“We can all be designers” states Ole Bouman, one of the most influential figures in the world of Architecture. Implicated in the contemporary architectural discourse, the founding director of Design Society, in Shenzhen, China has introduced, since the 1990s, many design concepts, founded culture brands, and took on institutional roles all over the world.
Previously the director of the NAi - Netherlands Architecture Institute and the creative director of the Urbanism/Architecture Bi-City Biennale of Shenzhen/Hong Kong, the Dutch-German historian, writer, publisher, photographer, curator, lecturer, and practitioner in design and architecture, has gathered three decades of work in a platform, highlighting the interaction “between a life and history unfolding”. Read on to discover Ole Bouman’s Finding Measure essay, extracted from his website, and stay tuned for ArchDaily’s exclusive interview with Design Society’s founding director, discussing present and future, and tackling the role of architecture, the current challenges of the world, the digital revolution and many other thought-provoking topics.
Not long ago talking about imminent collapse was ridiculed as doomsdayism. Today it is no less than a matter of fact. There is profound concern about indefensible global injustice. There is anxiety about the encroaching grip of algorithmic intelligence on our lives. But we are close to certainty about the planetary consequences of our worsening overshoot condition. We are now almost permanently exceeding our planet’s ability to regenerate the essentials for human life: climate, biodiversity, and our natural resources.
Clearly, our “time is out of joint”, and we are in dire need of balance before we sleepwalk into catastrophe. And to achieve balance we need a strong sense of measure.
Measure is the opposite of excess, it’s the safeguard against abuse. In fact, grasping the right measure is the result of a prolonged effort to improve oneself. It is the key attribute, as well as benefit, of character.
But if there is one overarching, comprehensive, and almost timeless modality of finding a measure that all humanity can perfectly understand, it is architecture – the art of organizing our life in space and time... measuredly.
Why has architecture over the centuries merited this status as the embodiment of measure and balance, acquiring the reputation of being a metaphor for world order itself? It must be because there is no operation of the human mind that needs to factor in more parameters of life, or that allows more human and natural dimensions to be part of the equation, within the single synthetical act of creating and framing situations and events happening in our lives. It is the most all-encompassing medium for reconciling, combining, and synthesizing virtually everything that exists. Most importantly perhaps: it galvanizes intention into result.
Architecture, defined in this way, is clearly not just a profession delivering a service. It is the way humanity touches base with itself. That is why and how it has persisted for thousands of years.
That is why, in its best manifestations, it has been the work of polymaths and boundlessly curious people who never stop seeking to understand more. As long as there are human beings and their challenges, there will be architecture. Therefore, architecture is obviously too important to leave solely to architects. It is both our meter and our clock. We measure our lives with architecture. From the toddler building a sandcastle on the beach to the dying person’s enjoyment of a ray of light coming through a window, we appreciate life with and through architecture.
Good design makes you love life. And we can all be designers.
So, how can architecture, as our profoundly human endeavor, help us to rediscover our sense of measure and battle excess and abuse? Surely not by accepting what today is defined as architecture by the people who claim it as their territory. On the contrary, architecture as the art of measure has been virtually forgotten by a building practice that, despite some singular efforts to counter it, is still largely adding to ecological and moral overshoot. The same is true of its discourse which continues to overshadow common sense. On the contrary, current architectural practice privileges a frenzied production of new projects, new reputations, and new events, restlessly crisscrossing the globe for opportunities to excel. It took a global pandemic to impose a quantitative limit. What will it take to make this limit a quality in itself?
One way to answer that question is to ask why it didn't deliver that shift before. With all evidence already in plain sight for decades, architecture did not yet convincingly manifest its timeless qualities or lacked the critical mass or ambition to scale up when it did.