Modern Architecture – The Imperfect Argument

“No architecture can be truly noble which is not imperfect.” John Ruskin

From the moment a building is inaugurated and put into use it begins to age. Therefore it is decisive for it’s success how it bears it’s flaws – because the flaws will indeed come!

A brand new flawless building is beautiful and fascinating for sure, with the freshness that looks good on cover pages. However, when the novelty has worn off, and time has started to put its mark on it, the glossy magazines have turned their attention elsewhere! Like the fashion industry, the building industry idolizes the flawless, fresh and untried architecture, with no marks on it’s surface.

The life-span of a building outlives that of it’s makers by many centuries, if done right. Therefore we should keep in mind that, much as we build to meet present demands, we also build for the future, using materials, forms, structures, and planning solutions that endure the test of time. Otherwise our buildings may end up obsolete, unloved, and perhaps even demolished before long.

We cannot expect to be able to create such ageless beauties as the Pantheon of Rome or Hagia Sophia of Istanbul, just as we probably won’t look as good as Sophia Loren when we turn 70. There are too many factors that are out of our control, such as the world economy, the power balance,… the gene lottery, etc.

But we can keep in mind that we build for fellow human beings, who are perfectly imperfect, and that the buildings will stimulate and comfort people for generations after they are built. Most people love the relaxed atmosphere that is created by old and worn architecture, that have survived the test of time and still looks beautiful! Walking through the Medieval towns of Italy, for instance, many will experience lower levels of stress, and feel safe and comfortable. Everything is worn, but still beautiful; we know it works; it is loved and well used.

A lot of the materials most commonly used in Modern Architecture today do not age gracefully. They are prefabricated in large units in huge quantities and put together on site. When they deteriorate it is difficult to maintain them without having to replace large parts of the building altogether. Good materials such as stone, brick, and tile are labour intensive, so they are not profitable in a short perspective.

Nobility may not come with the cradle, but if we are careful and considerate in our choices it may come with the rocking chair!