“Balance is one of the most fundamental and least understood aspects of the inner and outer world we live in. We are in a constant state of readjustment. Imagine, trying to make progress, high on a tightrope, blindfolded, navigating by a sense of smell, without being able to assume which direction is forward … in addition, there are winds coming from multiple directions, all trying to blow you off the wire. This can describe the life condition of any of us.” – John Marx Founding Director at Form4 Architecture
The Visual Poem above was created to describe these sentiments and in particular the plight of the architect. The predicament of architecture is something we are particularly concerned with in this blog. For it is by looking honestly at the many recent challenges the profession faces that we are able to better find the right balance between what can be conflicting professional, artistic and commercial interests. For some, this may cause the frustration of forced compromise, and yet the architect is tasked with something very noble in this equation. And all the more so when many of our public institutions and services have been privatized leaving a vacancy for the guardianship of what constitutes “common good”.
When performing his or her duty, it has often become the architect’s responsibility to fill this vacancy. To ensure that despite the many constraints a building project may be faced with – whether economic or the result of a particular site or complex brief – architects rise to the occasion to ensure that what is built nurtures a sense of place and a respect for humanity.
What do these lofty aspirations mean? They are about commonsensical things like making sure that what businesses build also benefits the wider community and vice versa. Profit and money are not the enemy, as some may argue, although a lopsided belief in profit and money at the expense of the environment or civic engagement is highly problematic. Of course, architects are not sociologists per se or civil servants, but they should strive to work ethically by supporting the public realm in a way conducive to a sense of belonging and solidarity. This in addition to working sustainably – something that is thankfully more readily understood these days.
This, then, is all about a balance between the program of accommodation required and how this program can be made to do more to serve beyond the immediate functions to make something that gives back to society and, ultimately, the planet. On balance, isn’t that what a remarkable building should accomplish? It is, of course, often a fine line to get there. So much can go wrong, so much can be value engineered out and so many special interest groups can trip up an altruistic project.
So this balancing act is tough and the path is far from clear. Everything is trying to get you, as architects, to waver, but like a tightrope walker, architects must make their way with resolve to achieve just the right balance.