The Architectural Analog Excerpted from a lecture presented at the University of Idaho, 02.11
In 1971, over drinks, Bruce Graham supposedly pushed cigarettes up from a group in his hand to describe to Fazlur Khan the design premise for the tallest building in the world. The discussion was around how to employ the bundled tubular structural systems they had both been working on, but the simple analogy redirected a complex undertaking into its most identifiable gesture, a framework for the ultimate DNA of the building.
The practice of architecture currently sits at a complex and challenging crossroad. Many practices struggle with the iconography of our new environment now that traditional dimensional space no longer serves as the primary forum for collective interaction. How should work speak meaningfully to a parallel scale of social and technological progress that transcended the very scale of a historical architecture?
We believe in the idea of an architectural analog - a continuum of iterative development. We see the work of today as a continuing contribution to a long history of similar practitioners, all trying to voice a notion of contemporary critique, commentary, and progress. Possibly, for the first time in the modern era, we are forced, not by choice, but by practicality, to contemplate a divergence from a literal reference to our environment and our craft. We need to explore a new tangible truth in a new narrative.
Form No Longer Follows Function
For the larger part of the Analog, the face a building wore was directly tied to a measure of its tectonics- the very construction methodology by which it was achieved. Iconographic narrative and process was directly tied to physical manifestation on ever-ascending scales until the structure was rendered at full scale. And while our building technologies and performance characteristics, as well as the author’s available tools to both control and describe them have accelerated at a phenomenal rate, these same tools have jumped to an ethereal plane of representation, often devoid of dimension, atmosphere, or haptic sensibilities. There is a notion that architecture no longer needs to seek analogy to describe a natural organic process, we can recreate it.
As an alternative path towards relevant meaning, we have moved forward by looking back, with a view stripped of nostalgia. One needs to go no further than the archetypal modern building in order to find a new seam to mine. When the actual tectonics required to achieve Mies van der Rohe’s first pure glass skyscraper, the 1958 Seagram Building, forced him to conceal the bones of his structure, he created a narrative skin of steel, evoking the materiality he was unable to truly expose. It’s important to allow this measure to flower into the idea that the allegory can hold the same truth as the fact, that the form doesn’t necessarily follow the function, but the means are clearly anticipating the ends. It becomes a question of architectural integrity, but fidelity to what? If we accept that a true tectonic expression - in the Louis Kahn “I asked the brick what it wanted” sense - is at its modern essence only a representational endeavor rather than a direct depiction, then the dilemma of what the architectural voice should convey comes into focus.
Lofi: An Allegorical Authenticity
We like the premise that for musicians to create a sense of authenticity, they embrace the term LoFi: the forsaking of captured digital fidelity for something baser, atmospheric, unadorned and temporal - but also more intrinsically meaningful. And, in a similar way, we have embraced a methodology that operates within the dimension of a traditional architecture and a shared human experience. We continue the search for an expression based on a common denominator, a collective sensory empathy.
We advocate for simplicity in the face of ever evolving complexity, for quiet amid the cacophony of the newest. Much like the simplest of gestures can describe the most ambitious of structures, we believe that there is also a meaningful truth held within collective understanding. When a simple but comprehensive analogous construct evolves from an architectural program and is portrayed candidly, it can convey a deeper cultural and universally humanistic meaning. The end work can voice a simple and comprehensible truth in an environment of growing abstraction.