Seduction: the substance of style.
Whilst pondering the merits of a building design during its inception, a well known Architect commented to me ‘seduction is everything’. His point was that no matter the merits of a particular design, if it doesn’t immediately grab the viewer, it would be rejected in favour of one that did. The way to create this immediate preference was by seducing the observer by the simplicity/ complexity/ wit/ sophistication/ novelty or other attractive characteristic of the design.
Benjamin Franklin created a concept to describe this paradox, ‘Franklin’s Gambit’. This describes the way we post rationalise decisions that have already been made, even if elaborate or sophisticated evaluation techniques are employed. We tend to make the evaluation fit the decision that has already been made.
The German Architect Günther Behnisch is famous for his groundbreaking Deconstructivist Architecture which he created during the latter decades of the 20th century. As a student I admired the daring work his office produced, which seemed to transcend the petty worries of day to day building. An abstract architecture was generated from an interpretation of the site and function of the buildings. When asked to explain his preoccupation with such a personal, abstract and expressive design style, he justified himself in this way. Style, he said, is the way you do something not what you actually do. He wanted to focus the debate generated by his Architecture, on the way his buildings served their users and responded to their context; the original inspirations for their form. He did this by diminishing the importance of the stylistic choices that had been made, however wild they might have appeared.
Norddeutsche Landesbank, Hannover : Behnisch and Partner 2002.
Hysolar Research Institute, University of Stuttgart :Behnisch and Partner 1987.
I have often returned to this thought, that style is only the way we do things, when considering the priorities and hierarchy of needs which become apparent during the development of building designs. The Architectural profession’s preoccupation with the subject of style is part of its history and culture. A profession which is established on the basis of a separation between the role of designer, from that of builder or maker, inevitably created objectives other than the practical ones of construction. These wilful choices naturally create styles and signatures which evolve out of preference and choice, not necessity.
Today it is interesting to reflect again on where questions of style sit in the hierarchy of influences which need to be balanced during the inception of Architecture. In an era when the environmental damage that is inflicted by the built environment is clear, one might argue that it is time to reconsider our attitude to questions of style and allow factors which affect the environmental impact of buildings to take precedence? Should we sacrifice style in the pursuit of a step change in the environmental performance of our buildings? Should we relax our attitudes to the preservation of historic buildings in an attempt to deliver a more sustainable built environment?
Referring back to Behnisch’s argument, style is the way we do something which reflects our personal choices and preferences, we can agree to disagree about these. What we aim to achieve is more important to agree on: how to transform our built environment into a sustainable state fit for future generations.Fortunately style is not something that can be ignored. To not attend to the question of style in itself results in its own stylistic outcomes, hence we are forced to consider the stylistic impact of our choices. Anyhow, COME ON… who wants to leave a legacy of unloved and depressing towns and cities for our children and their children, because we chose to ignore the opportunity for delight that our creations can inspire?