Architecture Has Become Disposable

With every new innovation architecture is creating its own obsolescence. The race for taller, greener, more cutting edge building narrows the window of time each preceding iteration can be marveled. If every few years there is a new city chasing the Bilbao effect won’t there be a point of diminishing returns? Will tourists race to one city only to find they then have to turn around to get to another?

If it is the newness that is so exciting what happens when these iconoclastic buildings become old? Do they retain any value? Or do they quickly become passé?

This is not just the case for “it” buildings. In many parts of the US people don’t want to buy a “used,” I mean old, house. It’s like a car. There is always a newer model. So instead of maintaining, renovating and adapting their homes to their changing life circumstances, they trade up. Vast tracks of spec homes will be abandoned after they are no longer new. Instead of increasing in value these homes are losing value. As they should be actually. They are usually built of such poor quality that they are not meant to last more than 30 or 40 years. Then what happens? Are they demolished? That costs money too. Not to mention the waste. THE WASTE. That is the real issue.

We see it in fashion. The world is covered in our discarded garments. There are not enough needy people in the world to give them too, and most are of such poor quality that many don’t even want those hand-me-downs (Samson). Then there are the waste byproducts of clothing production as well as the enormous water use.

Starchitecture has been terrible for architecture and the built environment.

Every building is an ICON, so then none of them are. The explosion of architecture blogs and publications has been feeding the frenzy of consumption, with every day a new batch of exciting buildings being published online. Design is tailored to the image it will produce, the “money shot.” Because perhaps that is all that really matters in the end? Very few people will actually experience the building and very few people will care after the initial glow has worn off. The media cycle will have moved on to something else. The trend will pass and when the newness has worn off it will likely be replaced with something else.

Design and construction is moving faster and faster to keep pace with technology. But Starchitect Rem Koolhaas still laments its slowness (Koolhaas). But it is speed that is the problem. Architecture can and should not be fast and should not compete with technology. Architecture has a 3,000 year history. It is the (second) oldest profession. The Great Pyramid at Giza took 20 years to build by 100,000 workers. Chartres Cathedral was built over a period of 30 years. Both of these structures have survived more than 1,000 years and are celebrated as world treasures. That’s not likely to be the case for anything built today.

Image: “Demolition” (CC BY 2.0) by MICOLO J Thanx 4, 3.1m views

2 thoughts on “Architecture Has Become Disposable

  • Reply William Huchting April 29, 2017 at 2:21 am

    Japanese housing is—from what I read—very disposable. There’s a small subset that takes a lot of chances and is pretty amazing. Here in the USA most people see buildings as the largest investment of their lifetime and are fairly conservative on their choices. When they hire architects—which is roughly less than 5% of the marketplace, they tend to be more interested in comparable s in the marketplace rather than innovation. Saving money on energy use is getting more popular but design as a goal usually means giving the house features and finishes found in homes with large market values. Nice to see slow space as an alternative!

    • Reply Mette Aamodt May 1, 2017 at 6:45 pm

      Thanks for your comment William. I look forward to sharing more ideas and discussions with you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *