Truth and Architecture
Daily we are reminded that the idea of truth in our culture and politics is disappearing. Now, more than ever, Architecture must respond by appearing truthful.
There are at least three forms of truth in the architecture of all times: objective; apparent; and aesthetic.
Objective truth must be provable, so this Architecture must be “real” not just imagined. With the contemporary tools of digital artistry, the internet and social media are now flooded with “virtual” images that look like architecture but cannot be built, so people become even more confused. Real architecture has to be built to be proven, and made to last.
Apparent truth means that the architecture must be authentic. What you see is what you get. John Ruskin believed that stone should look like stone and not like wood. Honest architecture tells a story, but it ought to be non-fiction.
Aesthetic truth means “beauty” in its context. A beautiful building should make its surroundings better, too, by making a great place, not just another object. Beauty in architecture can only be understood in comparison to other works.
It turns out that these three simple “truths” were identified over 2000 years ago. Vitruvius’ “Firmness, Commodity and Delight” described these similar foundations for architecture.
But there is truth beyond simplicity. Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (may he Rest In Peace) found that truth needed to be distilled from apparent chaos. Simple truths are not enough in a culture where everything has hidden meaning. Making truthful architecture today is a struggle against the contradictory demands of physics, finance, life safety, technology, messaging, materialism and human resources.
Regardless of these challenges, in our time there are some problems that truthful Architecture should strive to help solve. Climate change, social inequity, and increasingly limited resources are realities that we can address. At GMShay, we are now working on just such a place. Our designs for the new AC Hotel strive to be LEED Platinum Certified, achieving the highest level of scientifically measured sustainability while creating permanent local career opportunities. This is an example of the ability of architecture to make places of social, economic, and environmental responsibility that will foster a better future. Sustainability has become the greatest measure of truth in architecture.
In a world full of disappearing truth, we architects and designers must accept this challenge! That most people will remain confused about what is truthful is not an excuse to join in the confusion.