chorus of dismay expressed in the media about architecture and the growing chorus of pieces in the media about the growing dismay.
“But what is the problem?” he asks, then answers his own question:
For one thing, architecture is a medium that you are forced to consume. If I choose not to read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, because the reviews look squirrely to me, then I don’t have to read it. But if I go downtown to shout hosannas to Super Bowl star Malcolm Butler, then I have to look at Boston City Hall.
That is a very big part of the problem, a big reason why most people dislike modern architecture, but early on Beam puts his finger on another part of the problem when he describes architecture as “a profession dwelling comfortably under the radar.”
Thing about it. A profession that specializes in designing very large things that cost very large piles of money and which play a very large role in whether one likes or dislikes the built environment, which very many – that is all – people are forced to experience day in and day out. Why is this profession dwelling under the radar? That’s a very good question.
The answer is that unlike most professions, and indeed most human endeavors, the establishment that runs it brooks no debate about its most fundamental principles. With its slick commercial the AIA appears eager to prove that it brooks no debate. You will see in the commercial nothing that does not seem to confirm the AIA’s belief that modern architecture is the only architecture. Its self-infatuation unwittingly high-fives everyone – Alex Beam, Justin Shubow of the National Civic Art Society, whom Beam quotes, and many others, including me – who has recently taken the AIA to task. Doesn’t it want to know why it wants everyone to “look up”? Apparently not. It’s circle-the-wagons time. Clearly the AIA is an organization that has no clue and doesn’t want one.
Watch the AIA commercial here to see if indeed you do “Look Up” as your eyes roll and roll toward the heavens.