Architecture is for Everyone!

Squatter tramps, wealthy patrons, unknown users: the architect’s bad-matched customers

Joseph Rykwert

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Rykwert
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The title of the conference harnesses two related but separate notions since it suggests the whole business of transmitting, of imparting the skills that make up the discipline of the architect from one generation to another. However it also has a much wider sense, indicating how some within the same discipline might encourage a growing awareness of the different approaches we, their users, can adopt when handling and taking possession of buildings and – reciprocally, perhaps unprofessionally – make each of us aware of all the demands which we can make of our homes and workplaces as well as of the public space between buildings.


the architect’s client is of course the Chief Executive Officer of the finance corporation who insists on his many-windowed corner office with its opulent outfitting, but it is also the tramp who squats to rest on its hard steps. And I would suggest that he or she is almost equally entitled to the architect’s consideration

That second suggestion conveyed by the title is also enshrined in the other and more succinct slogan of the Turin conference: Architecture is for Everyone! As is proper for any slogan, it is a truism as well, and like every truism it contains a hard nucleus of truth – in this case an awkward, perhaps even uncomfortable truth – which is that all buildings have two very different and ill-matched clients: first, the obvious one who actually foots the bill; but then also the passers-by, some of whom will not even look up at them or touch them, even if many others will indeed brush past them, lean against them, or just use and inhabit them. To put it succinctly: the architect’s client is of course the Chief Executive Officer of the finance corporation who insists on his many-windowed corner office with its opulent outfitting, but it is also the tramp who squats to rest on its hard steps. And I would suggest that he or she is almost equally entitled to the architect’s consideration.

That is why the two titles of our conference are so closely interdependent. The discipline, the skill that we have to transmit to aspiring architects is the indirect one of entering into a dialogue with society, the public symbolised by the tramp – though he is its effective representative. It is the difficult part of our job. By comparison, satisfying the CEO an his demand for expansive luxury is relatively easy, though we need to remember, of course, that we will be taking our instructions from her or him.

Yet the tramp is the constant reminder of the qualities that the public, consciously or unconsciously, demands of its buildings – that they should be kind on the eye and welcoming to the touch. And that, moreover, they should not rend or slash the texture of the settlement or city in which they take their place.

The discipline, the skill that we have to transmit to aspiring architects is the indirect one of entering into a dialogue with society,

Many celebrity buildings could be faulted by such criteria – and their very fame may be taken as a refutation of my demand. But the diffuse popular antipathy to a certain shiny, glossy, rich modernity, which was demonstrated by the many gleeful television worms’ eye views of the glistening Enron headquarters during their crisis, the growth of various protest movements against the dehumanizing of the city as well as the need to fence off semi-private spaces and commercial enterprises against the public realm, testify to the generality of the unease.

Moreover, as the designer now works increasingly at a computer keyboard and sees his project as a two-dimensional image on the computer screen so that even the manuality of previous ages, intrinsic to the flow of ink onto paper, is removed from him, and the model-maker relies entirely on cutting wooden or plastic shapes mechanically from the computer image, the notion that the final product, the building, will need to be touchable as well as visible – and of course usable – needs to be recalled, honoured, celebrated in the training of the architect.

And that brings us back to that hidden, often forgotten client – my tramp. Because he or she will, in the long run, be our judge – as will the passage of time, which will stain and corrode the surface of the building when all the proud payers have gone to their rest.