Wednesday, August 21, 2013
fragility (and l.a. story)
I should have added L.A. Story to my list of architectural movies a long time ago. Better late than never (a turn of phrase which is disastrously wrong). And now, we return to our pre-programmed program.
On Fragility in American Architecture:
There's a saying "we don't build 'em like we used to" which when uttered by some folksy idiot in a straw hat and overalls makes me just a little bit crazy. There is truth in that line, but it is mis-used. It has been a long time since anyone built a pyramid. Dry set masonry structures don't measure up to modern building codes for just about every use group and usually for very good reasons. This state of affairs came about gradually, and if society persists, we can expect there to be no monumental stone buildings in the U.S. for a long time. Some rich fool has the right to build a tomb for himself, or his wife, or herself, or her husband, or the favorite cat, but our great public buildings will continue to be built with more disposable materials--steel, glass, concrete, plastic, wood, brick.
Aren't those durable materials? Nope. Not when measured against the span of Roman engineering, and certainly not Egyptian. Nor do I expect materials engineers to come up with anything that will make our buildings last longer. We assign a twenty to one-hundred year lifespan to the things we build. I don't trust any architect to make design decisions that will be functional for long periods for certain types of large buildings or structures--notably in the transportation sector. Manufacturing facilities could have lifespans of months. Offices and hospitals undergo interior renovations every decade--whether or not it is necessary.
Residential architecture has reached a level point when it comes to improvements. We sleep, we eat, we watch television, we bathe, and we have arguments that make us grateful for being able to go to another room in a house. A house can last a few hundred years and undergo a few dozen renovations. Buildings do not learn, but sometimes, people do. I think that in this country we are struggling between history and desire when it comes to architecture. Desire wins in most places.