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Lo-Fi Architecture: A Modest Proposal

October 28, 2010

Presented at Pecha Kucha Night Cleveland, Volume 3. May 8th, 2009.

JS: I feel like Architecture has a caste system that we need to get rid of before it can become as diverse as it should.

TF: I think I agree, but maybe it’s that the discipline is highly autonomous and needs to open itself to broader influences and to make work more collaborative.

JS: Where can we find good examples of that?

MA: I was thinking the other day about independent music and cinema, wondering what makes a group of artists a collective. It seems like it’s sometimes just a place, like Wham City in Baltimore or The Smell in LA, and sometimes it’s a change in medium like with digital video, which launched Dogme 95 in Denmark and more recently mumblecore in the US.

TF: What’s interesting about those groups is that there’s no aesthetic coherence, just a similar state of mind.

MA: Absolutely. There’s no need to do similar work, just have a similar attitude. I heard a quote last week about the Republican Party’s decline, saying unity should require neither uniformity nor unanimity. I think that’s a pretty poignant assessment.

JS: Even something like the New York Five in architecture, their work has never been the same necessarily, but they always support each other no questions asked

TF: So what we need are a change in medium and a group of motivated, ambitious people? It starts to sound like this can happen here and now.

JS: Definitely…            What about a lo-fi architecture?

MA: That could work really well. If you think about lo-fi music, it’s definitely not a matter of quality, because Pro Tools can outdo Phil Spector and day of the week. Lo-fi just has an attitude about its production rather than letting the technology determine its final form. It’s also not about aesthetics, because digital tools don’t prevent traditional composition, it’s just easier to make anything.

JS: I think you’re right. Imagine if Renaissance architects had copy and paste. Would the Baroque have even happened? Digital tools can breed laziness.

TF: But we can’t be afraid of using those tools. Lo-fi music isn’t afraid to use all the means at its disposal. That’s how you can end up with things as distinct as electronic experimentation and singer-songwriter recordings under the same umbrella. They just have a similar DIY approach

MA: Do-it-yourself seems a bit, well, a bit HGTV though, doesn’t it?

TF: DIY means something different in music though, I think in architecture it’s oddly similar to parametricism, as outlined by Patrik Schumacher, which is really about demonstrating a means of production rather than demonstrating architecture.

MA: I guess you’re right, it’s not just about doing it yourself, you have to understand the expertise of others and leave room for them to do their part, a little like recording with session players. You have to know what you want, but you know other people can do it better.

JS: Absolutely. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel with every project. In architecture you have to keep in mind that all parties have a different knowledge base and everybody is useful to the process, even the client.

TF: Doesn’t architecture work somewhere between composition and performance, like music does? The architect does the drawings and the building is constructed without their direct control.

JS: Maybe. But with architecture, composition and production never matter equally. Sometimes the performance is the most important thing, sometimes it’s the other way around.

MA: Yeah, the process needs to be malleable. It can’t be about prescribing a means or method of design, but something a little more provisional and permeable. We need to stop navel gazing.

TF: I think it’s about allowing outside cultural influences into architecture, instead of expecting architecture to be self-generating. The great thing is that someone in LA and Cleveland can be doing work that appears vastly different because of local influences, but still have the same attitude. This is pretty powerful in that way.

JS: You’re right. Still, there always seem to be places that exist on the margins to try new ideas in most art forms. Why isn’t this the same for trying out new architectural ideas?

TF: I don’t know, it seems places like Cleveland should be incubators for new ideas given that you can buy a house for the price of a used VCR, and there isn’t the constant attention that you have on the coasts.

MA: I think a new attitude could easily develop here given that real estate and the cost living are so low. You don’t need a lot of money to build.

JS: We just need somebody to get it started, but not in that cheesy ra-ra kind of way where we’re all just patting each other on the ass.

MA: What the hell does that mean?

JS: Yeah I don’t really know what any of that meant.

TF: It doesn’t matter anyway. Nobody’s listening. We’re in Cleveland, remember?

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