I’ve been trying to understand what drives the way I think about architecture, both in terms of my own work and in terms of the way I observe or experience architecture more generally.
It’s interesting to dwell on the essential themes that recur in architecture; the vocabulary that gives it presence and structure. Within that framework I’m analysing my architectural prejudices, to identify and interrogate the ideas that appear to determine the way I think about architecture, and to assess the frequency with which those themes repeat. I want to understand the patterns. I want to decode the lens through which all of my architectural thinking is focussed.
The observations and propositions that are collected within these pages constitute an attempt to distil those patterns, to build a coherent and practical position on integrity and beauty in architecture.
I find much of what makes architecture joyful to be saturated in contradiction. The very nature of architecture, and the impression of buildings, is determined by a harmonious and synergetic relationship between the specificity of the detail (the material(s), the connection, the assembly) and the generality of the whole composition. I find the best architecture balances intensity and richness in the detail, with calmness and serenity in the whole.
Perhaps it is in finding the equilibrium between rich complexity and profound simplicity; between the chaos and the quiet; between the ordinary and the sublime, that an essential and wonderful architectural balancing act could be formed – a Dynamic Stasis.
“Winged God approve that in a world that has
appropriated flight to itself there are still people like us,
who believe in the ability of the heart to migrate,
if only momentarily, between the quotidian
and the sublime.”1
Dynamic Stasis may, admittedly, be an imperfect reflection on those contradictions. However, I find it creates a means to construct a framework within which every essential architectural decision is made, a context where both an intelligent design process and a keen sense of critical awareness can be cultivated.
As ever, the most reliable way to understand the best way forward is to look back. Architecture is more credible when it learns from the past, inheriting some long-established modes of quality, rather than trying to be innovative for its own sake. There is profound nobility in sober architecture that calmly and intelligently learns from the past – so that buildings are situated in an evolutionary continuum; where each project is a lesson, rather than a profane exclamation.
In that manner, the texts and images presented here will attempt to seek out and celebrate that nobility – and will endeavour to capture and illustrate themes of richness and serenity; complexity and simplicity; beauty and ordinariness – ultimately striving to decode the fundamental grammar of Dynamic Stasis.
1. RS Thomas (1995). From ‘Bird Watching’, published as part of the ‘No Truce with the Furies’ collection. Bloodaxe Books, Northumberland.