About the Speaker:
Writer, critic, consultant and curator, Peter Buchanan was born in Malawi, schooled in Zimbabwe and graduated B.Arch from the University of Cape Town in 1968. He worked as an architect and urban designer/planner in various parts of Africa, Europe and the Middle East before joining the Architect’s Journal and The Architectural Review in 1979, becoming Deputy Editor of the latter in 1982. As a London-based freelance since 1992, he has curated the travelling exhibitions Renzo Piano Building Workshop: Selected Projects and Ten Shades of Green for The Architectural League of New York, written books and served as a consultant on urban design projects and publications. He has published copiously in journals from many countries, and lectured and taught summer schools and master classes in a similarly wide range of places and universities. His many books include the five volumes of Renzo Piano Building Workshop: Complete Works (Phaidon Press) and Ten Shades of Green (WW Norton). Most recently, he wrote The Big Rethink series in The Architectural Review that he is now expending into a book.
Technology comes in many forms, including the poles of hardware/tools and software/ (intellectual) technique. The computer profoundly impacts every aspect of architecture, enhancing our expertise in countless ways – yet it also raises challenges. Not least of these challenges arises precisely because we can now build more or less any form. This raises the question of which forms are appropriate to architecture – and, most especially, to how we as humans relate to buildings?
This question becomes urgent because of the rash of biomorphically-shaped, or parametricist, buildings now being erected. Besides being unrelated to local tradition, these do not frame and articulate urban space nor offer much for humans to relate to. In particular, smooth swooping surfaces inside and out hide all evidence of structure and the static forces (loads) these support and guide to ground. In other words, all dimensions of the tectonic are suppressed.
Yet the argument of the lecture is that the tectonic was vital to modern architecture to help us embodied humans relate, empathically and intellectually, to its buildings. Visible structure provided an easily understood discipline to its forms as well as elements of an orderly companionable presence that are intermediary in scale between us users and the total building.
The role of tectonics, as well as expressed construction and materials, is thus especially vital in helping us to relate to modern buildings because so many of the ways architecture traditionally elicited relationship – through symbolism, recognisable rhetorical forms, ornament and so on – were not available to it. The lecture will be largely devoted to exploring how tectonics can help us understand, be moved by and otherwise relate to architecture.
After discussing such issues as illustrated by various contemporary and modern buildings, we will quickly adopt the larger temporal fame of a historical perspective to better understand the design challenges we face. The computer is not only being used to suppress the tectonic – which is by no means inevitable – but is also the prime agent in bringing us into an entirely new epoch.
For architecture, a key challenge will be to find, or resurrect, an expanded repertoire of ways in which architecture can relate to other buildings, and so aggregate into satisfactory urban fabric, and elicit relationships with us to help us feel at home in the world. This is a still overlooked dimension of sustainable design. All of this has profound implications for the future of architecture and for architectural education.
This lecture is open to the general public.
The Spring 2014 Public Lecture Series are co-sponsored by “Ronald Lu & Partners (HK) Ltd.” & “Woo, Chow, Wong & Partners (HK) Ltd.” visiting lectureship in architecture.