Dialog with prof

Dialog with prof. zeev drukman, school of architecture, bezalel

During our last conversation several issues ago (AI 61) you stated that modern life has “stripped” architecture of its cultural dimension. Can we infer from this that architects are culture-less? Or that culture today has other public-relations promoters?

If we think about other times in history, especially about post-war periods, we see that architects had major contributions towards the process of societal rehabilitation, actively participating in placing man in his world - much like philosophers, artists, and poets. Today, thinkers have been deprived of thinking, and architects find it hard to glean ideas from “A Star is Born” or the “philosophers” starring in the “Model of the Year”.

A few years ago I purchased software called “What You See is What You Get”. Its function is to show the fonts names in their real shape. Do you see a connection between this instant translation and the recent expressions of architecture?

The sentence “What you see is what you get” has enormous meaning in a society dealing with the “I” and not with the “thou”. The ability to see the other is viewed, unjustly, as detrimental to the borders of the “I”. Given that, who would want to live in a blurred situation? That is, you are not invited to “mend” the world, and yet are asked to live in a state of uncertainty.

I have claimed that technological development hasn’t changed our basic requirements as human beings. That is, there is no difference in how we sleep, eat or urinate. Since one of the basic targets of architecture is to realize such purposes, one may claim that current architecture should not be much different than that of the past. However, one can alternately claim that the “eternal” pace of the past is by no means comparable to the “hovering” tempo of life today.

Eternity is an invention of the kings of Egypt who built the pyramids. They formulated the time between the outside mantle and the inside-grave that never perishes. In this case what you see is the pyramid, while what you get is a space whose varied meanings are independent of time and place.

Do you mean that architecture that is dependent on time and place can not express depth?  Anyway, what is actually wrong with shallow architecture that aims to serve a superficial culture?

I once had an uncle who told me that in shallow water you can only catch skinny fish. For fat ones, you need deep water. I suggest we check what we mean by the term ‘shallow’. I am sure you don’t mean ‘primitive’, because in my opinion, something that is connected to basic needs of society, such as a market, has deeper poetic levels than, say, a concert hall.

There is a level of paradox here. I know some who would swear that a concert hall represents culture while the market represents the opposite.

The distinction between market and concert hall or theater is crucial to understanding the concept of culture. The market, in my understanding, expresses the uniqueness of man in his public environment. It is as if someone has carried his front door to the public and declared that he is ready to negotiate with the world. If we study this “subversive” act, we can understand the basic functions of the city that have been lost in many places. They are important because they can explain the poetic meaning of planning. I mean that markets have urban meanings which are not dependent on the market itself.

Do you mean something like Mahaneh Yehuda in Jerusalem and the Carmel Market in Tel-Aviv?

Yes. Before it was massively interfered with, Mahaneh Yehuda formed a connection between Jaffa Street - the entrance into the city, and the neighborhoods. In the same way, the Carmel Market made the connection between the sea and the square. Both are reminiscent of the traditional Eastern market.

Let us try to relate the instant virtue of the WYSIWYG software to architecture, through three terms: ‘genotype’ - the genetic code, or the architectural programme, for that matter; ‘phenotype’ - the unique significance the architect gives the programme through his plan; and the ‘extended phenotype’ - the accomplished building that has survived all the constraints, mistakes, and local additions, some of which are predicted, but some unexpected and unknown. Am I on the right track?

I absolutely agree with you, but must emphasize that beyond the architects attempt to give his plan a poetic touch, my main claim is that the extended phenotype - that is - the building process with all the events that follow its accomplishment, makes the poetry many times more powerful. Hence, the phenotype meaning of the building is much stronger than its genotype. And extrapolated from this is that the extended phenotype, i.e. every action that occurs outside the building, is relevant to architecture more than the building itself, as it is merely an end-product that has no room for farther development.

Can you deprive the concert hall of this?

A concert hall or theater is a well-designed “bubble”. One can, however, connect them to culture, saying that whoever designs a theater takes part in the “writing of a play”. In this regard the hall can be seen as an ‘extended phenotype’, only if it encourages unpredictable activities. This necessitates a much broader programmatic grasp - one that looks beyond the design of the building itself.

Several architects I know might still demand an explanation...

Let’s imagine a situation where every architectural deed was characterized with the subversive nature of the market. Take, for example, a school located between two “walls” - one wall is a market, the other is a museum. And these walls also create a residential courtyard. In such a case, the continuous dialog between all of them would grant each an extra meaning. This, in my opinion, is the concept of ‘urbanism’ with all the expected and unexpected architectural events that can occur in it.

What does this mean for the role of architecture?

I think that the role of architecture is to place man in the world through a building that has poetic meaning, not just function, that is - meaning which supersedes the immediate form. This is what creates, in my eyes, architectural depth.

When I mentioned ‘shallow’ architecture I did not mean to boast, but rather to belittle ourselves as “experienced architects”. Is it possible that the search for deep meaning has ceased? After all, it is not possible that all those young people who prefer to have sex in the toilet of a night club have lower IQs. I personally know some opposite cases…

Young people do not have lower IQs, but their architectural grammar is limited, because the poetic nature of architecture is of less interest to them. Maybe it is the fault of the computer, that “exempts” them from using pencils - an important act of the architectural creation which delays the process and makes it difficult to get prompt results. One cannot expect an architect who has not undergone this process to design “deep” buildings.

I am trying to sum up the meaning of poetic depth by comparing it to a poem, where depth is determined by the number of layers it has - part revealed, part unseen. Some are there because the poet intended so; others are absent because they are left for the reader’s interpretation.

This is a fine analogy for summation, because much like a poem, the more the architectural form is open, the more potential it has for cultural depth. This explains why end-architectural products often express exactly the opposite.

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