This article was originally published by Common Edge as "What Critics of Contemporary Architecture Are Missing: The Value of Design."
“The reason that highly designed contemporary architecture almost exclusively manifests in iconic structures is that it’s the only way that investing in design and aesthetic quality can turn a profit.” This is the central assertion of “The Politics of Architecture Are Not a Matter of Taste,” published in Common Edge a couple of weeks ago (and republished as “Hate Contemporary Architecture? Blame Economics, Not Architects” on ArchDaily). Marianela D’Aprile’s impassioned essay takes issue with a Current Affairs piece from October, “Why You Hate Contemporary Architecture,” in which the authors, staff writers Brianna Rennix and Nathan J. Robinson, hate on the current state of the design industry.
Both articles confuse me. “Good buildings recede seamlessly into their surroundings,” Rennix and Robinson claim, but the buildings they praise—figural structures such as London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Moorish palace of The Alhambra—stand out prominently. D’Aprile criticizes the authors’ imprecise use of terminology, but, as the opening passage above shows, her own language can be vague, relying on words such as iconic, ubiquitous shorthand among architects. (If it’s intended to convey “distinctive,” the irony is that most buildings described with that term have a similar sculptural character, so in our mind’s eye they all sort of blend together—the opposite of distinction.) She defines architecture as “buildings that have been designed for construction in the physical world.” Aren’t all buildings constructed “in the physical world”? And are all unrealized designs necessarily relegated to something other than architecture?