Having been fortunate enough to travel across the world to study architecture, there is one typology that repeatedly attracts my interest. I call it the architecture of “who cares?” It’s not a terribly sophisticated term, but I hope my point is well taken. It describes the project that doesn’t demand media attention, doesn’t attract activist protestors and doesn’t have tons of money thrown at it. It’s the antithesis of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Denver Art Museum or the Salk Institute. It’s essentially something that could be—and often is—done by anyone. These projects are mostly architectural fast-food. They are quick, easy and most importantly, cheap. My intrigue in this typology is that occasionally you’ll see a masterpiece embedded in it, despite its inherent limitations.
If you think about the iconic Architectures of our time, they will most often be well-funded projects. The Salk Institute, for instance, is widely considered to be Louis Kahn’s masterpiece, but it also happened to be his best funded project. The point here is not to belittle the great architects of our time, but rather point out that these great buildings came from a great wealth of resources. How much greater then is an Architecture that comes forth from limited time and means. I took the above picture while I was in Rosario, Argentina. The architect who designed it doesn't live a glamorous lifestyle, just a little cluttered office and mostly meager clients, but the architecture he produces has the quality of dedication and refinement.
I think about places like Los Angeles, not far from where I grew up, that focus solely on a small subset of well designed public buildings that cost a small fortune to build, and yet the everyday places and buildings that people inhabit are in many ways utterly disregarded. I think about Detroit, a city that has catered to some of the most notable architects of the twentieth century, that finds itself in shambles because of its decaying residential neighborhoods—the preeminent example of “who cares?” architecture. I have a great deal of respect for the Gehrys, Libeskinds and Kahns of the world, but their realm is in no threat of extinction. My concern is that the realm of “who cares?” will continue to be disregarded by otherwise talented architects and taken on by less conscious entities. When resources are limited, it takes good designers to make places worth caring about.
Would love to hear some of your thoughts.