The Boeing Everett Factory used to manufacture various planes, including the 747, is the ‘largest building in the world, by volume’. The Welsh Assembly’s brief for this hangar was to design the most compact hangar which could accommodate the world’s largest passenger planes: the Airbus A380, the Boeing 747 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the world’s first mostly composite commercial airplane. In doing so the proposed hangar streamlines large span composite trusses to give the hangar its identity.
Machine a habiter? The Porsche 997 may not yet cost more than your flat but as a mobile status symbol it can partially explain the skewed prominence of high performance vehicles over high performance housing. Architecture costs money. An aspirational vehicle is a cheaper way of acquiring designer living. WHAT_carchitecture re-presents the car as Villa(in).
In the pursuit of awards and glory, fame and fortune, the running of a football club offers a surprising number of parallels to the running of an architectural practice.
In football there is increasingly an interest in how the game is played in as much as the end result (Abramovich’s sacking of Di Matteo was due to the team not playing in a flamboyant style even though it had just won the Champion’s League). It’s about methods as much as about results. Or rather it’s about entertainment.
Similarly in architecture. How a ‘building’ is designed is increasingly as important as the end result, particularly if it involves the public purse. How we play the game, how we win a job, how we build an office engages with professional issues including personnel contracts, team structures, training methods, management, key performance indicators and even how to run competitions constructs the role of team / office, and in doing so, defines the scope, power and influence of The Game of Architecture.
Architects like to picture themselves at the top of the design pyramid – the all-rounders who can design anything from a city to an earring. So why can’t they design their own websites?
I spend a great deal of time negotiating architects’ websites and, at the risk of biting the hand that feeds me, I’m amazed how bad most of them are. If their buildings were designed like their websites, people would forever be getting lost in mazes of corridors or opening doors to find a 10-storey drop on the other side or, like me, banging their heads against brick walls.
Take Renzo Piano. One of the world’s greatest architects, no doubt, but try to use his website and you’ll see what I mean. See how long it takes you to find the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas (one of his lesser known projects). It took me a good 10 minutes to work out there was any info at all. Only by dragging your cursor over the “Renzo Piano Building Workshop” logo do you fleetingly access the secret portal. Then you have to negotiate a succession of moving maps, mystifying symbols and surprise pop-up menus to find anything. It’s like a highbrow version of Tomb Raider. And be careful not to press the back button on your browser or you’re ejected from the whole site and back to square one. Renzo Piano has designed an airport in the middle of the sea for God’s sake – why should a website be beyond him? You’d be better off simply calling them up – but just you try finding the phone number.
It’s unfair to single out Piano – there are countless British architects whose sites are equally poor. Perhaps architects seriously imagine we want to spend half an hour watching Flash animations or maybe it’s a blind spot in their otherwise impregnable design armoury?
I’ll name and shame a few to give you an idea (all fine architects, I hasten to add):
· Zaha Hadid – “Look at a nice picture of me, then good luck finding what you’re after.”
· Will Alsop – A classic architect conceit: organise your work under pretentious titles like “moving”, “healing”, “playing” – as in, “I don’t design mere tube stations and hospitals, you know.”
· David Chipperfield – Tiny, light grey text on a white background is an architects’ favourite for some reason (not legibility). Poorly sighted clients apply elsewhere.
· Heneghan Peng – So minimal, it’s practically a blank screen.
· AHMM – Click the link, go and make a cup of tea, come back and it’ll still be loading (at least on my tired old machine).
· WHAT_architecture - A radical, graphic reinvention of the art of information display which you’ll need a degree in advanced cartography to work out.
· Herzog & De Meuron, Peter Zumthor etc – Of course, if you’re a super-elite practice you don’t have a website at all. If you need to look on the internet, you’re really not worthy to hire them.
For PRS3 in Gent, WHAT_architecture will continue its venturous practices and risk-taking pursuits by abandoning the conventions of the archilecture typically characterised by a project trawl monologue. What do you think Gent? (Use your phone: text, stills, video, audio, LIKE).
To help create a game we will briefly dissect gameplay’s three critical components: Space, Time and Players. Lose any one component and play will cease to occur and so the manner in which these components are bound together, by rules, defines the WHAT_gameshow and gives it identity. From Plato to playdoh to PlayStation, play has long held a fascination for its creative interactivity. WHAT_gameshow questions the archilecture and puts the fun back into functionality. To play this game you have to press LIKE to Enter / Exit.
