Duo Dickinson has a brilliant essay – “Will Architecture Have Its Donald Trump Moment?” – on the website Common/Edge. He compares the Republican establishment in politics to the modernist establishment in architecture. He compares those carrying pitchforks in the armies of Trump and Sanders to the masses pounding sand as they contemplate the inexplicable horror of the built environment. He begins:
There are two architectures. Not officially, yet, but the perception is real and growing that there is an architectural apartheid. There is an “inside” (the AIA, academia, mainstream journalism) and an “outside” (building, client-serving, context-accommodating architects). Thought leaders edit the images, words and lectures we all see to a soft-focus similarity of defendable Modernist Chic. The vast majority of us who do not teach (literally 90 percent: 60,000 doing vs. 6,000 teaching) or write/edit/promote the “cutting edge,” or lead an ever-shrinking AIA, do not feel part of the discourse.
But Dickinson says it has little to do with style – traditional versus modernist – and then his essay segues into concern for the average architect and his travails in a field dominated by starchitects and the starchitecture-centered American Institute of Architects.
The entire essay is a deft dodging of the fact that it is indeed all about style. Here is the moment when Dickinson’s fine essay trips up on its refusal acknowledge the applicability of his own observations:
It’s simplistic to say that it’s a style split: obviously in promoted architectural aesthetics “Elite=Modern,” but the disaffection in my profession (normal in year 8 of a building bust) is more about the invisibility of everything except the “cutting edge.”
That the public prefers houses that look like houses, churches that look like churches, and museums that look like museums introduces an impossible degree of distortion into everything about the field of architecture. That makes it harder for the typical practice to operate. Decisions made by architects and firms must discount reality from their business models. Architect wannabes have no alternative to a modernist education, little prospect for jobs at firms where they can use what they were taught, and nothing to look forward to but the widespread dislike of their work, whether they get a job with a modernist firm or with one of the many that build spec housing and spec commercial. Such architecture is called “bad trad” largely because the firms that build it must hire from a pool of graduates who were not allowed to learn how to produce “good trad” – only how to disdain it.
Most architects feel dissed because most people who experience architecture feel dissed. In politics, there is recourse to an electoral process. No such luck in architecture, which suppresses dissent with a vigor matched in no other field. It’s as if voters seeking to express their anger were to find goons barring entry to voting booths. In architecture, the truncheon-gripping apparatchiks are the AIA, the schools of architecture, the culture of celebrity architecture and its media. “And don’t come back,” say the establishment’s gatekeepers, “until you have the broomstick of the Wicked Witch!”
I wonder why Duo Dickinson is so reluctant to recognize the obvious conclusion that his observations add up to.