02 November 2008

The Audacity to Build

BLDGBlog recently ran an article entitled Offshoring Audacity about a conference panel coming up next week of the same name.

Here is the theme:

The specific goal, then, is to discuss the idea that the West has begun "offshoring audacity" – urban and architectural audacity – to places like Dubai, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi, Beijing, and South Korea.

With some key questions:

The question becomes: How can we discuss all of this without resorting either to chest-puffing nationalism (it's not true, the West is the best) or to a kind of knee-jerk Spenglerian resignation (it's true, the West is over)?

Put another way: Is there really any purpose in celebrating the newest mile-high tower or solar-powered private golf community, as every architecture blog in the world seems to think we need to do right now – or, conversely, is cynicism in the face of mile-high towers really the most interesting or appropriate response?

Note the nature of the discourse, which in spite of the questions still assumes that Western civilization is a dominant force around which the rest of the world still revolves in their attempt to worship and emulate us.

Perhaps the reason there is an increase in audacious architecture around the world is that many people are simply realizing that there is a rest of the world.

One of my pet peeves is history of architecture books that run on for hundreds of pages and umpteen chapters, and have one chapter at the end devoted to absolutely everything non-Western, all lumped together in a mush, including many things that have been subsumed into the Western tradition through extensive contact and interaction. The wording of the essay indicates that not much has changed.

The other countries are apparently just passive receptors to our audacity and brilliance.

One could almost believe that everyone lived in holes in the ground until the Greeks showed up and thought of the idea of the building.

Old hubris leads to more hubris ...

Though here is a nice response from Architecture and Morality. It takes a little wind out of the sails and takes a much more pragmatic stance toward the entire thing. I don't always agree with what they say there either, but I always respect it.

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