wk10 reading response

Total Architecture: Walter Gropius

“If we establish a common basis for the understanding of design- a denominator reached through objective findings rather than personal interpretation- it should apply to any type of design; for the process of designing a great building or a simple chair differs only in degree, not in principle.” – Walter Gropius

“Total Architecture” has been one of the most interesting reads I’ve ever come to in several ways.  First, Gropius prefaces his thoughts by dispelling any notion that he purports a singular “style”.  After he discusses democracy and diversity, and how they may relate to creativity, he goes on to talk about universal or basic notions of a visual language.  To me, these two thoughts, in relation to each other, provide the basis for everything that is architecture and design, and delineates a clear path for understanding design.  That is to say, for me, there are two main facets that validate all of the design process: each individual having the capacity to synthesize complexity and in turn think creatively as well as there being universally common benchmarks for a visual/spatial language.  Therefore, creativity and architecture representative of a particular time or circumstance is generated through a common set of basic human rules that span across all cultures and all time.

Gropius discusses these issues in relation to the development of the architect, architectural academia, and architectural practice.  He does this not only from the perspective of the Bauhaus, which he notes has been the cause of many labels put on him, but also from the perspective of being the Dean of Harvard GSD.  There are several overarching characteristics that can be interpolated from Gropius’s discussion that assumingly will benefit every person, regardless of whether or not they are an architect, designer, thinker, etc.  Some of these characteristics are the importance of equipoise and balance, contrast/diversity, emphasis on collaborative/cooperative action in concert with individual efforts, an importance of being able to free the mind in order to think creatively (which has much to do with education and exposure to creativity when young), and the importance of learning a visual language that transcends time in order to give visual expression to creative capacity.

Agreeing with Gropius, I do not think architecture has anything to do with “styles”.  It simply is not sufficient to reuse an aesthetic from a different time, much like we would not walk around in period clothes.  Rather, architecture is a process that is grounded in the ability to redefine problems and think creatively through a holistic perspective, not getting caught in the specificity, although being able to jump across scales when need be, in addition to maintaining a critical understanding of visual language.  “Good architecture should be a projection of life itself and that implies and intimate knowledge of biological, social, technical, and artistic problems”.  It is increasingly important to understand architecture (and design) in this way due to the increasingly complexity and dynamism of our environments.  Things are constantly in flux.  It is not sufficient to know “facts and tricks” and use them to reimage styles from another time,

“because they leave the student helpless if he is faced with a new and unexpected situation.  If he has not been trained to get an insight into organic development no skillful addition of modern motives, however elaborate, will enable him to do creative work.”

Rather, we can know the science behind design through training and education.  Certain principles such as balance, repetition, scale, contrast and tension, optical illusion, shape, color, etc. can be taught.  This is the common denominator of design.  Additionally, we can gain comfort in thinking creatively only through practice.  Practice is a very personal experience that defines the way an individual will think, in addition to solidifying and making personally relevant all of the knowledge they otherwise have learned in books.  This is the individual perspective of the creator or artist (based in experience) that, when communicated well allows others to see things in a slightly different way.  In essence, this is total architecture: science and art, holistic knowledge and creative ability, education and practice.

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