Vol. 8, No. 2 (March 2004)    


___Raymond Huff
Charleston, SC
  “Necessity of Architecture



How would the painter or poet express anything other than his encounter with the world?

                                                                                   Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Signs


The production of architecture can be situated between two (sometimes dialectically opposed) positions. On the one view architecture is borne of social or economic need, reflective of the values of a cultural or political situation. On the other view architecture is generated as an ideal of pure conceptualization or with an internal hermetic logic that is already complete but can be programmed or not.
K. Michael Hays in “Critical Architecture: Between Culture and Form,” describes critical architecture as cutting across the dichotomy of social / cultural context and form to occupy a position that is resistant and oppositional

“This is an architecture that cannot be reduced either to a conciliatory representation of external forces or to a dogmatic, reproducible formal system. If a critical architecture is to be worldly and self-aware simultaneously, its definitions is in its difference from other cultural manifestations and from a priori categories or methods.”

In addition, Kenneth Frampton contends that the evolution of 20th century architecture has been determined by a different set of antithetical impulses.  On the one hand architecture is generated by avant-gardist cultural politics and avant-gardist art, and on the other hand is the countervailing determination to the development of architecture as a “socio-tectonic art form that necessarily places a primary emphasis on the poetics of construction on the role that architecture unavoidably plays in the formation of the social world.” One view might be called revolutionary and the other might be called evolutionary.

Our work seeks to engage the production of critical architecture while simultaneously employing revolutionary drives and evolutionary movement.  At a fundamental level, the necessity of architecture in our work is about experience of architecture to move one intellectually, spatially and spiritually.

image01.jpg (31620 Byte)   The making and the experience of Architecture is the auto-construction of consciousness and Being. By auto-construction, we mean the ability of the process to self generate one’s consciousness of the things around us. More precisely, it is the raising on one’s subconscious to the relationship with the cosmos, to one’s own will, and to life itself. Heidegger called this state of existence  Being” and Nietzsche called this state of existence the “Ubermench.” Put another way, the process of manifestation and actualizing one’s own possibilities and potential-for-Being is the conscious act of creating architecture; for Architecture is always the very first act of creation. (One must construct shelter or a home for oneself given a set of circumstance and conditions that exist in the world.)

Point 1:  Hence, the task of Architecture is the ordering of space-time and the construction of existential meaning and knowledge through encounters with the world.

Yet Architecture must not be equated with the mere act of building or simply dwelling. The necessity for architecture must be coupled with the desire for knowledge which seeks fixity, endurance, constancy, stasis, and identity which are all lacking in the actual world and thus provide no stable ground for Architecture. Hence, the Architect as does the poet must construct Architecture through the exploitation of uncertainties and structural tropes as a means for expressing consciousness on a ground, which is slippery and illusory.

Point 2:  The task of Architecture is to exist critically in the world simultaneously self-conscious and engaged in cultural discourse through interpretation and translation of cultural and geographical situations.
image02.jpg (55649 Byte)   Yet the program of Architecture is not merely functional need, but it is also aesthetic / spiritual need.  By aesthetic need we may turn again to Nietzsche who remarked on rapture as the basic aesthetic state.  Nietzsche wrote in Twilight’s of the Idols (1888) “What is essential in rapture is the feeling of enhancement of force and plenitude.”  He speaks of rapture as a feeling; he describes “a mode of the embodying, attuned stance towards beings as a whole.”  These feelings are reflected in what is regarded as beautiful.

Hence, the beautiful reflects what the ascent beyond ourselves hold in store, an ascent which occurs in the state of rapture and is accompanied by feelings of enhancement of force and of plenitude.  The level to which ones forces have ascended is the determining factor in deciding what is to be esteemed beautiful.  The beautiful is what is disclosed in rapture and what transports us into this feeling.

