“When we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for.” John Ruskin, from The Seven Lamps of Architecture 1849
For those of us engaged in effecting change in the built environment, the challenge to produce high quality buildings and spaces is clear cut. However, all too often the fork in the path chosen is the easy one. Frank Chimero’s cracking 2011 Do talk was all about the “long hard stupid way” and thats the fork we should choose. This fork is undeniably more challenging but what we build has an impact on everybody and should therefore be undertaken with a sense of responsibility. Architecture that seeks to achieve a harmonious balance between function, elegance, grace, light and order must be the principles that matter. Vitruvius wrote that a structure must exhibit the three qualities of firmitas, utilitas, venustas — it must be solid, useful, beautiful. His belief was that architecture is an imitation of nature.
My philosophical belief is that in addition to excellent architecture, we need excellent design quality – to me that’s about a rigorous attention to the smallest details – a shadow gap here, a textural change there, the choice of door handle or brassware. Crafted materials that patinate and improve with age, the avoidance of unnecessary elements, spaces that are imbued with spirit and allow the owner/user to add autobiographical detail. Flexible, adaptable spaces with finishes that provide visual and tactile sensory interest.
When we build we must think that we build forever. My thinking on a “new functionalism” is that developers should seek to meld together strict resource productivity where material selection is based on obvious sustainable, natural principles, with innovative, imaginative thinking and a belief in technology’s ability to create a better future. Lets try and build simple, elegant, pragmatic,unpretentious buildings that are well crafted, tough and authentic.
On the face of it this leads to more expense but thats short term thinking. Consideration of the long term cost and value benefits of building properly demonstrate that this front end cost focus is wayward economic thinking, albeit that favoured by housebuilders and quantity surveyors alike. Of course there is no way of valuing what is arguably even more important, that is an engaged and excited relationship with our buildings and environments that makes for a much more interesting way of experiencing the world and reducing our environmental impact.