One of the most boldly dissenting voices of our time, architectural and urban theorist Léon Krier (born 7 April 1946) has throughout his career rejected the commonly accepted practices of Modernist Urbanism, and helped to shape the ideals of the New Urbanism movement. Through his publications and city designs, Krier has changed the discourse of what makes a city successful and returned importance to the concept of community.
In the last few weeks, a number of reactionary architectural commentators have come out of the woodwork to denounce what they see as the currently negative direction of contemporary architecture. They claim that architecture needs to be “rebuilt” or that it is “imploding.” From their indications, architecture is on life-support, taking its last breath. The critique they offer is that contemporary architecture has become (or always was?) insensitive to users, to site conditions, to history—hardly a novel view. Every few years, this kind of frontal assault on the value of contemporary architecture is launched, but the criticisms this time seem especially shallow and misplaced. Surveying the contemporary global architecture scene, I actually feel that we’re in a surprisingly healthy place, if you look beyond the obvious showpieces. We’ve escaped from the overt dogmas of the past, we’ve renewed our focus on issues of the environment and social agency, we’re more concerned than ever with tectonics and how to build with quality. But the perennial critics of contemporary architecture appear not to have examined that deeply, nor that thoughtfully either. And unfortunately the various rebuttals to their critiques, ostensibly in support of modern and experimental architecture, have been ham-handed and poorly argued.
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has announced 17 winners for its RIBA South Awards, which recognize architectural excellence. These 17 regional award winners were drawn from a shortlist of 30 projects. Over the next few months, they will be considered for the RIBA National Awards, and then for the RIBA Stirling Prize.
Short answer: Sure we can. But everything will always bear the mark of its own time.
Long answer: Sticking with something that we know works is a good strategy. Lots of old buildings and cities function extraordinarily well. As a rule it’s dumb to replace them with something else. And modern times don’t necessarily demand modern buildings. In many cases it’s easy to live a modern lifestyle in a renovated building. The problem with creating new buildings and cities that look like old ones is not imitation per se—we’ve learned to deal with much bigger lies than that. But the charm of old cities runs deep below the surface. Once we’ve learned to really understand old buildings and cities, we can recreate their qualities in other forms. Buildings are resources; projects are opportunities.
The Guardian’s Jonathan Meades has named the “incredible hulks” of Brutalism with a thought provoking A-Z list that ranges from Hans Asplund, who coined the term “nybrutalism,” to California’s fascination with Zapotec-like adornments in the 1960s. Read the list in full and discover why Quebec City, Yugoslavia’s Janko Konstantinov, and Danish architect Jørn Utzon are all considered incredible hulks here.
In the following months, we at ArchDaily will be publishing Nikos Salingaros' book, Unified Architectural Theory, in a series of installments, making it digitally, freely available for students and architects around the world. In the following paragraphs, Salingaros explains why we've decided to impart on this initiative, and also introduces what his book is all about: answering "the old and very disturbing question as to why architects and common people have diametrically opposed preferences for buildings."
ArchDaily and I are initiating a new idea in publishing, one which reflects the revolutionary trends awaiting book publishing's future. At this moment, my book, Unified Architectural Theory, 2013, is available only in the USA. With the cooperation of ArchDaily and its sister sites in Portuguese and Spanish, it will soon be available, in a variety of languages, to anyone with internet access. Being published one chapter at a time, students and practitioners will be able to digest the material at their leisure, to print out the pages and assemble them as a "do-it-yourself" book for reference, or for use in a course. For the first time, students will have access to this material, in their own time, in their own language, and for free!
The book itself arose from a lecture course on architecture theory I taught last year. Students were presented with the latest scientific results showing how human beings respond to different types of architectural forms and spaces. At the end of the course, everyone was sufficiently knowledgeable in the new methods to be able to evaluate for themselves which buildings, urban spaces, and interior settings were better suited for human beings.
This approach is of course totally different from what is now known as “Architectural Theory.”