The Sawyer Report



Sawyer Report

A stream of consciousness-style, sometimes serious, tongue-in-cheek OP-ED from Los Angeles architect Robert Sawyer, founder of Architectural Business Magazine. The first desktop publication to be printed commercially. (Garner News, 1986)  With over 4,000,000  readers the publication, which originated from a small town in Garner, NC is now permanently online to a global audience.

 The Nature of Architecture    

Frank Lloyd Wright used to say that his religion was nature or Nature with a capitol N. He observed it causally for its diorama of physical properties and kinetic wisdom. In Nature he found a road map of connections, relationships and “organic” principles. From it, I believe, he derived a great vision for architecture which was limitless. And, in this limitlessness he found that the great question about architecture isn’t what it is, but rather what it isn’t.

What you put in isn’t the right question, and what you leave out is more often the right answer.

Today, we see great works with refreshing details proliferating everywhere. Thanks to the Trump economy there appears to be a lot of work for architects and the commissions are seemingly endless. Cool details are picked up almost immediately and proliferated through the intra-sphere without regard to localization or vernacular. This means one cool building in San Francisco can be replicated, or parts of it, in any location around the world. This is neat from an aesthetic view but really idiotic when it comes to organic architecture. It’s like those ridiculous homes across the street from Taliesin West. Uncool as can be, literally and for good reason.

How often do architects observe the site prior to schematic design? What’s your takeaway from the program? How do you assimilate between the real and the unreal? How far do you go with the implementation? How much will the interpretation cost your client? Do you discuss innovation or do you follow it at all? These are just some questions that come to my mind about architecture.

Today with all of the opportunity that exists it’s too easy to forget about innovation, real innovation and proceed with the diatribe. Digital technology has brought modeling to our fingertips, but is this really a good thing? Only if that ability is handled with the respect that power deserves. Respect of conditions like wind, sun, air and water. All of these elements exist in kind everywhere in the world. However each of these are different for every site in every latitude and longitude. Much like the USGS publishes seismic response coefficients for each site, so there should be a study, officially or unofficial study of the site prior to design.

Camping out on the site? Great idea. Indigenous plant study? Yes. Solar and wind angles? Of course. What’s better than truly knowing your site? What’s better than creating a work of architecture on your own over copying some other details from some other project with zero relevance? The infusion of possibilities delivered to your screen via digital technology shouldn’t interrupt the practice of observation. It is the nature of architecture to observe and to have a relevance to the site. Creating that relevance is architecture. An architecture whose god may be Nature, or just nature. But, it’s organic and it’s of the site and not on it.

There are key inferences one could draw upon to make the paradigm shift to creative intellect versus cut and paste sobriety. It’s all still possible and just like the old days – all you have to do is look up.

It also seems clear that when the vernacular sense of architecture is derived – from whatever inspiration – there exists a predisposition of builders, owners and property managers to subscribe to that function and bring that vision to a collective whole. That collective soul of a project lends itself well to a better sense of place, time and execution. Identity is alive and well in architecture and shouldn’t be forgotten when planning each new project. It is possible to continue to push the bounds of architecture. When you find it let me know. I’ll be glad to feature it here in ABMonline.



Robert Sawyer is the Editor-in-Chief of Architectural Business Magazine since 1985.  He is the principal partner at Robert Sawyer Architects & Construction. The Sawyer Report is copyrighted and may not be quoted or used without written permission from ARCHITECTURAL BUSINESS MAGAZINE




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