May 19, 2014

Auckland Writers Festival 2014: ‘Why Architecture (and Trains, Planes and Shops) Matter" with Jonathan Glancey

Guest post by Ana, Readers Services, Central City Library.

I went to hear Jonathan Glancey, architecture critic and writer whose most recent book is Modern architecture: the structures which shaped the modern world, in conversation with University of Auckland architecture lecturer Bill McKay.

Jonathan Glancey

As soon as the session started, I got the impression that Jonathan Glancey was not very comfortable in modern society. This is an outline of his comments:

We live in the age of globalization where the game is making money. But some people make money while some people go broke. Capitalism triumphed over socialism, and all we do now is consume. Previously developers went to the architect to draw plans for cities and buildings; now the architect goes to the developers.

Globalization is a monstrosity: we have skyscrapers and brutal skylines where all cities resemble each other. It’s a very powerful force but the buildings, instead of having character, get more and more banal. Buildings can expand the imagination, but they can also do the opposite: put kids in square boxes in schools, classrooms, and retail centres, and you’ll kill their imagination. It is important to start educating people early, and fortunately there are now programmes to bring architecture into schools. Let children experience beautiful buildings, and teach them to take care of the environment. For a child this becomes a life-expanding experience.

Politicians have a lot to answer for regarding the environment today. In Auckland we have many boxes: the Harvey Normans, the Esquires Cafés, Insurance companies, all just big boxes. Auckland is a real shock for the foreign visitor, a huge sprawl with a very complex land pattern. One gets no sense of a city, although this is a very particular country with great vegetation. One solution would be to have sky gardens and integrate them into our buildings.

We all have to engage. We are responsible for our architecture and we have a voice. What is the role of the architecture critic? - to make one think about the uses of buildings, of creating a local identity, and not just making money. This matters because if not one loses one’s soul.

The same thing applies with trains and planes: we need planes and trains that are skilfully crafted. These days we spend many hours travelling and we need air conditioned, comfortable trains. Planes can be deadly: lack of oxygen, dull food, smells, crowded toilets, seats with increasingly less leg-room. Airports are like big cities now and the traveller needs to feel comfortable, with good seats, nice places to eat, and so on.

To conclude, Glancey talked about digitization, which he says sounds “exciting” - but as you get older you need to look deeper. Alll this talk that ‘digitization has made the world more democratic’ is nonsense. Things have got both faster and weaker. The image of architecture as a bright cultural image is false. Many great buildings are subdued. He doesn’t like twitter either -- he says he is not a bird, and he cannot waste time in nonsense.

During “Question Time” someone asked Jonathan what he could see in terms of the future of architecture. He said that we need to look to the past, to the ancient cities and how really advanced they were - with irrigation, heating, running water. Nowadays we need buildings that fit into the landscape. Look back and see what we can learn from it ( the Maori would agree with him).

Another person asked him if he had any suggestions about the Auckland Unitary Plan, which doesn’t appear to be a cohesive plan (at which everyone applauded) and he gave as examples of great cities Barcelona - which he said is a great, dynamic and exciting city with little, tiny developments everywhere - and Genova.

All in all it was an interesting presentation. Knowing very little about architecture, although I like buildings, I really enjoyed his ideas and how he presented them.

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 11:34
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