Thursday, August 16, 2007

Fashion in Architecture

Question: is an interest in style and fashion in architecture too lowbrow for the serious architect? Isn’t fashion something that is terrible?

Another Question: If Design connects us to God and God is timeless, where do trends fit in? Trends evaporate – buildings stand forever. Is the architect who designs consciously in the current style a bourgeois oaf creating an irrelevant veneer hiding us from the real?

I say no way.

Fashion and time are united. We are incarnated by God in a world where time is a significant element. And because of time we are allowed movement. Our motion through our times and culture writes a story – it creates a narrative – a unique narrative. Bringing that story forward into our design is the role of trends. Giving us delight in being part of our historically unique narrative is the role of fashion and trends.

Trends and style are celebrations of being alive in our unique story. The story of my life is so different from my parents, and the story of my culture is so different from those that came before it. I want to put that awareness into my designs, so I will use style and fashion to do that.

What about timeless design? Surely my life and culture isn’t completely different from the lives and cultures that proceeded mine. I can feel the universal and timeless thread in me. I want that thread in design so that I am in a good relationship with my ancestors. My awareness of my grandmother Vera, my great-grandfather John, all my ancestors and the cultures they came from is the foundation of meaning in my life.

So design simultaneously expresses both timeless ideas and the fashionable. It’s the denial of this that makes Bauhaus style seem mean to me. The Bauhaus so focused on the timeless (basic geometric elements of form) at the expense of ornament (fashion). …But then it’s amazing how quickly the Bauhaus became fashionable. Modernism quickly became an ornament; the fine jewelry of the bourgeoisie.

While designing in trends can be overdone in the same way drinking wine can be overdone, there is transcendent beauty to be found in working with current styles and fashion. It’s good for Designers to find a way to work with this language even if it seems as volatile as acetone.

Not that there isn’t danger. We just need to keep an eye on the dark side: obsession with style’s the equivalent of being drunk. Otherwise finding the art in designing with an awareness of current fashion, trends and style is not the pursuit of something base and beneath us. It is a good skill for an architect to have.


Anonymous said...

Mark Waldo said...

Interesting comment. Just the URL. Shy I guess.

...But "yes!", (I think...)
Witold Rybczynski is a star and his book, "The Look of Architecture" is great and clear. A real gem.