Issue of Cruciality
I was the director of the center for architecture in Washington DC. It was a miniature school of architecture for 20 students who were part of the Florida A&M student body. Part of my problem doing this at that time was due to the structure of an architectural program, I had to take care of everything for the student's course work even though they were not at the primary school of architecture in Tallahassee, FL. This meant that I had to reach out to other's to help teach parts of the course. Although I was able to do courses in site planning and design and administration, when it came to structure and history, which were not my expertise, I hired people from the Univ. of Maryland, and a gentleman, architect & academic that I knew, Forrest Wilson, to teach a History course. His course was every Friday afternoon and ran for about two and a half hours. Afterwards we would get together and talk at the local bar, he was an amazing speaker and author and it was always a pleasure to talk with him. After a few weeks of this I worked up the nerve to ask him the simple question, that at the time for me was profound, which was, "What is architecture?" and the way he answered has always stuck with me. He said, "It's an issue of cruciality...", which was an answer that I really didn't understand. I asked him to explain more, and he said, "Well, if you're caught by the law and you're going to jail you are definitely going to get a lawyer. Because it's crucial. And if you have some sort of disease or if you have a heart attack, you're definitely going to get a doctor. Because it's crucial. But, when it comes to architects we deal in happiness, and we're not crucial.
I thought to myself, "Could a mistake in architecture actually kill people? Or do enough damage that it was at least hurting your health?" In reality, even though the "science of architecture" was still not quite on the table yet because the studies for it were very shallow, there were still some things that pointed to certain life patterns that were definitely not good for you. Today, after more and more studies have progressed, I've come to the conclusion that architecture is crucial. Because it's the last frontier of our personal space. We're stuck on this planet, at least for now and possibly for the rest of our existence as a species, and so we really need to start taking care of things a lot more. This includes ourselves on a daily basis. The way geometry can be organized around us is very important. It is crucial, now more than ever.
Architecture has had many reasons in the past to be. As displays of status for the rich and the powerful, as monuments to leaders and important historical events, as tools to better our lives. The reason for architecture has bounced around throughout history. Now that we are all much more aware of our environment, and our physical and mental health within it, through scientific studies and advancements, we can see very clearly that our society, our species has truly evolved from the days where all we needed is the proverbial "roof over our heads". Perhaps all we needed was that, or a cave once upon a time. But, in modern times, from the immense affect that we have on the environment due to our pollution, to the day to day function of our lives, we need much more involvement from our buildings than just protection from the elements and predators. We need the homes we live in to be responsive to our modern needs, or we will never be able to begin to be more conscientious about how to help the environment or our mental health. Buildings need to take on a new role. For example, old school buildings are designed in a specific way for how they were used by students and teachers from hundreds of years ago. However, due to technology such as the computer and internet, the schooling system needs an overhaul in order for our educational system to take strides forward into the future. The buildings themselves don't allow for this, and are a part of what holds the educational system back. This is just one example of many. Even the infrastructure of entire cities need to be reevaluated. We can't make the same city that the Roman Empire did, it wouldn't serve our needs. We can't even make the same city we did 30-50 years ago.
The more and more our lives become defined, the more we are able to study the human condition and move forward as a species, the more science reveals about ourselves, the more crucial architecture becomes. This shift has already gotten to the point where it's not just factories and school buildings, business skyscrapers and bridges, we have defined our needs so well that we are now in need of this shift to happen in our own homes. From the roads, bridges, bike paths to walkways; skyscrapers, factories, school houses to homes; hospitals, science labs to space stations... architecture is more crucial than ever before in human history.