A letter to Manolis

De profundis thoughts on Architecture


I do not remember, Manolito, how this confession was instigated: Was it to clarify your views or perhaps mine on architecture as a vocation and a mission? Whatever the motive, I consider this an opportunity to put some things straight.

I understand that my view on architecture is different from what I see around me, including even you: Much ado about nothing, lots of theory, much analytic fragmentation, in short "I hear heavy clamour, with lots of culture glamour" as the old poem goes. Maybe because of that, I felt an urge to describe my own attitude, after having converted it into words and phrases.

So, what I want to state is that –in my view- architecture is not just the Parthenon, the satellite towns, the poetry of the Aegean islands and such verbosities. Is also the everyday, crappy, poetic, cerebral, economic, baffled and whatever else you want, implementation of architecture in practice.

Yes, practice Manolis! Practice!
Without it, the orgasm of creation is a wet dream.

The smell of mortar in the construction site, of wood in the carpenter’s workplace, of ink on the drawing board: Stimuli pleasant and rejuvenating, like the fragrance on the female body, like the salty scent of the sea breeze, like the wet odour of soil after a summer rain. Yes Manoli, architecture -for me- is mud and geometry; it is concrete and drawing paper; colours and shades; a dream and a crossword; it is pencil and trowel, it is vision and dance.

It is the joy of putting the brick in place with the bricklayer on your side; of zigzagging through building regulations; of selling your idea to the client; of expanding your interests and your skills; of expressing your personality on the sketch paper or through that opening on the wall. It is so much more, separately and combined:

The smart facade, the challenging extension, the chat with the workers on the site, the expressive drawing, the triumph over regulations, the debate on Post Modern. All that is a challenge for the mind, the senses, the heart.

And, architecture -always in my view- has many expressions, many sides, many scales. A pencil, a restoration, a mansion, a city, a text, they all have their architectural aspects: All contain ideas, technology, form, technique -i.e. the stuff that is the subject of our work, Manolis.

And another thing (thinking of Alexia, the young architect we met yesterday):

Architecture is communication. And before you 'speak' to the passer-by or the critic, you should interact with your customer, with your colleagues, with the craftsman who will implement your idea, or even with yourself as you wonder about this or that variation. And that communication, Alexia, is the Esperanto of Architecture:
With a three-line sketch, with perspective drawings, with photomontage, with twenty words, with the clarity provided by visual grammar. And these rules are not ‘Technocratic’ as you said. It is rather odd to label as “technocrat” a painter who knows colour chemistry, a sculptor who knows electric welding, a writer who is a good speller, a photographer who exploits film sensitivity. Simply, those people know their tools -and therefore their work- better.

And architectural expression, Alexia, has many aspects and tools and rules. The more you enrich the ability to express yourself and learn the nature and handling of your "tools", the higher you raise your creating ability.

Yes Alexia, one needs axonometric drawing.
Yes Manolis, one needs concrete technology know-how.
Yes (to speak symbolically), the fisherman needs fishhooks.

I conclude Manolis with a synopsis of my views:
Architecture is –firstly and indivisibly- poetry, intellect and technique. And then (not in time order) it is theory, economics, law, fashion, etc., etc.

With love,

TNS

Santorini, 15.4.1982


PS.
This spontaneous text was written over three decades ago after a debate with my friend Manolis Papadolampakis, professor of architecture, fueled by the passion inspired by the terraces over the volcanic caldera of Santorini. Alexia was a young architect who had just graduated from NTUA and happened to attend one of our dialogues, expressing doubts about the feasibility of certain courses in her studies.

Thanks Hugh for your comments.

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