There is no better symbol of the prevalent culture than the architecture of the day and age. It is the one element that reaches deep into the psyche of society to manifest the reality of the time; it is actually a visual 3-D picture of the time. Every structure thus becomes a snapshot.
We currently live in a networked society, a fast-moving, cross-cultural, cross-ethnic, prefabricated, primarily service- as opposed to production-oriented, outsourced, virtual, instant-messaging, instant-gratification, monetarily-valued economy and reality.
In a globalized world, we have global citizens, global professionals, global craftsmen, global education, global methods, and a global ethics and morality. We also have global design, and global architecture.
What would be the snapshot today? What does the architecture of the new millennium symbolize and how does it manifest today's psycho-social-politico-economic culture in building materials, design, the process of building, the relationships, the symbols and motifs?
In a fast-moving culture that cannot wait for an end result, concrete is very much the material of the day. An ultra-malleable material for but a short time, it requires fast intervention before it loses this quality. In a use-and-throw-away society that wants something new before it has got bored with the old, concrete is an appropriate material, as it degrades within half a century.
In a society where visibility is rated high, glass dominates. In an insular society that needs a notion of freedom, that needs an expanse of vision from the armchair without desiring to interact with the outside, glass insulates us from the natural elements, creating an inside reality far removed from the one outside.
In a globalized world of multi-ethnic cultures, the most common aspects become the least common denominators that proliferate. Universalization of design thus occurs. This is best seen in the commonality among so many of the structures and cities of the world, be it soaring skyscrapers or flyovers and expressways.
The way this society treats its people is embodied in cubicle-ized, pigeon-hole apartments and highrises. Nuclear units for nuclear families. Separatists. Individualized. Innumerable faceless windows that look into one another, eliciting a withdrawal into the self for privacy. Space a premium – socially and economically.
Present-day social structure is also seen in the gated communities in which groups of people barricade themselves, excluding the rest of the world. They symbolize the paranoia, fear, loneliness, violence, and divisiveness that permeates our consciousness.
Interactive streets have given way to rushing, blurring expressways reflecting the way we relate. We interact by choice, at our own behest, Facebook-like. We have stop-overs for replenishment. We connect when we want to. Public spaces are marked-out areas where people go. Connection is no longer the fabric of everyday life. Community has to be invited.
The square and the flat are now the universal shapes. Easily assembled. Quick to integrate. Quick-fix, easy-to-learn, networkable solutions. Prefabrication makes it easy to outsource and customize.
The Architect designs the physical and psychosocial spaces of our daily lives, shaping how productive, healthy and happy we are both individually and collectively. That is the purpose of architecture.
What then is the role of the Architect in the creation of current trends? What role would s/he play to bring about desirable change? To be more than a technician?
Do we, as society, not have a right and responsibility to demand that architects play the role that was originally assigned to them? That they utilize the power that invested in them, sensitively?