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  • Writer's pictureLeonardo Agrelo

Decaying Architecture?

Updated: Nov 8, 2023

I think we can all agree that architecture is an expression of art, it involves creativity, it's rooted in culture and society and long time ago with history as my witness, it was a craft, you needed talent.

I won't assume you have read my "about me" section because probably just couple of people will read this after all, but if you take a minute to read it, you might understand better where I come from with this that I'm about to explain to the best of my abilities.

The "about me" section has been unaltered for a long while, it's part of my first attempt at a decent introduction for my first portfolio ever, years back, when I thought Gehry was my favorite architect and that his work was good design. So, this has been my feeling on architecture forever, since I was 16. Because the idea of architecture didn't come to my mind out of nowhere, couple of years after high school, or after trying and hating another major, or just woke up one day to that idea, or a friend convinced me to do it, nope, it was 13, almost 14 years ago that I decided to go on this path.

It is a topic, in which I would love to do my PhD, where I can do real research, make time to read bunch of books on this topic, find references, surveys, examples, travel and talk to people, especially the middle east, where I believe the best architecture of this world can be found, etc. BUT I will use what I have at hand because this desire of putting it in writing right now, is killing me and I can't make it stop.

I've been reading and watching as much I can on this, or in topics that may be related or in some way influence this topic, books like the Bible, the Quran, and soon enough the Torah. I thought: "what the hell, if this world is so screwed and I paid thousands of dollars for a college degree to learn nothing, I might as well try to find the wisdom somewhere else."

Books like "The wisdom of the native Americans", "Marcus Aurelius meditations", "12 Rules for Life", "Modern man in search of a soul"etc. But the objective was always the same, why is it that I can't find comfort in the way life is lived today, in the way architecture is treated today, what it means, what it represents, what it serves, even the way it is taught.

My relationship with God has never been a straight line. I don't even know if we have one, even though I look for him in every person I greet and in myself.

But I know, beyond any doubt that we are merely a whisper in this short existence, "we mortals are but shadows and dust" like one of my top 5 movies The Gladiator states.

We live, and love, and hate, and fight, and die, and our memory disappears. Our existence banishes. Our names won't be remembered. After your death your children will miss you, in the event that you were a parent to them, your grandchildren as well, for a while at least. After that, nobody will ask for you, nobody will wonder what was that you did in life, was he a good person, an evil person, a good son, husband, brother? Nobody will care.

But you are more than flesh and bones, and the soul can't be destroyed. What does your soul call for? What does it need? I will bet it needs comfort in knowing that this life is worth living, as short as it might be.

This is where I don't know if God and I have that connection, but I'm sincerely looking for it.

And I do believe Architecture has a role to play in this, not just for me, but for all humanity.

Until now, maybe because religion evades me, I never had a name for it, until I came across Dennis Prager and his Master's Program. The word is Secularism. That's it. One word. IT'S BRILLIANT DENNIS.

He referred to the state of the arts as "ugly" with this argument: "There's nothing to elevate the artists to". And I agree 120%. Didn't know it was that simple to explain what I was feeling.

Definition from Wikipedia, you shouldn't trust Wikipedia though, but this definition is acceptable.

Secularism: most commonly defined as the separation of religion from civil affairs and the state and may be broadened to a similar position seeking to remove or to minimize the role of religion in any public sphere.

It's freaking brilliant! Don't you see!? What's Architecture today? What do you call a very famous, prominent and rich architect? A starchitect!

If you haven't studied many architects, at least from Modern and Contemporary movements I will give you one simple common denominator that most if not all have: the absence of God, or probably not the complete abscence of it, but an application rather egoistic of own interpretations and pre-suppositions.

You can feel you are looking up at some sort of cult, like these people have put themselves above everyone and everything else. With all this reasoning about social justice, equality, climate change, inclusivity, and diversity they are the keepers of the gate. Try to find one firm, that doesn't follow these "trending topics". If you don't promote yourself as a strong proponent of all these, you are not in business.

"When a man stops believing in God, he doesn't believe in nothing, he believes in anything" G.K. Chesterton.

So you find new religions. Even the so called "atheist" have their own religion. Most of them will make an argument for the planet, the environment, social justice, inequality, inclusion, technology, etc etc etc. They will only read about it, talk about it, and support those with their same ideas. They will march on the streets, burn down businesses and other places, protest, block streets, write letters to their senators and governor, fill out surveys, yell at others, "cancel" others, etc. If you are reading this and you disagree because you don't do this, you probably are in the same team that does it and have some kind of justification for such behavior. You use all of these as excuses for your existence, the production of your work, so your work is empty of meaning, because you are not a superior being, and you can't dictate what's better for others. Only through God, you will find a higher purpose. Beyond your human notions of meaning and life.

