Architecture is Fiction

Architecture always proposes a different reality.

Architecture often proposes built work, sometimes in extreme detail, sometimes with little other than a scribble. Whether or not the proposed built work is realized is a separate concern that involves other disciplines, often including business, legal, and knowledge expert professionals. But that concern is the management and execution of design, it is not itself architecture.

Architecture can propose different realities across a wide spectrum of interests, suggesting changes in areas including, but not limited to, the built environment, urban development, landscape, policy, and social justice. These concerns are important to architecture, but are not the essence of it.

Architecture is fiction, telling the truth through a lie.

Architecture may not always paint a rosy picture. It may be outright dystopian or contrarian, questioning tradition, social mores, political structures, design decisions and popular culture. These proposed realities are essential to the stimulation of ideas, thought and discussion, prompting the evaluation of norms and exposing injustices.

Architecture may also present a rosier picture than is reasonable, but like the dystopian, it stimulates ideas. Utopian architecture suggests a reality unconstrained by what is reasonable so that current realities can be reconsidered. It presents what is disruptive in order to influence incremental development.

Architecture must propose realities that stimulate. Architecture that does not challenge what is normally accepted contributes to the stagnation of society and the absence of diversity.

Architecture is distorted by interpretation.

When an attempt is made to translate architecture to reality, there is an unavoidable process of interpretation involved. Even if the architect herself is constructing the built work, she is interpreting the original proposal and quite possibly making changes, albeit with more insight into the original idea than if someone else were doing the building.

When, more commonly, many other parties are involved–including general contractors, subcontractors, craftsmen, manufacturers, fabricators–there are multiple layers of interpretation taking place. Thankfully the architect retains some influence during construction administration, but there is always a degree to which the result is out of her hands.

The animation above depicts two interpretations of a proposed reality or possibly a proposed reality (fluid) and an interpretation or realization (cubic). A proposal that is less specific might result in two vastly different interpretations. A proposal that is more specific might still result in a translation that does not honor the original intent. A proposal might suggest something unconstrained by reality, an interpretation might incorporate the proposal’s ideas but allow itself to be constrained by current technology or standards.

There is in reality an architecture whose best form is the result of a negotiation of constraints. Constraints are unavoidable in design that is to be implemented, and constraints are an important ingredient for creativity. Perhaps the mark of a true author architect is the ability to navigate the myriad constraints imposed by client, site, law and physics and operate within them to produce work that touches on the unconstrained, even on the metaphysical, to which the original text referred.


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