Sunday, January 03, 2010

Krier on the architect's categorical imperative

The architect states: "I built this house, this city, this headquarters, this barracks." This is also the language of the king, the house owner, the craftsman. For it is a mere figure of speech. Only craftsmen and artists use the words correctly when they say: "I built this or that ..." What the architect and the sovereign are attesting is that, in varying degrees, they have intervened, in a drawing that is the basis of an urban or tectonic conception, in the design that is an authoritative graphic document, be it sketched, drawn or engraved on paper, wood, metal or in the sand.

Drawings are at once fragile as objects and powerful in their influence on the shaping of the material world.

Just like the written
page, a drawing has little intrinsic value; its power and authority lie in the capacity to describe, suggest, direct, and give a form and shape to objects, structures and events according to a precise aim and vision. The authority of a drawing is like that of a banknote, a symbolic one. The same drop of ink can be used to draw a concentration camp or a splendid city; the gesture of an architect may decide whether a human community lives in a city which corresponds to its dreams, or in one which is crowded, chaotic, and hostile.

Drawing is an exercise of authority and is therefore an eminently moral activity involving personal responsibility and conscience, a sense of truth, justice, beauty, scale and proportion. As is the case with all good things in life--love, good manners, language, cooking--leaps of genius are required only rarely. The poet does not excel by inventing new words or languages but when, by subtle arrangements of otherwise familiar terms, he reveals human predicaments in new and poetic ways.

Drawing permits almost every license; in the same way as writing and the spoken word, it offers little resistance to excess or caprice.

Buildings inspired by the shape of a camembert or an artichoke mean nothing in terms of architecture; nor do they add anything to the cultures or the technology that have so superficially inspired them.

If we consider the categorical imperative of Immanuel Kant, "Act only according to the maxim of a kind that you may want its principle to become a universal law," the architect may ask himself the question: What would be the consequences if the maxim on which my project is based became a general principle of architecture or urbanism? Build therefore in such a way that you and those who are dear to you will use your buildings, look at them, live in them, work in them, spend their holidays in them and grow old in them with pleasure.
Léon Krier, The Architecture of Community.