Building Bad by Jonathan Ochshorn is a lively and compelling discussion of how architects need to be made more aware of key technical, social and business issues, in order to understand the constraints they face in designing better buildings for society as a whole. The book examines whether regulation is effective in creating safe, secure and healthy buildings and whether the focus on 'fashionable' architecture detracts from creating buildings which fulfil their role sustainably, safely and for the good of the users.
Below, Jonathan Ochshorn reflects on the writing of Building Bad:
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My interest in architectural utility — as it relates to both expression and what might be called 'politics' — evolved over many years. In 1983, I began considering the perverse logic of competition that drives architectural fashion. Several years later, I argued that the strategic separation of architecture into its 'art' and 'science' components allows architects to largely abstract from technical content in the process of designing expressive buildings. While there is still some truth in that hypothesis, I began to see the split between art and science as increasingly problematic, not because it threatens some ideal of aesthetic integrity, but rather because, in its very nature, it compromises the utilitarian functionality of buildings.
By 2006, I began systematically writing about the dangers of separating architecture’s expressive and utilitarian functions within the design process, and also began to examine the two characteristics of architectural utility brought together in this book: first, that lower and upper limits on utilitarian function are established by politics and economics; and second, that utilitarian functionality is sacrificed at the altar of avant-garde architectural expression.
In Building Bad, I cite many buildings and projects as examples of utilitarian dysfunction or compromise, some close at hand (Rem Koolhaas’s architecture building and I.M. Pei’s art museum are both at Cornell University, where I have been teaching since 1988), and others farther removed in time or space, including Mies van der Rohe’s campus buildings at I.I.T. in Chicago, Peter Eisenman’s Wexner Center at Ohio State University; Frank Gehry’s Stata Center at M.I.T., Zaha Hadid’s Pierresvives in Montpellier, Daniel Libeskind’s Freedom Tower, and many others.
In analyzing such buildings in terms of architectural expression and utility, my goal is neither to advocate for a particular architectural style — least of all my own — nor to condemn contemporary practice on the basis of its moral shortcomings. Instead, I examine architecture from an objective standpoint, and explain what it is, not what it should be. For that reason, I make no attempt to show how architectural expression and utility might be made more useful—less dysfunctional—since such idealism runs up against the very culture within which this dysfunction is valued.
The book’s subtitle — how architectural utility is constrained by politics and damaged by expression — is therefore not intended as a call to action to promote reform. The question posed in the epilogue — 'whether and how the art of architecture can adjust its trajectory so that it aligns with the most fundamental requirements of building science' — remains unanswered, as it must: Architecture's dysfunction, running parallel to the dysfunction of society as a whole, constitutes an essential feature of avant-garde production, not a flaw. This dysfunction is consistent with and, in fact, thrives within the ethos of human and environmental damage that undergirds modern democratic states.
- Jonathan Ochshorn, 6th January 2021
Building Bad is available for pre-order and will be shipped upon publication on 15th June 2021 (UK).