What's one problem? They will say, there's too many of us. The planet can't sustain this. Ridiculous. The abundance of our time is incredible. Read about the time of your grandparents and your great-grandparents. I'm telling you, that's the new religion. A cult of fanatics.

Florida International University thought I would believe half of that after my firsthand experience with socialism/communism. An experience of 22 years, that needless to say, I won't ever forget.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, probably one of the most famous modern architects of the last century said, or at least it is attributed to him, "God is in the details" and also "Less is more".

The last one more widely known. Can you see the contradiction?

How would you define God? Would you agree one word is "truth"? Truth might not be the best word, but it is certainly one. On the other hand deception, perception, come around as a manipulative effort of the truth. So, is it God the one in the details or the devil? After all, wasn't the devil who tricked us out of paradise with the promise of being all knowing beings as God?

Construction systems, building systems and details, can often be managed to present us with beauty in the form of deception.

Think about it.

Farnsworth House, one of the most famous and recognizable Mies's work, great work for its time. We can probably have a long conversation about it. Is it good design, good architecture, or great architecture? It is certainly a beautiful tribute to nature, two elevated platform with almost no horizontal obstruction of the view to either side. Although it is white, you cannot NOT see it in so much green.

Anyway, my point is, his work is a clear example of the "less is more" mentality, and probably the details that he referred to are the ones, the few, that allow for such perception of the building.

If you move to a more technical conversation, yes, it was a revolutionary use of steel and glass, it's a recurring example of innovation, from the framing to the water filtration system, it is a well-rounded example of modernism.

But it was one of the first projects that brought us the absence of God and the cultivation of the individual as an all knowing and egocentric artist in our times. Because once you start serving yourself, your interests and agenda, you are no longer pursuing a higher purpose. The tendency was, still is, to extract from one another, to learn from one another, "precedents", a study of the superficial.

Corbusier, allegedly one of the most controversial architects, was also, a pioneer of modernism. A guy with a big ego, that thought nothing of himself short of genius, a communist, or at least big fan of it. An idea that has killed hundreds of millions of people.

To whom do you think he was devoted? To the expression of his greatness, to the money his clients paid. A great architect, nonetheless, with some beautiful, and I mean, beautiful projects, and with great talent I must add.

Now schools teach of envelopes and social justice. You are more likely to win a competition if your envelope/facade is outrageously intricate and expensive, even if it doesn't work, than if you were to create a harmonious and very detailed space.

Again, is a reflection of our time. The exterior is definitely what will get the attention. Not the thought behind it.

Let's take for example Islamic architecture, which by the way it is in my view, one of the most beautiful of all.

You won't ever find this number of details, contrast, thoughtful design, I dare to say even moving and emotional architecture in our modern idea, in our purposeless plain wall. Old? Yes. Want to see modern?

Completed recently in Basunah, Egypt by Dar Arafa Architecture. Modern, simple, bordering on minimal, yet, screaming higher purpose. Simply beautiful. You can feel it.

I saw this project for the first time on LinkedIn, and it stunned me.

You might argue that it is a religious place, and I might say there are plenty with nothing special about them.

They are clearly devoted to that higher purpose, Allah, meaning God and his word.

Time will always be a factor to consider, yet you can improve on certain principles, without missing the essence, these two buildings share that.

Japanese architecture, another favorite, it's sublime. The craftmanship, the art, the dedication. Wood joinery is definitely something else. A craft learned from Master to Apprentice throughout the years. A constant homage to nature, to our own human nature, but even more, to a higher purpose, that inner balance, spirituality rich.

Still, you can be modern and even minimal and have the essence, Tadao Ando is a clear example. Light, can for sure elevate us.

According to Vitruvius, architecture is Order, Arrangement, Proportions, Symmetry, Decor and Distribution. There was a time where all good design followed this. Of course, in time, we added, subtracted, changed and eventually made up whatever allowed us to pursue our agenda.

I'm a firm believer of every single one of these principles, even though it has brought me innumerable arguments and rejection from those who push "social justice" and "the end of the world because of sea level rise".

At some point I've found myself trying to camouflage my real intentions, the application of these principles, with some other distinctive feature.

If the great thinkers of the past, derived from nature, from God, this path to follow, how come we have decided to ignore it the same way we have decided to ignore that only women have the capacity to give birth?

Why do we think we are above God? Why do we think our intellect should oppose God and that higher purpose that we need in our daily lives?

We should have followed that path. What we understand as architecture today could have been so much MORE, no less.

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