Why is Purity in Architecture a myth?
The film Inside Llewyn Davis is about folk music. Though the movie tells the story of a folk artist, it relates well to the autonomy of architecture. Folk music and folk musicians are thought to be similar in their desire for success while writing down and playing songs in pursuit of the truth of their lives. They are also known for handing down the experience and knowledge from generation to generation.
The knowledge of folk music has become obscure. Technology has played a significant impact as an initiator in making music and folk music more available. In the movie, while the music is consumed commercially by the masses, it is not fully understood or experienced by them. This shifts folk music away from its pursuit of truth and towards more commercially acceptable forms.
John Ruskin was an English art and architecture critic who lived during the Victorian era and authored vast volumes of criticism. His most successful book, The 7 Lamps of Architecture, was published in 1849. The seven architectural principles, or lamps, are linked to seven design moral attributes. Two of the lamps represent beauty and truth. What is the importance of truth when we talk about beauty?
When a structure stands out from its environment, it is said to be beautiful. Nature is the standard for beauty, and natural shapes and lines should be emulated. Buildings must be truthful. A credible structure should not disguise its flaws. A brick structure should not look like a concrete structure. A wooden window frame should have the appearance of a wooden window. Materials should not be hidden but rather enjoyed.
Let us return to our film analogy. It is Llewyn, the protagonist, a poor folk artist who refuses to give up his songwriting autonomy. This gets him nowhere. While this fight affirms and validates his identity, it also traps him in a never-ending cycle of despair and motivation. He has a sense of purpose as a result of his autonomy. But there is nothing else.
The barriers that we've created around and in architecture, too, keep the outside world out to establish our truth in the shape of architectural theories and practices. And their conflict is best understood through this film. Inside Llewyn Davis illuminates Llewyn's desire for musical monumentality, yet this monumentality is never shared. Because he feels insulted or embarrassed if someone else's experience or perspective superimposes on his own, it stays inside the bounds of his life and experience.
What is the truth of folk music, then? Is it Llewyn's despair, or the commercial art of music creation, or the moment of stage performance, or the scenes where he sings at a dinner table in front of his friends who have no idea what he is singing about?
Likewise, what exactly is architecture? Is it the Vitruvian triad's legacy and the great modernist masters? Or is it the everyday social, economic, political, physical, and environmental influences that define the buildings and their stakeholders?
The myth and effort to achieve purity in the building gives architects the same joy and purpose that Llewyn's depression does. It is no surprise that except for Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings all architectural marvels were failed undertakings. They were either unsatisfactory to the client, banal, or resulted in large losses for the patron.
We rarely ask the obvious question while looking at architectural wonders and their failures. Why did anyone believe that something created in the vacuum of one's mind could survive in the dynamic conditions of the real world?
And, like Llewyn, our profession arrives at this dilemma - with every cycle of despair, the next step of motivation is to close the door, raise the walls, and gain an even greater sense of autonomy and control. With each subsequent fold, we travel further inwards, away from reality, and into our depression of purpose and yearning for purity.
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About the Writer
Anchal Srivastava is an architect, urban planner, writer, researcher and scholar. She is a certified GIS specialist from IIRS, ISRO, Dehradun. She is a graduate of the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Delhi and Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Technical University (APJAKTU), Uttar Pradesh. She has experience working at the Town and Country Planning Organisation Delhi, Jabalpur Smart City Limited, Suresh Goel & Associates (SGA), APS Green Architects & Associates, and as the head architect at SSAP and Shantiniketan Buildtech Pvt. Ltd.
About the Editor
Shama Patwardhan is an architect and writer from Mumbai. She is a graduate of the Rachana Sansad's Academy of Architecture (AoA), Mumbai and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Heritage Conservation Society, India. She has experience working with Rethinking The Future (RTF), Abhikalpan Architects and Planners, and Manasaram Architects.
About the Illustrator
Palak Gupta is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. She is also a graphic designer, illustrator and painter. She has experience working on the packaging design and branding for NutriTown Organics.