Reinstating the enduring values of architecture

Architectural elements of endurance

Architecture in actuality is an open-ended realm that various scholars, architects, and critics have attempted to pigeonhole and identify. While some recognise architecture in relation to forms, compositions, and techniques, others choose to identify it by its connection, significance, and impact on people and their lives. Many architects and designers have tried to define the notion and essence of architecture. For example, to Le Corbusier, the internationally renowned French architect and influencer, architecture is the arrangement of shapes and forms in a way that affects peoples’ senses, it “wakes profound echoes in them, and makes them experience the sense of beauty” (Le Corbusier, 1920:1). However, for Norman Foster, architecture is “an expression of values - the way we build is a reflection of the way we live” (Foster, 2014). Indeed, architecture is often perceived as an amalgamation of invention and convention, a composite discipline that is ambiguously positioned between artistic and engineering sensibilities (Elliott, 2018). It can be argued that architecture is “the art and science of making sure that our cities and buildings actually fit with the way we want to live our lives: the process of manifesting our society into our physical world” (Ingles, 2014). According to Frank Lloyd Wright, architecture is “the mother art, without architecture of our own we have no soul of our civilisation.”1 In contrast, for Charles Correa, “architecture is myth-based, expressing the presence of a reality more profound than the manifest world in which it exists” (Correa, 1988:24). Clearly, while there is no single consensual definition as to what architecture is, throughout the history there have been various constructs towards embracing science and technology, or people and society, or attempts at integrating these two categories.

Taking these various definitions into consideration helps to articulate a clearer understanding of the notion and significance of what enduring values of architecture mean and signify. On the whole, good architecture is about how the creative process of an architectural practice delivers innovation through balancing values that enhance the quality of the built environment as well as people’s lives. It is, in effect, about the way art and science integrate socio-cultural space-time aspects into the physical environment. The enduring values of architecture do not actually refer to certain styles or trends, as these tend to continuously change. Around 30 BC the Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, commonly known as Vitruvius, introduced his multi-volume treatise on architecture, De Architectura. Translated into English by Morris Hicky Morgan and published in 1960, the English version is known as the Ten Books on Architecture. In his treatise, which is still quoted by architects today, Vitruvius introduced a fundamental triptych of the integrated principles of virtuous architecture. The first is firmatis (durability), which enables buildings to stand up robustly and remain in good condition, through strong foundations and well-selected materials. The second is utilitas (utility), when the arrangement of spaces is faultless and presents no hindrance to use, and the third is venustatis (beauty), when the appearance of the work delights people and raises their spirits (Morgan, 1960:17).

Many professionals recognise the significance of time and space in architecture and how good architecture should actually reflect its particular time and place. For Frank Gehry (2018), “architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness.”2 To Gehry, architecture should respond to the needs of people it is meant for, in a given physical context, at a certain time (Bridge, 2015). Norman Foster, with a view to posterity, states that the architect should “design for the present with an awareness of the past for a future, which is essentially unknown” (Foster, 2014). However, acknowledging the past can only be achieved through articulating history rather than artificially copying it. A tenet of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture emphasises the need for the historical past to reach the future, “it must be continually re-contextualised, reinterpreted and renegotiated as being of intrinsic value to society” (Johnston, 2007:168). This effectively means that cultural history should be respected in a way that not only accommodates present needs, but also anticipates and prepares for those of the future.

Good architecture should be inherently linked to a set of enduring values or qualities. Although these values might be evaluated and noted differently by different individuals, this chapter argues that the six enduring values are intrinsic to good architecture. The first value relates to people, to the way in which they connect, perceive, and use architectural works, as well as how architecture responds to their needs, respects their values, and enhances their lives. As Frank Lloyd Wright states, “All fine architectural values are human values, else not valuable.”3

The second value relates to the place, the location or context, the sociocultural and environmental surrounding. Rasem Badran, who asserts that architecture is a reflection of a nation’s culture, highlights this cultural dimension.4 For Badran, the Jordanian-Palestinian architect, good architecture should utilise cultural heritage in a way that fulfils the requirements of contemporary life (Badran, 1987). This leads to the third quality, that of time, wherein architecture respects the past, reflects the present, and prepares for the future. In this sense, it can be related to longevity and flexibility, as well as to the ability to stand the test of time (Langston, 2018:83). From these three qualities comes the fourth quality, aesthetics, which refers to the way architecture inspires people, encourages them to perform various activities, and thus inculcates a sense of belonging through creating delightful memories. Beautiful architecture, for some, should “anticipate the need for a change and allow expected changes to be made easily and efficiently” (Klein and Weiss, 2009:21).

Additionally, good architecture should be a good value for money. Thus, a good design should utilise modern technology and embrace sustainability in order to provide a pleasant environment for stakeholders. This is particularly important today; the increasing awareness of the need to protect nature and its valuable resources has resulted in a plethora of requirements implicit for designing for sustainable architecture. In this context, Ken Yeang, the Malaysian architect, ecologist, writer, and planner, identifies good architecture as green architecture, which he defines as “designing with nature and designing in an environmentally responsible way” (Yeang, 1995:1). Similarly, for Sir Alexander John Gordon (1972), former president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), architecture should exhibit “long life, loose fit and low energy,” which he refers to as the 3L Principle (Langston, 2018:83) which all architects, designers, and urban planners should take into consideration. By using traditional materials in a new way, by using new materials in a traditional way, or using new materials in a new way, such green and sustainable principles and practices can be fully utilised. Technology can also play a major role to help architects, planners, and urban planners design sustainable green buildings and landscaped environments.

Architecture can also be viewed as an art form and a science. While architecture as art creates new expressions that make the built environment more beautiful, inspiring, and stimulating, as a science, it strives to meet the transformative functional needs of a growing global population. In this respect, it is implicit that the six values that enable architecture to endure are people, place, time, beauty, cost, and technology. These values often overlap; for example, seeing people in response and relation to beauty, beauty in relation to time, and time in relation to technology. In essence, good architecture is actually an amalgamation of these six values, which are represented in the work of numerous distinguished architects and educators. While some architectural works stand out as examples of national masterpieces, others are recognised and celebrated for their long-lasting impact on people, both social and functional, or their environmental applications; together these profoundly affect the profession of architecture and promote the advancement of knowledge. This chapter examines these pertinent values as exemplified by the works of the three recipients of the AKAA Chairman Award, architects Hassan Fathy (Egypt), Rifat Chadirji (Iraq), Geoffrey Bawa

(Sri Lanka), as well as the prominent Islamic art and architecture historian, Oleg Grabar (the United States). The work of these four internationally acclaimed recipients is analysed systematically in terms of contextual influences, beliefs and ideologies, and their overall legacy. Additionally, the uniqueness and influence of each is identified to exemplify the salient features of their significant contributions.

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