Philadelphia is a city awash with memorable architecture, so it’s fitting that I stumbled across The Architect Says: Quotes, Quips, and Words of Wisdom at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s store, which offers a well-curated assortment of books inside of Horace Trumbauer’s imposing Greek structure prominently situated on Fairmont Hill.
Laura Dushkes, the book’s editor, works as a librarian at NBBJ architectural firm in Seattle and began collecting quotes about architecture while purchasing, reading, and cataloging books about design for the firm. The Architect Says: Quotes, Quips, and Words of Wisdom is an elegant compendium of quotations from more than 100 of history’s most opinionated—and dissenting—minds.
The book offers a fascinating glimpse at the creative process. “It’s not a sign of creativity to have sixty-five ideas for one problem,” says Jan Kaplicky. “It’s just a waste of energy.” Then there’s this quote by Charles Eames: “Here is one of the few effective keys to the design problem — the ability of the designer to recognize as many of the constraints as possible — his willingness and enthusiasm for working within these constraints. Constraints of price, of size, of strength, of balance, of surface, of time and so forth.”
Dushkes’ layout and sequencing of quotes also highlights sharp differences of opinion in the field of design: Mies van der Rohe’s “Less is more” versus Robert Venturi’s response, “Less is a bore” is a good example. I also like these rifts on Louis Sullivan’s observation that “form ever follows function”: “Form follows form, not function,” says Philip Johnson or “Form follows profit.” (Richard Rogers).
Also interesting is the relationship between architecture and other creative fields. “I learn more from creative people in other disciplines than I do even from other architects because I think they have a way of looking at the world that is really important,” says Seattle-based architect and MacDowell Colony fellow Tom Kundig.
But there are differences between creative fields too, as Renzo Piano points out: “You can put down a bad book; you can avoid listening to bad music; but you cannot miss the ugly tower block opposite your house.”
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It’s unfortunate that architecture receives so little attention in the mainstream press and art publications, for it’s the art form we have the closest relationship with as humans. Whether we’re shopping in a huge box store, attending a concert in an historic church, working in an office cubicle, or simply arriving home after a long day at work, we inhabit and interact with architecture on a daily basis; but how often do we think about good and bad design?
As Renzo Piano once said, architecture is “a socially dangerous art, because it is an imposed art.” We’re conditioned to accept ugliness as inevitable. The end result is a numbing apathy about architecture as a whole, or worse, a lingering impression in American culture that quality design is only for a certain elite class.
But Dushkes’s collection of quotes helps us to pause and realize that all design involves a series of philosophical choices and aesthetic judgments. The difference between a Frank Gehry, whose “blobitecture” sometimes resembles an alien form beamed down from space, and a Samuel Mockbee, whose socially-engaged Rural Studio project allows design students at Auburn University to create homes and community buildings for disadvantaged residents in Hale County Alabama, couldn’t be greater. And yet both architects must work within a given environment and with certain limitations. But The Architect Says reminds us that they are apples and oranges—both fruit, and yet entirely unique from one another.
The Architect Says: Quotes, Quips, and Words of Wisdom is exactly what it says it is: a book of quotes. Since there are no photographs, readers who aren’t as familiar with architects like Norman Foster, Wang Shu, Thom Mayne, or Julia Morgan may want to research their work further in order to have a better understanding of their projects and aesthetic. Luckily, the layout and design of The Architect Says is half the fun and allows these quotes to stand on their own.
Published by Princeton Architectural Press, a press that continually puts out an impressive catalog of unique, high quality publications, The Architect Says is a pleasure to read thanks to high quality paper and its handy size. The typography and color choices are also top notch. This book is a great gift for artists and students or anyone curious about the creative process and the innovative men and women who have transformed our landscape into what it is today.
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