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Which Future Do We Want?

Alternate title: It’s Our Future – Let’s Shape It!

A good friend of mine is a modernist architect – well, a ‘futurist’, even. She admires the work of architects like Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas, often described as ‘futuristic’. As someone who loves traditional architecture, I regularly tell her how much I dislike the ‘glass stumps and carbuncles‘ we see popping up all over the world.

Can’t wait for the future… (source: Architect Magazine)

But so-called ‘futuristic’ architecture is not the only architecture she enjoys. Often, I’ll send her a picture of something more traditional: an 18th-century townhouse, a cast-iron orangery, or even an old Roman temple like la Maison Carrée in Nîmes. Perhaps to your surprise, she likes these buildings and even finds them beautiful.

(Image sources: The Cloister, S Marks the Spots, ShutterStock via HistoryHit)

Despite loving these traditional buildings, she is dead against us building in the same way today.

“Why are you so against building traditionally,” I ask, “if you think these buildings are so beautiful?”

The answer I usually get is something along the lines of this:

“These buildings are beautiful and must be enjoyed. But that was another time, and people were different. Things have changed, we have changed, and we need a completely new architecture for our time.”

I agree, a lot has changed over the past 100 years. But have we? Have we changed so much, that we should simply discard thousands of years of successes and progress?

Why do traditionally-styled houses sell for more than their modernist counterparts? Why does the public vote overwhelmingly in favour of traditional architecture in opinion polls? Why do tourists flock to historical city centres all over Europe (which by the way have the highest property prices in their cities)?

Clearly, we still love the beauty of the past. Tastes do change, but what was beautiful 100 or even 1000 years ago is beautiful today, and will be beautiful long after we leave this Earth. Will most of today’s buildings? True beauty is timeless. The whole idea of ‘futuristic’ architecture ignores this.

“Silly Renaissance Italians! Can’t you see we are living in different times to the Romans?!” (The Renaissance Italians added plenty of innovations of their own as it happens, but that is beyond the scope of this article) (Source: Sage Travel)

Why do I keep writing ‘futuristic’ between apostrophes? Because the word arbitrarily claims a monopoly on how the future should look. The future is nothing but time that has yet to come. Calling one form of architecture ‘futuristic’ is just saying it deserves to be built in the future.

But on what merits does it deserve to be? Surely we want to build the best, most beautiful architecture in the future, and not just architecture that fits some ivory-tower starchitect’s vision of what the future should be?

The future is for all of us to shape, in whichever way we want. It’s time we did.

Futuristic architecture should be the architecture of a future we want to see. Stunning pictures of Poundbury (1993-) taken by Ruben Hanssen at The Aesthetic City.

This is a blog post written for ArchitectuurOpstand, or ‘Architectural Uprising’ in English. It was translated into Dutch and can be found here.

PS: article on circular greenhouse horticulture coming next!

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