Similarly, Leibniz (the German philosopher and mathematician) defines this condition as the revelation of an “event” which though it may not have an empirical or historical basis happens to be the virtual sensation of a somatic moment of totalization and dispersion.  In the novel or in poetry, it can be felt as a seriality of epiphany – that sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.  This event may lead to rapture or that feeling of force and plenitude.  “Its scientific analogies might include the thoughts of infinity that come with the view of the world which all of its visible objects are moving aggregates of infinite of numbers of atoms and molecules.” (Leibniz)


  Point 3:  The task of architecture is not about style, fashion, and formalism.
In the academy and within the profession, architecture is often defined as a unique fusion of form and place.  Such a simplistic definition has constructed numerous traps operating in the web of formalism, fashion, and "style” giving way to the dangers of aestheticism.
image04.jpg (102477 Byte)   In order to overcome the dangers of aestheticism; the traps of formalism; and the pitfalls of re-engendered differénce architects must return to the examination of the nature of architecture to radicalize and capture the rarefied areas of sensation that establish presence and meaning in what Plato calls the chora of our everyday existence. Chora is defined by Plato in Timaeus as the space between Being and becoming. Chora is a space "which is eternal and indestructible, which provides a position for everything that comes to be, and which is apprehended without the senses by a sort of spurious reasoning and is so hard to believe in we look at it indeed in a kind of dream and say that everything that exists must be somewhere and occupy some space, and that what is nowhere in heaven or earth is nothing at all."

It is in the space of human creation and participation that is abstract yet ambiguous and poetic --- mysterious and full of meaning.
image05.jpg (4321 Byte)   In our work, it is the ordering of space-time wrapped in poetry, imagination, and mystery relative to a particular cultural context that motivates the work.  Furthermore, the idea of a cultural context is inextricably bound to landscape:  For culture is defined by ones relationship to a particular place in terms of geography, geology, and the relative position of that place in time to all other places in time.

The issue of culture and its relationship to our understanding of space-time is significant in our work as African American architects born of the South and practicing architecture in the South. However, the work is not about regionalism.

For in the South exist sets of actual and virtual realities situated between what is said and what is unspoken, between idiosyncrasies and suspicion; between the past and a represented present; and between “knowing your place” and negotiating stereotypes and expectations.
image06.jpg (104052 Byte)   Simultaneously, the South seeks to deny and to confirm its appearance and its stereotype thereby distorting one’s perspective.

(Hence, we were recently asked by the National Building Museum to design a “House for a Future President” in conjunction with an exhibit on Mount Vernon that is currently on view in Washington, we situated our design in an inner city neighborhood in Charleston. The site for the project stands at an important intersection, and incorporates elements of an installation by the artist David Hammons created for the 1991 Spoleto Festival. The traditions of the African American community’s use of public space and the nature of social intercourse within this community are profoundly important and play a major role in the programming of the house and the site. The project calls for a new “living room”, a transparent building that serves as the primary public space. The transparent structure is appended to an existing Charleston “single house,” which holds the family’s private quarters. Associated program elements such as Secret Service facilities, press facilities, guest quarters, etc., are located in other renovated houses dispersed among the regular private houses in the neighborhood. Although security remains paramount in the consideration of the president’s house, in this case the neighborhood itself provides that security. It derives from the relationship between neighborhood and native son, at once self-regulating and reaffirming.)
image07.jpg (121940 Byte)   For what is on view for the casual visitor or tourist is only a constructed face … an appearance (or -appearance if you will) of circumstances hidden from view.
    Additionally, What motivates our work is the interpretation and translation of this cultural context (or any cultural context) and how we come to terms with this place to reveal meanings, situations, and conditions (both apparent and subliminal).

The work is about questions of theoretical grounds and fields of conditions;
about questions of the “in-between” and the edge of revelation;
questions of presence but also the presence of absence;
about questions of relativity and the curvature of space-time;
about questions of the temporal but never the temporary;
image08.jpg (112814 Byte)  

about tectonic strategies of building and the tectonics of culture;
timelessness but not timeliness;


the multivalency of layering but not the sexiness of skin;
about meanings lurking under the skin-deep tones of race, class, and ethnicity.

The work is therefore not about the superficiality of skin and surface.  But at the exterior edges of architecture are layered conditions that are phenomenally transparent; clearly ambiguous; and a perceptual enmeshing of systems and structures of concepts and building.

At the edge of architecture is the ability to subconsciously slip into its viscous thickness as the threshold and transformation into that indefinable “zone” to reveal architecture in a frontier unknown and previously unconfronted in our conscious existence yet paradoxically constituted by the “known”.

Slippage into and through the “zone” yields a suspension of time, and a deformation and warpage of space where one is both passenger and observer

image09.gif (10568 Byte)   The issues surrounding this question of Baukultur I suspect are not entirely unique to Germany. Although it appears there are subtleties to the concept that I am only just beginning to fathom. In America, we too struggle with these very same questions: how do we understand ‘Culture’ and the role of culture in a distantiated condition? Can we modernize aestheticism? Should we? What is the nature of the social perspective? These very questions are under considerable debate within my own city, Charleston, an old city with an exceptional historical architectural stock albeit filled with contradictions, that is now bristling under the dialectic of old versus new, historicism versus modernism, pastiche versus quality.

