Go looking for the thing you can’t see

Architecture is obsessed with what things look like. Hence the focus on form and style; on the materials that buildings are made from; on the processes by which these materials are brought together. In school, in practice and in the media.

But this isn’t everything and it isn’t enough. Architecture is much more important. It is not only a physical and visual discipline but a social, economic and environmental one too.

Architecture creates social networks by influencing how people use the places they are given. It channels the flow of money down streets and corridors and it provides the locations in which this money changes hands. It influences the flow of energy from the micro scale of the lightbulb to the macro regional scale of the transport system.

As Rahul Mehrotra says, “The spectacle of the city is not the buildings but the activity that takes place between them”. He calls this the “Kinetic City”.

Architecture creates all of these powerful and important relationships yet architects are generally much less interested in talking, researching and publishing information on the invisible forces of society, economy and energy than they are on the aesthetics of form.

Perhaps this is because architects are more comfortable when they are talking about what they can see with ease. Which is a pity because it is the things that can’t be seen – the social relationships, financial exchanges and energy flows – that provide a more profound level of intrigue.

And intrigue, after all, feeds the belly of the architect.

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