Over the weekend we – the five members of Studio V – have been finalizing our site analysis. This is the time to focus and to refine the research, diagrams, and precedents we have been working on over the past two weeks. You may ask, “Why this concluding note?” On Wednesday we will be giving a presentation of our site analysis to representatives of the Charleston Parks Conservancy, as well as other community members, before moving into the next phase of the project – design.
Our imminent presentation has given us a lot of food for thought. On Friday we discussed ways to explain our research coherently and clearly to the community members to whom we will be presenting. Sure, it’s easy for us to discuss our site among ourselves, because we are all very familiar with it by now and we are all students of architecture. But how can we distill our research into such a format that anyone, even someone with no outside knowledge of architecture, can immediately grasp the scope of our sight with no difficulty? How can we translate the language of architecture into the language of everyone?
This has raised a few questions in my mind, personally. Isn’t architecture universal? Isn’t it open and collaborative and all-inclusive? It does not exist exclusively for the architect. It is for everyone. Architecture is the livable art: it is not experienced passively, merely observed through a glass window like a painting or piece of sculpture might be. Instead we walk through architecture. We inhabit it directly. It is just an empty shell unless everyday people activate it.
Architecture, ironically, relies on non-architects to come to life. In fact, we as architects design for other people – very seldom for other architects. As such a universal field, it should make sense to everyone. It should not be an arcane or esoteric subject. On Wednesday, we want to encourage a conversation with the community members during our presentation. Thus, even the “layman” should be able to grasp our research quickly. This reminded me of a subject I studied during my sophomore year back in Clemson – “architecture parlante.” That is, in French, “speaking architecture.” The term is associated with Neoclassical architect Claude Nicolas Ledoux. It refers to architecture that describes its own function, without needing any extraneous explanation – architecture that everyone can understand.
In the same way, our project should speak for itself. It is not the architect who will ultimately invigorate and give life to the pavilion and gardens we are designing, but the community members. It is our job to build the structure, but it is everyone else’s job to make it come alive, long after we are gone. Our garden pavilion must be as multi-use as possible, for people of all ages and types, because its success depends on its ability to function for the community. We cannot forget the people for whom we are designing. Thus, our presentation, like our structure, cannot be tailored just to the architect. Rather, it should speak a clear language for people of all backgrounds.