settling up

The third and final part of my notes on the Ole Scheeren lecture.

*applause*

Lecture over, it was time for questions from the audience. Suffering from ‘an obligation to blog’, my hand went up first. A microphone is passed to me. As usual for events such as this, it isn’t switched on. Feeling slightly foolish, I speak at it anyway.

Everything you described about the development of the CCTV project seemed to be rooted in the program and process of the building’s complicated political and organisational requirements. There didn’t seem to be any mention of personal, subjective desires that you exercised yourself to help shape the final form. I’m thinking here about the shape of the loop. Would you say that the building’s formal result was entirely data driven?

Time and complete editorial control is a wonderful thing – there was a great deal more stuttering and indecision when I actually said it. The observant among you will have also noticed that I stole this question from someone else. It’s a reconfigured, less elegant version of the one put to Neil Denari in the lecture I wrote about last year. With that in mind you’d be forgiven for wondering why I was surprised to receive the same answer to the same question.

Absolutely not. I don’t believe in data driven architecture.

Not his exact words I might add, there were more of them than that, but his position was clear. He seemed a little upset by my accusation and took time to explain how there had been much deliberation over the exact shape of the loop.

And yet, only once had he given any sort of personal opinion – during his description of the air quality in Beijing. It had stood out quite starkly against the facts of the project (I marked this point in part I of these notes)

The rest of the questions were all about the CCTV project.

Drinks were served to accompany the post lecture networking/schmoozing, but we left everyone to it and headed out across town again. Instead, drunk on our own rhetoric, we talked about Ole as we walked and the streets slipped by unnoticed. Why had he hidden behind the process? Why didn’t he talk about how he felt? Is this the result of the last twenty years of contemporary practice? The complete erasure of self in preference of the data?

Perhaps that’s what’s necessary, I reasoned, when you’ve just dug a hole in the ground that’s 33 metres deep. You need to be able to point to the mathematics otherwise you’d go insane with fear.

Question: “Why are you altering the surface of the earth to make a structure that will hold 15,000 people.”

Answer: “Because it felt like the right thing to do.”

Now that would take serious balls.

It took about three days before I realised how stupid I’d been. How I’d completely overlooked the reason Ole had chosen to talk about the Cities On The Move exhibition.

Contrast.

All the moves I was looking for in the design of CCTV had been taking place in the curating of the exhibition. Intuition, willfulness, freedom of expression, experimentation. It couldn’t be data or program driven because the data didn’t exist until after the event.

He’d carefully explained a very complicated design process and I had done little more than make a sweeping generalisation based on my understanding of Dutch practice and a few centuries of European rationalism.

As a profession, we architects often have to deny the accusation that we’re only really interested in making grand, iconic, monolithic statements that will ensure our legacy lives on. On that particular evening it would have been difficult to deny, as we all sat there transfixed by CCTV’s ‘bigness’ and our misguided reading of it.

We’ll end with another quote from the speaker.

It’s strange how all the questions are only about CCTV.

Not that strange Ole, not that strange. We settled our bill at the bar* and drove home blissfully unaware of our blindness.

Previous parts: part I and part II

* It was a hardware failure that caused our credit cards to fail back in part I. Architecture is poorly paid but we can at least afford to eat, which is all that really matters.

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