Schumacher’s Pritzker feint

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Novartis Office Building, Shanghai. (cnn.com)

Patrik Schumacher, who runs Zaha Hadid’s office and involves himself in the modernist discourse, has used his Facebook page to criticize the Pritzker jury’s choice of Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena. His critique mimics his recent, widely condemned, critique of the Chicago Architectural Biennial for being too socially conscious. Schumacher thinks Aravena, too, pays too much attention to architecture’s mission to improve society.

My post “Diss the Chicago Biennial!” quoted his critique of the CAB.

Here is the meat of his latest critique:

The PC takeover of architecture is complete: Pritzker Prize mutates into a prize for humanitarian work. The role of the architect is now “to serve greater social and humanitarian needs” and the new Laureate is hailed for “tackling the global housing crisis” and for his concern for the underprivileged. Architecture loses its specific societal task and responsibility, architectural innovation is replaced by the demonstration of noble intentions, and the discipline’s criteria of success and excellence dissolve in the vague do-good-feel-good pursuit of “social justice.”

Ha! What a joke. If I were Schumacher I would not worry my pants off. Modern architecture is not abandoning its “specific societal task and responsibility” of serving the worst instincts of the globe’s national and financial elites. Maybe Schumacher would not admit the validity of that description of modern architecture’s mission, but he does not say what it is, and no other mission can be plausibly deduced.

In fact, if I were a conspiracy theorist I would look into the possibility that the Pritzker, the Chicago Biennial, the leading professional organizations and most of what is written these days in architectural magazines (most of which is belied by the photographs of the buildings celebrated) are busy putting up a smoke screen. Its intent is to spoof the world into thinking that modern architecture has resumed its (alleged) original intentions of social progress. In fact, top architects and their camp followers, such as the American Institute of Architects, like the money they are making and want to keep on making it, but fear their greed is too obvious and are therefore faking a concern for humanity.

To look at Aravena’s work exposes the fallacy of the modernist’s good intentions. Rest easy, Patrik. The socially conscious architecture you fear is merely a sheep in wolf’s clothing. There is no chance that it will help either the environment or the disadvantaged. It may injure the bottom line of the developer but not the architect. In fact, to don my own tinfoil hat, I suspect that Schumacher is among the perps of this sinister feint.

Paul Goldberger, of Vanity Fair, in “Architecture’s Biggest Prize Was Just Awarded to Someone You’ve Probably Never Heard Of,” calls Aravena’s work “modest, practical, and exceptionally elegant.” Who does Goldberger think he’s kidding? Nothing Aravena has ever done risks elegance. Below is Villa Verde, a project in Chile of 484 “half-houses” that may be modest but are hardly practical. They are designed so that their occupants can build out the second half on their own. Yeah, sure – when they win the lottery? (Aravena’s employer saved the cost of building half a house, and the architect got showered with praise for affordability.)

These hucksters do not think they need to make sense – they know of no one in their hive who will call them on anything they say, however absurd. So why fake a social conscience? Beats me. They have got to have something to do, right? Their idea of “design” doesn’t require any real work, except that of thinking up patently ridiculous excuses for it. And surely some have deluded themselves into thinking they have a social conscience. Some actually might, however little it is manifested in their work. Who knows.

If modern architects were to suddenly start designing buildings that the public liked, only then might they deserve the accusation of having a conscience, social or otherwise.

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Villa Verde, a project of 484 affordable half-houses in Chile. (Elemental/Vanity Fair)

 

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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2 Responses to Schumacher’s Pritzker feint

  1. Those “half houses” are a joke. Half the usable space for probably 75% of the cost. The most expensive parts of a house are the bathroom(s) and kitchen, and additional space under the roof is really cheap. Those houses symbolize cost saving, but in actual fact just screw the poor whilst advertising your social conscience.
    Lots of buildings in poorer parts of the world are built one floor at a time, with the intent to add above. They’re never built with architects, and with basic engineering for a concrete structural frame, See, for instance this

    Like

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