Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Problem with Our Stars - II ( Or Architectural Journalism in the Information Age)

So much of how we look at design is based how we have taught architecture, and also how a legacy of celebrating certain ideas, personalities and design “trends” have shaped our own acceptance, understanding and stance on what might be considered good architecture. The fundamental basis of marking judgments usually relies and is formed by this at a rather early stage of our lives as we become part of world of design. 

Our first instances of design and appreciation come from names and personalities and critical acclaim attached to those names and projects. 

While good design is usually the ability to arrive at clear and manifest expressions of purpose and experience that more often than not is the result of many year (or instances)of practice. 

This many years invariably translates into a reputation, a certain sense of celebrity, that then overtakes the discernment and appreciation of well designed ideas and slowly turns into a celebration of entity that implies directly good design (whether it is perceivable of not). 

In the age when books and the cost to write them, to print them and the need for a captive audience necessitated the need of a certain degree of repute and personality to ensure a successful publishing, but that age is past. 

In the age of digital media (4g, Instagram and online publishing through blogs etc) and a much wider platform and faster speed of putting data out and also the opportunities that the many digital platforms offer to generate conversation, I find it problematic, that Good design still seems to be the domain of the celebrated Design professional. 

So what’s stopping us? Is it that there is little good design happening? 

Or is it that the conversation around design is rarely the conversation about design but more the conversation around the designer and why this or that represents good design in a wider body maybe (but surely reputation) of good design. 

So when I see internet and social media based Architectural journalism / curation and content creation that does little more than merely replicate the printed mediums. 

The lack of need of infrastructure, and the freedom and independence that the digital platforms afford seem to have little consequence on the conversation and content. And most surprisingly has had little contribution to the discovery of outliers and design that is actually testing/ stretching / breaking new ground.

Is there need for it? Yes, is there scope for it, given the minimal content available and the sheer volume of work being carried out, and the scale and geography of the subcontinent? Put simply, the scope is immense. 

Will it be economically viable? Yes. 
That’s a no brainer! 

So then why aren’t we seeing more of this?

Most models online even seem to rely on An older process of delivery, where architects and designers are asked to send in “material”, that includes self celebratory write ups and documentation on their work, this process models itself closely on the footsteps of the dead or dying “masters”, with a acceptable level of design. These look more like advertorials! 

I have been guilty of this. But as practices desperate to get heard, and eager to get our message out in the cloud of noise that is design journalism, you can forgive the practices!

But why isn’t there more frontier journalism,and more exploratory? And why isn’t there a uproar for this kind of material. Why don’t we see your journalists/ architects/ writer setting out armed with smartphones and 4g, with blogs and Instagram ablaze! 

Why isn’t there a loud clamor in the design circles calling for this kind of content?

And can it be a collaborative model? A network or people willing to share, converse and actually have a meaningful Architectural discussion that goes beyond the names! 

Of course everyone wants to name-dropped after a certain point in time.

After years of teaching at a few design schools, and having the good fortune of spending 6 years at Undergrad at SPA New Delhi, I think the answer is how we are introduced to Design and Architecture, where the case study seems to be central to the establishing precedents  of good design. But never seems to stop there! And it becomes a debilitating exercise of name dropping and reputation. 

But you can call content curated, if you will, but you cannot call it journalism if all you are doing is featuring contributions from the architects themselves without the slightest attempt at generating discourse!

But if we want discourse, we have got to be ready for a little criticism! (And if there is one thing I have learnt from the few wine-filled dinners (that I have started to avoid) and fewer meaningful talks and discussions I have attended in these past many years – Architects don’t seem to like criticism! Much of our architecture is pattern book stuff (High modernism when modernism is long since dead) or Stylistic interpretation like post-modern, (when we didn’t even have a modern) and form fantasizing. Not to say there isn’t grounded architecture that is geographically / culturally rooted and socially relevant – but those architects are not among our stars. And sadly, there’s little being done to add them to the constellations of our sky!















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