Altruistic Architecture

Architecture does change the world.  That isn’t aggrandising or overstating or making over-ambitious claims for the discipline, because the whole process is about making something, some place, in some way different to the way it is now.  That being the case, the aim is generally to change it for the better.  In training, architecture doesn’t – mostly – change the world.  A student project is of no significance, no importance, to anyone much else.  They won’t be experienced or built or sent out to make their own way in the world.  People won’t interact with them.  There are no social consequences, only claims.

The social context, and the social role, of architecture is an ever-present consideration, even in architecture schools where student projects are imagined and, mostly, that’s all they will ever be.  It’s common – certainly here – for projects and programmes to be socially focussed, community-minded, civic, responsible.

An architecture student must position each project somewhere on the spectrum of realism.  At one end the pretence is to externality, the project imagined to be subject to a full complement of real constraints and considerations.  It is an exercise in architectural design.  It then makes sense to imagine an intervention which would have a positive effect on its community, for all that the effect is imagined.  What matters is the manipulation of architecture towards change for the better. At the other end the project is a vehicle for  thought experiment – ‘what would happen if…’; the outcome isn’t made into a bit of the world, and so needn’t be positive.  These adventures in architectural thought are open to dystopia, fictition, subversion, to experiences which have no place in the real world but extend critical thought and creative imagination.  What matters is the manipulation of architecture to explore ideas.

Architecture students and architecture schools run the gamut of this spectrum, which is as it should be. Plausibility is allowed to be a primary or a secondary concern as long as students remember that, in the real world, architecture changes the world.