Tuesday, May 23, 2006

epiphany 1


Its good to finally be back.. Congress was amazing!!!!!! I cant elaborate how important it is for a student to go.. What you learn in 1 week of congress will take you many months to understand!

I intend on blogging about the lectures at congress, just to give an overview. Before I do that, I have a nagging need to get a particular epiphany that I had during last week out into the open.

While a few of my friends were eating supper, we were looking at a website for a holiday retreat somewhere in Miami. The website was superb. It utilised night photography (which would make a Tuscan villa look amazing) and loads of Photoshop. The actual building was my main focus. Quite honestly, it was so boring.
We had this mad debate about why it was either good or bad, but not quite realising any form of closure. While the debate raged back and forth, the one guy said that my opinion was arrogant and egotistical. Which I felt was a little on the heavy side. To cut a long story short. They loved the building and I had a nightmare about it that night (just kidding - but it explains what I thought of it ;))

The epiphany that I alluded to earlier is simply this. As an architect we are expected to have professional competence and understanding in all fields of study that would affect our design. These can range from child psychology, landscaping, building technique and the current day’s politics. To be able to utilise any of this in a design language, we have to form our own opinion of what ever subject we choose. This is not arrogance. It just allows us to look at things critically so it can be taken to a lateral interpretation and later form concrete, timber, or masonry poetry.

To make an analogy between architecture and medicine. A student of medicine will write an exam and fail. He gets a supplementary exam and fails. He then receives another 2 exams after that to try and pass. 4 exams to see if the future lifesaver knows what he/she is talking about… Now I’m the furthest thing from a mathematician, so please allow me to invent some maths.

Let pass = 1 and a fail = 0
For every test a student can either pass or fail (obviously)
But for every test that he fails his apparent knowledge becomes diluted..

ie: test 1 student A passes with 51% Student A knows ½ of his/her work; or student A fails and writes the sup and then passes. He/she knows ¼ of his or her work and so on. So the student that fails 3 out of four exams and writes the last exam and just passes only knows 1/8 of the work required. Scary!!

In architecture exams mean nothing to some degree. All our marks come from projects as we all frantically know. If you fail you have a chance to redo that project for the end of the year crit. Your mark will only go up or down by 5% either way. To get into the BAS honours degree and further up the ladder, you will be confronted with highly critical people that will see very quickly if you know 1/8 or 100% of your work, and can deny you on that basis. One could now argue that achieving the professional status of an architect is a lot harder than that of a Doctor. Please don’t get me wrong, I have great respect for doctors, and would, most probably do badly if I tried to learn medicine.. but this issue is interesting nevertheless.

You are probably wondering what that was all about. Well let me explain. A person will go to a doctor with 1/8 of the knowledge that will be required to save your life. Patients will listen, and accept what ever the doctor says as a given. He is a professional, a doctor.. he knows everything!!

An architect on the other hand will tell a person that a building is ugly according to the theory or design philosophy that that he applies, or that it’s a bad idea to imply Tuscan monstrosities into an African landscape, and instead of being respected on his professional status, and knowledge, he/she is told that he is opinionated and arrogant.

And that’s what occurred to me. By definition we have to be opinionated. Imagine a client sitting there and the architect wasn’t sure if maybes, and hows… ask any contractor. The word architect yields power on a construction site larger than one would care to believe. Why is that? Because his professional training has given him the responsibility of making sure that buildings are built correctly and safely… That sort of power does not come from a person that is unresolved on particular issues. They are opinionated, because a heavy responsibility rests on their shoulders. Based on that being opinionated, at least for me, means confidence in ones knowledge.

So then why does a client or simply a friend get so insulted when you tell them that Tuscan architecture is a virus, or that the flashy pictures and pretty colours are just manipulating them to think that a building is beautiful? Well the answer is simple! I have my taste and you have yours. And by an architect even with all their training in theory and design practice saying that’s ugly.. you will ultimately attack their ego. And that never goes down well.

But there is a small solution within this irony… When a client disagrees with the doctor; they will often go for another opinion. Perhaps the second opinion agrees with the first. The determined client will go to a third, forth and even tenth doctor, just to hear someone say that different news is optional. Unfortunately when a person is really sick, it doesn’t matter how many doctors you go to. Your answer will be the same. The client inevitably will accept this and allow treatment.

Now imagine that a client went to an architect and wanted anything but South African architecture. The architect says no. The client then moves onto the second and the same answer is begrudgingly received. The furious client goes to a third, fourth and even tenth and receives the same answer. Ultimately the client will accept that he/she is living and South Africa and that architects wont design anything but South African. The mortified client despairingly accepts the new age of South African architecture and is a part of the revolution of the South African landscape.

