|Design Flaw, Photo by Jeremiah Newbie, 2006 (source)
Architects are agents of the secure: fixers, controllers, protectors. This applies to the activity of building as much as it does to the intellectual work involved in establishing the boundaries of the discipline itself. If one is going to execute a plan for the organization of material in a space that is meant to have any kind of duration, then one had better be secure in the conviction that this is, in fact, the right way to do things. This means that the architect, or at least the architect who builds, must accept the role of one who yields power, of one who secures the future. This sense of security will always be false, but it is this false sense that separates the architect proper from the artist.
Historically the division between architectural and artistic activities has been blurred; the two disciplines shared the same space of production for centuries until architecture developed firmer boundaries, standardized education, and licensing systems. Art became more open as a discipline, while architecture sought security in an apparatus of professionalism. This is justifiable, as architects must design spaces where people feel secure, or ideally, spaces where security is a non-factor. Even the most architectural of artists makes lousy buildings; the majority of people would never live inside a Dan Graham pavilion. When architects try to be too artistic the results can be, well, insecure; the swooping forms of the Stata Center at MIT and Bard College’s Fischer center, both designed by Frank Gehry, pose a mortal hazard from falling ice and snow.
As architecture continues to negotiate its own porosity, as a discipline, it is important not to forget the role of the architect in providing security. In the end, it is this security that creates moments of resistance, the fixed elements around which the critical discourses of both art and architecture can revolve.
|Unlocked Single-Speed Bicycle, Photo by Author, Damascus, 2008
In the best possible (first) world, security is easily equated with comfort; a social nicety or convention reflecting suburban values. Its trajectory can be traced from a deliberate handshake to a lasting embrace up to joint speculation in real estate—commitment measured in the legally intimate terms of a lease. To some extent its feeling is psychological; I have been lucky enough to inherit the lease of an apartment because the amorous pair who first settled there discovered dwelling together killed their passion. On a macro-scale, societies allow themselves to be patted-down or broadcast on grainy television monitors as a reminder of betrayed trust.
In August, I was aghast when my compatriots stood their unlocked bicycles four meters from the stand, on Bergmannstraße, where we had just bought lemon ice-creams. Days after acquiring my current bicycle this October, I returned from a late-night supper gone long to find only the frame still locked to the gate outside the Prince George pub on Parkholme Road. Consensus and general atmosphere dictate how closely we must watch over the things we love; insecurity in peaceful times breeds mostly paranoia.