Is a Building’s Design a Reflection of the Society?

A view of Nairobi

A view of Nairobi

I once read something written by Bob Moorehead; He said that, ‘The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways but narrower viewpoints.

‘We spend more, but have less, we buy more but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values.

‘We have learned to make a living, but not a life. We have added years to life not life to years. We have conquered outer space but not inner space. We have done larger things but not better things. We have cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We have conquered the atom, but not our prejudice.’

So I started thinking, how true are these statements to the architect?

Architecture, I am told, requires that material, technology, light and shadows are manipulated in the most creative manner, in order to produce buildings and physical structures that are the cultural symbols of the places they are built. And this is true. Ask any archaeologist and they will tell you that the ruins of an ancient city are indispensable.

Roman Aqueduct | AKEONOS GROUP

Roman Aqueduct | AKEONOS GROUP

That reminds me of ancient Rome’s aqueducts and its latrine system, which is irrevocable proof that the Romans valued their hygiene. I wonder what our descendants will think of us a few centuries from now when they’re digging up our remains and find non-biodegradable paper-bags full of feaces: They would probably think the packing of feaces was quite fashionable then.

I daresay I would turn in my grave if my descendants misinterpreted our culture as such. However, 200 years from now, I think they would be shocked at the economic inequalities that exist in our current age. The paper bags would just be proof. I digress…

Click here to read the piece on gentrification in Nairobi

Architectural history is full of examples of man conquering the severest of odds to achieve what Vitruvius stated in the 1st Century AD: The principles of a good building are firmitas, utilitas and venustas (by the way I just put that in to impress my editor); the words are latin for durability, utility and beauty.

So clearly, buildings, as long as architects shall live, will continue to be more durable, more functional and more beautiful. Is this the condition of the people who use, live, design or work in these buildings? Is your personal legacy more durable? What is your gift to the World? Are you more useful? Are you more beautiful?

The American architect Louis Sullivan once said that “form follows function” (of course you may be aware that the statement is often credited to Horatio Greenough, but it was Sullivan who said it) and that statement is now a principle in architecture. It is also a principle (that should be) in life: just the same way that the shape of a building is based on its intended function or purpose, so should one’s life. Life should be shaped by purpose.

I like what Fidel Castro once said (he wasn’t referring to buildings) he said that “the ever more sophisticated weapons piling up in the arsenals of the wealthiest and mightiest can kill the illiterate, the ill, the poor and the hungry, but they cannot kill ignorance, illness, poverty or hunger. Man by nature surmounts complexities;

KCB’s Kipande House was the tallest building in Nairobi when Gurdit Singh designed it in the 1930s. 38 years  later, Solel Boneh & Factah completed the KICC, a building which gave a 360 degree panoramic view of Nairobi in 76 minutes.

Click here to read ‘an architectural history of the green city in the sun’

I will freely tell you this though: the same view of poverty, desperation, disease, inequality and crime that existed in 1935 is the same view that we now see from the KICC; it’s just at a different angle.

 

| The article is a guest post written for A Chiselled Cornucopia by my best buddie, Joseph Kongoro @josekongoro

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