Friday, May 31, 2013

Architecture & Style (part 3): Architects and Crayons

In light of my last two posts, it was intriguing to run across a couple of articles in the April edition of Architect magazine. One praises the refinement of an Architect with Style, while the other makes the case for the superiority of an Architect with Grace. So, is it better to be an Architect with Style or an Architect with Grace? This post addresses that question.

Meier's O.C.T Shenzhen Clubhouse
The first article I read was a review of Richard Meier's O.C.T. Shenzhen Clubhouse. The author John Gendall remarks, "Meier has developed his own architectural language, hewing to a strictly defined three dimensional grid..." He then points out a seeming break in Meier's late modern style with this sculptural clubhouse. This is followed by more analysis, "If the design seems aberrant, though, it's only so at first glance. Redemption is found in the geometry." So, adherence to style is a nothing short of a calling. Clearly we should strive to become Architects with Style.

Ito's Torre Realia BCN & Hotel Fira
The second article was written in support of the recent awarding of the Pritzker Prize to Toyo Ito. The projects of Ito are certainly of the highest caliber, but they also differ significantly from each other. The author Philip Nobel explains, "Ito is too good of an architect to saddle himself with a signature look or suite of effects, too smart to get tangled up in the style game." He goes on to say, "Adopting a signature style can be a shortcut to success, but it is also a choice architects make out of fear....." Wow. Who wants to be a chicken? Obviously we should endeavor to become Architects with Grace.
Ito's Serpentine Gallery Pavilion

Ito's Sendai Mediatheque

Now the battle lines have been drawn and we have to choose. Or do we? I am an architecture junkie and I appreciate good architecture. It's that simple. Sometimes it is produced by architects with style and sometimes by architects with grace. It does not matter to me. Here is another way to think about it. All architects have a pack of crayons. Some may use only the white crayon but really explore the range of possibilities that this color offers. Compositions created using this color will have common characteristics, despite being different. Emphasis will extend beyond color to form, texture, and spacial qualities. Others may choose to use every color of crayon in the box and explore the endless possibilities of how different combinations of colors play off of each other. The colors themselves may even be the emphasis of their compositions. The finished product will likely vary a good deal more that those using only a white crayon. Ultimately, however, it is not the crayons that determines the composition's success or failure, it is the skill of the artist.

So back to our initial question: Is it better to be an architect with style or an architect with grace? The answer is: There is no answer. And that is okay. We don't have to pick sides. There is nothing wrong with liking both white and color, with liking Meier and Ito or Graves, and with liking style and grace.

Analysis of architecture is a tricky undertaking in a society where most would be hard pressed to name more than a handful of architects.  However there are two architects that everyone knows and they begin to form our perception of architecture at an early age. Our next post, Brady vs. Wright, will explore this connection between architecture and perception. Please join me.


  1. Like you, I am also an architecture freak and love to see and visit great architecture. In my opinion its the architects which makes this world beautiful. If great designer building are not there. then you can imagine how the world will look like.

  2. Agreed! I met with a group of kids yesterday and one of the points I tried to drive home was that there is a difference between shelter and architecture. Shelter keeps you physically safe and dry. Architecture raises your spirits!