Architects Are More Necessary Than Ever

Question: Has technology made architects less necessary than they used to be?

Paul Goldberger: I think architects are more necessary \r\nthan ever because technology can sometimes create the illusion that a \r\nbuilding can be created without a creative hand, without a creative idea\r\n behind it.  And that’s not true at all.  Where technology has helped, \r\nso far, is in the building of extraordinary shapes that architects can \r\nimagine.  So, it was once possible to imagine strange and complicated \r\nshapes that were almost impossible to build.  Today, technology allows \r\nus to build almost anything.  But the computer can’t create those \r\nthings. It can’t make them up.  An architect has to make them up.  and \r\nin fact, if we think about Frank Gehry again, he is in many ways a \r\ntraditional architect.  I mean, he designs on paper and with models.  \r\nAnd then the computer takes over only later. 

Now there's a \r\nyounger generation of architects who are using the computer more as a \r\ndesign tool and they’re comfortable with letting the computer tell them \r\nwhat to do a little bit more, rather than merely how to make something \r\ntheir mind has invented.  I don’t know where that's going to take us... I\r\n don’t think of myself as old, but I think I’m old enough to not sort of\r\n naturally sort of feel that that’s the way to do it. But I’m also, I \r\nhope smart enough not to rush to judgment on it.  So, let's see where \r\nusing the computer as an actual design tool as opposed to an engineering\r\n and construction tool, or as a facilitation tool, where all that takes \r\nus.  I don’t know yet.  But I do believe that in the same way that \r\ncomputers can be programmed to write music, to paint pictures, to write \r\nliterature, I don’t know that there will be a time they will equal the \r\ncreative genius of a human mind.  But they certainly can facilitate that\r\n genius.  And that we’re seeing already. 

I think we can get \r\nsort of tired of crazy shapes all the time, and we get numb to them.  \r\nAnd if every – as Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown wrote many, many\r\n years ago, you know "If every building is extraordinary, well then \r\nthey’re really all ordinary."  So, you know, if the new ordinary just \r\nbecomes this kind of frantic, frenetic, complicated form, I don’t know \r\nthat we’ve achieved much. 

The beauty and the drama in any kind \r\nof urban environment, any kind of urban setting is in the way in which \r\ndifferent things play off against each other.  I mean, if you had a \r\nbuilding like Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles next door to\r\n another Gehry building next door to another, all of the same thing—or \r\nequally powerful buildings by other architects—I don’t know that you’d \r\nhave a particularly appealing urban environment.  But in the same way \r\nthat a great cathedral in a European city plays off against the everyday\r\n buildings that are there and becomes a kind of punctuation mark, if you\r\n will, in the cityscape, that’s what we should be doing. 

Is \r\ntechnology going to create a temptation to do too much all the time?  It\r\n may, but as I said I think our growing awareness of urbanism, of the \r\nidea of the city—which I think is better understood culturally today \r\nthan it was 20 years ago—I think that sort of helps balance that off and\r\n we’re much more aware that the background building can be one of the \r\nthings that make the city nice to be in.  When you think about Paris, \r\nyou know, there are great monuments, but then there’s the kind of the \r\nordinary everyday Parisian building that creates the urban fabric.  And \r\nthat’s one of the reasons it works so well is because the great \r\nmonuments play off in a really beautiful sort of harmonic balance \r\nagainst the background fabric.

Recorded on June 22, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman

Technology can sometimes create the illusion that a building can be created without a creative hand, or without a creative idea behind it. That's not true at all, says the critic.