I guess the point that I’m trying to squeeze out is simply this. We have the power to move boulders on construction site. To knock down massive buildings, but there seems a lack in the professional architectural community, to put their foot down and refuse anything but good design that is applicable to South Africa. If every architect joins this endeavour, the client would have no choice but to accept good and appropriate design. I’m assuming that the first few clients would be hard to convert, but once people see that South African Architecture is not merely a hut (which is a very valid solution within South Africa), but a fusion of modernism tied with legacy, history and a design language that speaks of progression, I feel that there won't be enough architects in South Africa to deal with the uniquely South African work load.


Justin said...

So whats South African Architecture? What does it look like. Is it gonna be yet another style to place ideas into? I believe every situation is different.

The bad will have to live with the good since it was there first.

Even if South Africa has been scared by the Buildings already built, they aren't simply gonna dissapear. People aren't simply gonna move out of there tuscan villas because the architects say so. Same as people won't stop smoking even if doctors and surgeons say so.

Changes are on the way. They always are.

We going to have to try and fix S.A architecture one structure at a time, Respect our own knowledge and proffesional opinion and sell it to the public. If architects are proffesionals they should stop getting influenced so easily by the client.

The interesting thing with architecture is that it is impossible to find the perfect design. Some architects have come close, and others have fallen well short. Medicine assumes it knows whats going on. Yet medicine is evolving just as quickly as everything else. Just look at all the clumsy studies on nutrition carried out. Milks bad, then good, then bad again. In three hundred years time our doctors will seem backward in there understandings and techniques.

Architecture has the advantage of being more timeless, because its lessons and mistakes are on display and not in a book stored away from the public eye.
Every logical person who shows enough interest can get an understanding of what works and what doesn't.

Proffesionals should never become to
arrogant because we don't know everything and can't forsee the future.
New lessons are learnt every day.

We can only look forward and try and make the future as we want it to be. Human nature is to try and improve.

We can step back and look at this again in twenty years after we've all worked hard to try and improve the world one small step at a time.

Justin Otten 2006

fayj said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
goldring said...


wow.. easy there fayj.. this is a family blog.. they way u phrased that is exactly what im talking about.. amongst architects your point might be taken well .. amongst the public, you would be known as a really arrogant and opinionated b*%#h! excuse my french...

neway.. facinating debate..

Marco Valente said...

Finally, some people who think Tuscan is a scurge! I completely agree that the proffesionals should try and endorse SA archi as much as possible. There are some great examples already, like the Constitional Court In Hillbrow. Its so odd to see a tuscan villa in the middle of the highveld. poor jhb has been littered with this crap!

Justin said...

Wow Fayj... must have been a bad day. Good thing you not in politics. Try Running around the block, take a deep breathe, eat well, get more sleep... Seek proffesional help. Whatever works. Be Safe. And don't kill anything off.

fayj said...

woa I didnt realise that was too harsh or whatever... Hmm, I shall hold my comments from now on :)

goldring said...


Fayj, don't tease like that!

fayj said...

Thats not very nice.

catiecantdraw said...

I just wanna say that Tuscan is not the problem here! anyone been to Italy? its one of the most fantastic places in the world. it has legacy and history and beauty (and hot men) and looks nothing like the hybrib prototype manufactured and spat out amoungst par fours in dainfern.
Before you gun me down and tell "the rich" and get me kicked out, here me out.

Ok so we have to call it something. But insulting Tuscany so viciously is a bit harsh, when its actually SA's fault for not having their own identity.
But how did this problem start?
I think that our parents' generation turned their backs on South Africa. They were trying to escape it. Better that then immigrating to Auz! And i dont blame them for wanting to bury themselves in a tuscan villa. The world around them was slaughtering people becasue they were the wrong skin colour. Thats how all this stuff started... and Newton's 2nd law proves once something is in motion, it's gonna carry on.
So we need to overcome the inertia and get something else going to stop this other "Tuscan" (if we can call it that) motion/movement.

And feige, i dont think it should be a sledge hammer.

goldring said...


I LOVE ITALY!!! Nobody attacked Tuscany as a place, but the name that has been attached to that ugly style.. is Tuscan.. Call it what you will, its still not South African, and should not be seen as remotely good architecture..

I agree though that it’s people turning their backs on SA.. and our culture..

fayj said...

I agree with you as well and perhaps the wording I used was slightly harsh and gave people the wrong impression.

All I meant is that in order for things to change there needs to be 2 things: education and exapmle.

I in no way meant destroy people or things, to do so.

goldring said...


sure u didnt..

(nodoby make any sudden moves.. she might go nuts on us..)

fayj said...

Oh come on, Im just a harmless, innocent girl ;)

goldring said...



I cant believe that you even used that word in a sentence about yourself!!

fayj said...

its only bc its true!