For certain the answers are not easy ones. Tonight, I would like to tell you of an experiment - an experiment that attempts to engage these questions in, for America, an almost unprecedented way. Then, if you’ll allow me, I would like to offer a few thoughts about the work of my studio, Huff + Gooden Architects and to present two recent works. I struggled in preparing this lecture, which for me is a bit of a disjoint, on the one hand reporting on a national agenda, and on the other, to talk about a more personal pursuit. But, if you’ll bear with me, I try my level best.

  In 1962, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a Assistant Secretary to the Navy, was involved in the development of a bureaucratic report on the nation’s public real estate holdings entitled, fittingly: Report to the President by the Ad Hoc Committee on Federal Office Space.
    Moynihan decided there had to be more to government architecture than functional needs, so overnight he penned what is called the Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture. This seemingly innocuous amendment to the report proved to be a profoundly simple didactic that has shaped Federal architecture ever since. Simply put, the principles aptly described the intent:
  1. Produce facilities that reflect the dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability of the Federal Government.
  2. Incorporate the work of living artists in public buildings.
  3. Development of an official style must be avoided.
  4. Pay special attention to the general ensemble of streets and public places.

A few other Moynihan quotes from the Guiding Principles that have resonated for me personally, a) “Major emphasis should be placed on the choice of designs that embody the finest contemporary American architectural thought”;  b) “Design must flow from the architectural profession to the Government, and not vice versa; c) The Government must be willing to pay some additional cost to avoid excessive uniformity in design of Federal buildings.”

image11.jpg (322644 Byte)   The Design Excellence Program, started in 1994, is the initiative that flowed from the report by, of all groups, the General Services Administration (GSA) - essentially the real estate arm of the government. The principle stated goal of the program is none less than to change the course of public architecture in the Federal Government.

It is these principles that are at the foundation of the Design Excellence Program. The program mandates that significant Federal buildings must achieve the highest ideals of quality. The fundamentals of the program can be described as follows:
  • Encouraging leading designers and emerging designers to pursue government commissions by streamlining the selection process and placing great emphasis on the Lead Designer;

  • Use of design competition charrettes;

  • Development of the PEER design professionals program;

  • Involving the target client in the design process;

  • Establishment of a design awards program;

  • Serve as a model for all Federal building programs;

  • Creating a public relations ‘climate’ where good design is expected.

The two most important elements of this program are the selection process and the PEER professionals program. Selecting designers based on their portfolio and design philosophy rather than quantitative information makes it possible to commission the most talented designers. The PEER program is the involvement of design professionals who assist in the selection of architects, serve as design critics, participate in design charrettes, etc. I believe these two approaches constitute a large part of the success of the Design Excellence program.

  Let’s look at the program. If one examines the legacy of Federal architecture, an interesting story is revealed. In the past, government buildings aspired to the highest ideals at the time. Such as the Federal Court & Supreme Court Building in Foley Square, New York, designed by Cass Gilbert in 1934.
image13.jpg (250696 Byte)   In the near past however, Federal architecture lost its way and suffered the generic banalities of badly done International Style buildings.

With the advent of GSA’s Design Excellence and emphasis on good design, a new era of Federal architecture emerged. GSA determined that major civic buildings had to again aspire to the greatest ideals of the time.

image14.jpg (234406 Byte)   Congress funded a major initiative with the Courts Expansion Program that resulted in a number of significant designs all of which are direct beneficiaries of the initiative. Today, we are seeing the results of this effort.

Aside about cab driver
image15.jpg (63117 Byte)   Current projects under development by GSA continue this tradition of excellence in design.
image16.jpg (236009 Byte)   The success of the initiative has prompted leading designers in America to aggressively pursue GSA work – such as Tom Mayne of Morphosis and many others. The program has also ‘raised the bar’ and has set a standard for good design in the US. Architects see GSA projects as prized commissions.

Moynihan’s vision and forethought was a catalyst for a renewed design consciousness that at its roots is a reconsideration of architecture as a means to explore culture and knowledge.

It was he who said: “America deserves architecture as good as its people are”. I would say, Germany deserves architecture as good as its people; the World deserves architecture as good as its people.



Vol. 8, No. 2 (March 2004)