To facilitate the creative stimulus of the audience, building user friendliness, in WHAT_gameshow we will kick off by appraising architecture as football. After all, architects play football (Ben van Berkel, Jacques Herzog…), design football (Allianz Arena, Estadio Municipal de Braga, Stadio Communal de Firenze, Portsmouth Stadium…), die football (Shankly, Mourinho whiteboards).
1. Space / Cartesian / 2D flatness / Gameboard / Playing field? For football this is approximately 70m x 100m. Where is game space in architecture.? In the flat gameboard-like Lowlands The site? Or the office’s day-to-day layout? Am I Vlaanderen or floundering?
2. Time / duration / being first / avant garde / innovation? A football match lasts 90 minutes although there is ‘injury time’, ‘extra time’, ‘golden time’. When is it game time in Architecture? Spiegel Online recently reported that the Wangjing Soho project by Zaha Hadid is being constructed twice. “Pirates are in the process of copying one of her provocative designs and the race is on to see who can finish first”. What value is design speed vs build speed? Obviously the design comes before the building but which do we see first? Magazines would say the building.Reality over virtual. But what about Architecture or Resolution? Digital design today means the image looks like the building but built! The accelerates architectural recognition! You win more competitions! Then awards! >What would the WHAT_architecture Award be for and who would receive it? Rem Koolhaas? Magda Szerla? Or the Bishop of Willesden?
3. Players / peers / roles? There are 22 players in a football game excluding substitutes. The best players are bought by the biggest clubs. Who are the players in architecture? In public procurement, only big offices are invited to play. A big player is measured by turnover, staff numbers, employee type. Or you adopt a younger more pressing game: make your name in the magazines. There are at least a Dezeen player formations in football range from the traditional 4-4-2 to 3-5-2 to the 4-3-2-1 which most closely assumes the pyramidal management hierarchies found in most large offices. Small offices keep it closer, often deploying flat organisational structures. AT WHAT_architecture we call it the Intern/National style. You win what you play: be as good as you can be for yourself and the team. Quick exchanges of information, tiki taka style. A fast controlled movement of a ball of ideas. Natalia: I think we should number the chairs 1-15.
Game on! It’s GameShow coming to you live from Gent. April 27th.
Welcome to WHAT_gameshow: a Game about Architecture. A game of fame and fortune. David Neustein writing about Conrad Newel’s blog Notes on Becoming a Famous Architect, says Newel attempts to deconstruct the mythology of the “starchitect.” A recent post, entitled “The deceptive paradox that is the Zumthor brand,” describes how Peter Zumthor has skilfully engaged the press in order to construct the image of an architect disinterested in publicity. Writes Newel: “Any publicist will tell you that the first rule of making a name for yourself or managing your image is: Be nice to people, but bend over backwards for the press.”
The culture of the architectural award is intertwined with the machinations of the press. Recently in the press is a debate about Denise Scott-Brown, ArchDaily reports. Amongst our potential office spam are offers from publishing houses that sponsor design awards ceremonies feeding off the Fame Game. Your apparent shortlisting is a long-list invitation to ‘fine dine the fame game’: individual tickets are £150, discounted table prices for the 2012 New London Awards set at £2000. That’s eating Waitrose cuisine heated to more than Sketch prices. [ take a breath at the bill: 12345678910 ] . So if WHAT_architecture were to design an award? Why would it be awarded for and who, what or when would receive it? A person, a building or an event? The world’s first architecture award for an event! The biggest prize is your own commemorative day. The Award, as an object, should melt. Disappear with time. You’re only as good as your last game. Building.
What does an architect do? Design buildings? Build designs? With GameShow coming up the role of the Architect as a player is under question… at 2013 Design of The Year Awards the winner was not a building but a website. So the legitimate expression of architecture today appears to be no longer the building, or even the book, but now ephemeral web based medium.
So WHAT_architecture do we do and when? That architecture manifest as building only represents around 10% of the possible manifestations (drawings, buildings, websites, archilectures…?) Peter Eisenmann thinks: “The ‘real architecture’ only exists in the drawings. The ‘real building’ exists outside the drawings. The difference here is that ‘architecture’ and ‘building’ are not the same.”