March 05, 2008

Guild House

Design Observer's Dmitri Siegal recently wrote a short piece on Philadelphia's Guild House, mentioning in particular the necessary relationships with the famous Venturi text(s) and the way the context for both the building itself and the original texts have changed in interesting ways. A nice, succinct, and thoughtful read.

But like so much writing on architecture, it doesn't ask the real questions: what was (is) it like to live in the Guild House? How does that experience compare with the original architect's vision (if any)? What was (is) it like to live with it in your neighbourhood? How does it affect life in the neighbourhood? How does that relate to the architect's original vision (if any)? How much does the architecture (as opposed to just the construction) interact with or impose on all these things?

You know, the hard questions, the ones usually elided in architectural writing. Treating architecture solely as a species of visual design (somewhat forgivable in Design Observer, I guess), means treating the true end users — the tenants, the neighbouring residents, passers-by, etc. — as decoration, at best. And treating a particular building solely as a rhetorical phrase in a historical discourse of ideas and images writes the end users out of the story completely.



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