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Principles and Choices – Part 1

Kenn A. Coates B of Arch., MRIAC, OAA,CAPHC.CaGBC

kenncoats“We shape buildings, therefore they shape us.” – Winston Churchill

Let us just take a minute to contemplate and preface our thinking about the built environment. Given my profession as an Architect and having regard for the milieu of today’s architectural realm, I frequently question our purpose for what we do at any scale of endeavour and what we undertake professionally… and I look back over time to find relevance and perspective on which we have based our principles and choices. As I write, I hope that my thoughts will spark some chord of interest and action among all who care … as much and hopefully more than I do, yet I remain open to suggestion as to where we may go from here and how we can make our world a better place.

It has been my observation and experience that the art and science of architecture and related applied disciplines to which some of us belong have been whittled down by narrow gauged thinking. Conversely thinking within a larger context embraces notions of development, buildings, land-use, infrastructure and ultimately our cities. As things stand now, however, I believe that often our resultant human conditions have been and are selfishly motivated by our own misguided ‘politicised agenda’ to succeed and create some form of value to support ourselves instead of the big picture.

The aesthetic standards for any of the above must be premised to broaden any design and consideration must also be given for accommodating the greater whole and the widening of relative immediate, short term- and long term impacts. These impacts are affected by:

i. The choices and judgment we bring or attach to our application of any intelligent answers or proposed solutions that are microscopically suspect to fail; for we disregard any recognition or resultant effect that a ‘crystallized pedagogy’ informs what it is we have and what exists. We are instructed through education and our work methodology process to be objective in design; to provide solutions for various “artifacts, buildings, infrastructure, structures and landscapes”. However, what we are actually doing is answering to a limited equation and applied formulaic thinking.

ii. An applied rational thinking for our human mind, born out of historical and political manifestations as well as a so-called new world order for systemized development from turn of the century imperialism. My point here is not to ultimately criticize and bemoan society but to put the responsibility and accountability back on our own shoulders; and to understand that any prescribed prevailing design standards are only just that. Additionally, these standards are created to be guides for land-use, buildings, structures and landscapes that are more or less mindful and ecologically competent and that is all… ultimately misguided and faulty prescribed judgments that are inherent in our profession’s education system and applied society standards for proposed solutions we have had to expect to produce in templates ad nauseam.

I now wish to build on that premise and foundation herein to connect all of us as professionals in our respective roles. I believe that we must remain open and un-truncated by the limitations of what we do. I also believe that the education of current and future undergraduates and those in the field at various points in their careers must acknowledge that the larger issues of human ecology and any relevance to sustainability and ‘green thinking’ be universally viewed in a contrarian view . That is, the art and science of what we do as professionals in our respective fields must not be limited or isolated to just our expertise, without full consideration and embracing of a greater holistic consciousness, principled and even emotionally and intelligently centered.

My thoughts may very well be considered lofty by some; however, I have always believed that change is not for the timid. To bring about a paradigm shift in the way we think and work, I would like us to advocate a promising and open field of vision-rationale premised upon education, politics, and also within religious perspective and not truncated such that any design endeavour that we undertake must be viewed as part of subfields of the art and science of health and well-being in the process of coming up with so-called proposed project solutions.

Essentially we have done two things; and perhaps you may argue otherwise and show by example but they are just that isolated in a one off scenario. However, taking the aforementioned into context, it can be seen that our so called ecological troubles and state of economic thinking have shown our inability to manage our common property resources at all levels. It also shows that we have forgotten important influences such as the human condition and gender imbalances.

At the same time, we have created through industrialization of all things attributed to some form of physical value only; albeit technological, educational, resultant exponential uncontrolled growth in companies, neighbourhoods and cities that are ultimate flaws in economic thinking models we have deemed relevant.

Today, even though we are all ready to jump on the popular bandwagons of “sustainability” and “green technology,” we have become ambivalent and lack even any enchantment to acknowledge and attest that we have lost our body and human memory of nature, any sensory created loss and connection to emotional attachment and intelligent thinking of an affinity for something of a greater meaning and fulfillment in what we do as professionals. We have let function control our way of thinking and dictate within our own very disciplined community into a scientific based thinking.

Our current economic and social reality have now brought forward our ‘green- sustainable model’ as an embraced resultant paradigm shift and direction that even still embraces behavioural misdirected economic survival and applied biases in trendy ‘green washed thinking’ which is uni-dimensional still, muddied and misrepresented by media and business product advertising.

If we are really serious about being professionals who are in tune with our environment and clients’ needs, let us sit back and take some accountability and social responsibility individually and together in cross disciplinary thinking and solicit common purpose and goals through what we do from the smallest task to the largest project. Let us make our voices be heard and create common purpose and direction towards a real paradigm conscious shift by which we can live and work.

Kenn has been practicing architecture in Canada and abroad for the past 30 years. The second part of this article will be published in Issue 5 of CCD. You can email Kenn via [email protected]