The problem with 90% of architecture…

What am I to make of the eminent architect Peter Eisenman saying (online at NBS), that 90% of architecture isn’t really architecture but it is necessary?

Similarly, he claims, 90% of the books in an airport bookstore are not literature, but they are necessary.

What is the 10% then? Unless Eisenman’s criteria for greatness aren’t very exclusive, I don’t think he’s talking about great architecture and so I don’t think the 90 remaining per cent is constituted by a landscape made up of steadily declining quality. I think he’s saying that it’s all rubbish. The British trade press and not a few books and websites by others are certainly happy to use the adjective ‘crap’ to describe (90% of?) this country’s built environment.

To discuss buildings in any way that will involve an exchange of views, this blog is going to have to proceed on the definition that most of what is built to house daily human life, from shed to cathedral, is architecture. Thus this is architecture:

Heygate Estate July 2009

As is this “handsome modern development”:

Peckham Road

… is architecture.

Eisenman’s laconic wit leaves me baffled. It would seem harsh to lay all the blame for the undeniable deficiencies in Britain’s built environment on architects. It would also be difficult to deny that an awful lot of Brits do have to put up with poor quality and even ugly built environments. The joys of witty banter aside, culprits as well as improvements will have to be sought.

Are architects responsible? It’s unlikely (but I’m willing to be proved wrong) that architects are the problem with architecture. Where lies the problem then?

Clients? Indeed – one architect admitted ruefully to me that we get the buildings we deserve. Somehow, the logic ran, clients are responsible for briefs, and the public is responsible for giving power to clients. I’m not sure. Must go away and think about that one.

Planners? There are those within that proession who think there’s not much left of planning. However, the financial crises of recent months might change things.

Other suggestions, on the comments form, please.


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