Making A Timeline of Architecturally Significant Structures

  

 A common pattern of physical design aids to address current social concerns are seen these days, however a different stance has been taken here, addressing what we see as radical gaps in the current course of architectural design itself.  It deals with  making of a chronological timeline of architecturally significant structures. Apparently this appears misleadingly simple but repetition of half-understood ideas due to lack of clarity and insight in past over the ages are creating a lack of thoughtfulness in the fervent mind of the young learners. This timeline would ideally deal with the structures that were epoch making of their era and thereby urging young generation to do pioneering research and innovations. The following article discerns the profound impact and the possible magnitude that this timeline can have on architectural education as well as profession across the nation and beyond.

The Need:

The ability to be projective with one’s work rests largely on being conscious of directing a trajectory.  This may sound simple, but in fact it questions the basic outlines of one’s stance or position.  While particular aspirations will inevitably differ amongst individuals, without this awareness, the multitude of divergent paths within Architecture and Architectural Praxis can impose a destination. Timeline can play a critical role in forming a trajectory of exploration– a task that is often difficult to uncover in the preceding or subsequent years.

In the novel Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, two parallel stories are woven together in alternating chapters that involve the same protagonist’s helpless journey through the ‘real world’ (End of the World) and a ‘fantasy world’ (Hard-Boiled Wonderland), revealing a tension between conscious and unconscious choice.  As the story (or stories) unfolds, we learn that a neurological experiment in the ‘real world’ has resulted in the loss of this character’s memory and mind, which, in the fantasy world translates to the loss of his shadow.  As his shadow is separated from his body, he lives an increasingly uncritical, unquestioning, and passive life and fades deeper into the Wonderland.  Ironically in Murakami’s novel,the protagonist who insists on holding onto his memory and mind (not to mention his comfortable lifestyle as a ‘Calcultec’ or human data processor/computer programmer) is largely indifferent to the world transpiring in the Tokyo streets that surround him, and chooses to lead a life dictated by routine that centers primarily on his work.  So, despite his efforts – in both stories – to retain his mind, the chosen lifestyle that was vanishing as a result of this experiment was not so dissimilar from the life he was unconsciously inheriting.

Underlying the structure of Murakami’s novel is the pretense that the loss of the mind and its ability to retain memories leads to an unquestioning life, which does not allow for change, progress, or criticality.  Many would argue that while we look to several great Architects to direct the trajectory of our discipline, a much larger group of Architects exists who have lost their shadows – or ability to critically examine their work, trajectory, and meaning of their projects.

The key to creating critical work that not only adds to the growth of the discipline but also creates a platform to structure a career path is having a clear stance or position.  Timeline is an intriguing moment in the development of an Architect because it exists at a curious intersection between academic growth and praxis and is therefore well suited to cultivating the seeds for such a stance.

The development of a clear stance is difficult in the formative years of Architecture school where the acrobatics of juggling site, program, structure and concept, and translating these forces into an Architectural Form takes precedence.  During these years, one is gathering the basic tools to create meaningful form, with the aid of critics and instructors. Timeline provides the first glimpses of autonomy. The instructor now takes the role of the advisor, and the individual defines the terms of their project – its site, programme, concept and agenda.  Unbeknownst to developing students, throughout Architecture school a series of external reviewers has been cultivating an internal critic that exists within each student.  This critic will need to weigh and observe opposing views, and be able to hold both simultaneously before selecting the most appropriate trajectory.  Architecture is a result of hundreds if not thousands of decisions – each of which demands the criticality of the designer. This criticality also allows one to frame a larger interest or frustration that is worthy of deeper examination.

The seeds of such an examination can be planted during research of historical events, only because it is difficult to see the course of one’s trajectory as clearly and critically as the moment that allows.  Further, timeline also forces one to contextualize the issues that arise from a particular project into a larger discourse that sheds the introverted nature of the project and potentially advances the discipline.  Consequently, it can provide the first chapter in unraveling a discourse that is part of a longer project.

Defining a Timeline is not an easy task, not even for the faculty under whose auspices it comes about.  However, it would probably be safe to say that in principle a timeline constitutes the threshold between the student and the professional and between architecture as a subjectivist fantasy and architecture as an intellectual discourse.

Objective:

A timeline should try to transmit knowledge and intention in a way that can be both rigorous in locating boundaries in an existent discourse and yet poetic in its capacity to reach beyond the immediate problem to some larger issue: in our case to the open question of architecture’s position in society.  This ideal has to be framed, however, within the context of a constantly mobile whole.  Institutions, determined and weighed down by the long history of their pedagogical, ideological, and academic commitments, set up expectations about what is and is not a milestone of architecture without those expectations ever being put into writing or expressed in words.  The timeline thus should become part of a mysterium that the student is meant to unravel. The result is an almost Darwinian-styled logic that gives preference to those who are best equipped intellectually for the task.  But this does not mean that the institution is absolved from the responsibility of guiding the student or of reflecting on the successes and failures of its approach.

As part of this reflection, one has to remind oneself that making a timeline is part of an intellectual tradition which is larger than the local context or of a particular institution

In essence, it defines the scholarly exchange between an individual and a disciplinary collective.

In architecture, if one thinks of the various parties that have an interest in defining and controlling the identity of this ‘collective’, one would list the advisor with his or her unique approach, the discipline of architecture as defined by the institution’s curriculum, and finally the profession itself.  Given the various scales at which these interests operate (sometimes one against the other), it is difficult to find a level of criticality that would be accepted in all places.  Ultimately, an architectural timeline works on a scale that favors the architectural community. Be it teachers, students or practitioners it imparts important guidelines and helps questioning one’s approach to the particular profession.  This works in two directions. It gives the personnel a degree of autonomy that in turn breeds diversity, but it also means that students, often possessing limited awareness of how pedagogy operated, lack the information and expertise to make a sounds judgment about what direction to look up to.

This means that in architecture, ‘an architectural timeline’ may be more open-ended in what is tolerated than in other disciplines, but it is also more dependent on the context in which it is created and evaluated.  The situation is not to be lamented simply because it sounds so chaotic.  But it does mean that faculty are called upon to exhibit habits of self-examination which are more encompassing than what one might find in a traditional studio environment.  For example, as professors should ask, is a timeline simply a re-summation of the process of internet browsing, or does it begin to go beyond what was taught in the studio?  Is it an act of ‘coming into consciousness’, or is it the demonstration of institutional indoctrination?  Is it the site where the institution reveals its culminating power to produce the next generation of architect-thinkers or is it the site where the limitations of the institution are masked by the rhetoric of its potentiality?  These questions play themselves out in each and every entry of timeline whether or not a student is aware of it.  The outcome, therefore, becomes important to the institution, perhaps more so than to the individual students. Each and every entry on the timeline should touch on a whole range of problems having to do with the nature of architectural education, from its status as para-professional enterprise, to its status as an independent intellectual discourse, and from the compulsion to control the student’s mind to the freedom that only the institution can permit.

A good timeline, I would argue, will recognize and debate the position itself within the ongoing polemic that is at the heart of everything architectural.  A good timeline will also see the design project as a means of coming to terms with that polemic in its ambiguous state.  The timeline thus has the possibility to work within the obscure domain of identity and difference which structures other aspects of our personal, cultural, and institutional life, not simply the ones having to do with architecture. In that sense, the work becomes less a statement about professional preparedness and more about a student’s growing intellectual competency in dealing with the complexity that is intrinsic to architecture.

It gives not only fresh perspective on old problems, but a sense of energy and commitment that will be necessary if architecture is to maintain its relevance to our world.

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