Why architecture is not a luxury
Architecture is not, neither should never be, a luxury. Being able to create and adapt spaces to grant individuals and communities the premises for a functional and comfortable living, and laying the foundations (literally, in some cases) for an improving society, should not be closed behind the doors of elitism and inaccessible costs. We are not talking about the cathedral archetype, that is built with great effort to inspire emotions and wonder, or to be a beacon of innovation and advancement. We are talking about the places where we carry on our everyday lives: the homes, the workplaces, the shops, the workshops, the doctor offices, the restaurants and so on.
I wanted to address this topic immediately, to clarify what architecture is about and, with that in mind, tackle the other single issues and the misconceptions.
Architecture and interior design are an essential service, a set of skills and professionalism acquired through study and experience to assist people into creating optimised spaces, environmental comfort, energy efficiency, beauty, well-being, generating an added value to the simple need of creating an enclosed space.
Architects are specialized, competent, resourceful, dedicated, creative and have all the tools required to do the job: create a space for you.
Why do we treat architects differently than a doctor, a mechanic, an advocate? Everyone can try to do these jobs themselves, there is nothing that stops us, but we recognize the value of their expertise, and the fact that we are not as well prepared to face that kind of problems and situations, as they do on a daily basis, during years of career. Would you like to not be able to pay for those services because they became a luxury? Would you choose cheaper or DIY solutions when you need help in those fields?
Saving money on architectural consulting and design, means not investing in your property, not optimize the square-meters you are renting, wasting that potential, losing that value, living in an expensive, unhealthy, inefficient device, potentially hindering growth and improvement in your life.
Architects are skilled and experienced professionals, that allow you to achieve goals in a technical field, you are not competent in (because if you were, then you would be an architect! simple as that).
The public opinion and how we got here
There are apparently a lot of misconceptions regarding architecture and architects in Europe. That is a fact, but how we got to this point could be a long and controversial discussion.
Long story short, through history the importance of the architect tended to increase over time and to shift from the literal “chief of the constructors” to a more complex, multidisciplinary figure. It was during the 19th century that architects started strongly outing their philosophies about society and supporting new ideologies with an increasingly larger mediatic coverage, thus resulting in a sort of intellectualization of the most prominent figures and an instrumentalization of those philosophies by the new power players, including more in general capitalism and consumerism. The celebration of these distorted principles led to a standardization of how we build and the mainstream expectations about architecture.
The modality in which we access to the process of designing and arranging a space for our needs, was shaped in a way that we would spend our money, not for services, but for things: standard products with short life span and flexibility, that need to be constantly replaced. All this led us to live in spaces that are so minimized, uncomfortable and without identity, that our homes became just a space to put our things in and instead of a stage to host our activities and give us comfort and interaction with the environment (not to be confused with minimalism, here we are referring to architectural, spatial and expressive poverty).
During the years, there are many attempts of rediscovering the original meaning of good architecture for everyone, in the sense of creating a place where we can retreat, feel good and safe with our loved ones, a place to unleash our creativity and desire to work and produce new things. Something more organic and humanized than a box with holes. Unfortunately, these attempts, even when successful, were not aligned with the goals of our society and did not blossom.
With the explosion of economic wealth and technology, we started to see the rise of these star-architects, creating unbelievable buildings for more unbelievable prices. Meanwhile a cheap, accessible furniture started to be more and more available, and the “normal person” grow used to answer to his necessity of furnishing a space with these worldwide standard products, bypassing the need of a professional: picking a room and a style from a catalogue was easier, faster and more convenient for incrementing the demand-and-supply circle.
In this new gap between a costly architecture with an elusive meaning, and easy, compulsive standardized solutions, people put the architect in a corner and labelled him, feeding the idea that he serves only for technicisms and bureaucracy, or to do fancy stuff, otherwise is an unnecessary cost for the normal person.
In the end, living in a beautiful place is not so important, right? What counts, is that I have money left to buy stuff.
Now, rarely people think at architecture as a solution for their needs or an investment. Mostly is felt like a nuisance to get rid of in order to receive our box, where they can start putting their things, or indeed a luxury for some lucky few.
How can we change that
Let’s be positive and try to focus on what can we change this situation.
Clearly architecture is not accessible to all people, both economically and intellectually.
The cost of the products and materials has risen way faster than the people’s buying power to a point that there is not room for anything else. Copy-paste interior design is an effective way to patching it up.
Architecture has also become abstract, detached and not understandable to most people: there is a cultural void, a lack of background and basic instruction, that leads people to not understanding its purpose anymore and being unable to discern a well-designed space ant its benefits and therefore not striving anymore to achieve that quality of life.
A big step would be more attention to architecture in schools: the same way we are now increasing our kids’ awareness on subjects like sustainability, attention to the environment, and nutrition, we should also teach beauty and the importance of living in well-designed spaces, because that is what we do: mainly humans live their day in buildings. Understanding why they are, the way they are, as well as how and why we can make them better, has the same importance of realizing how our lifestyle and diet influence the environment and our wellbeing.