Architecture Without Us #1

When I first arrived in Switzerland I had a group of friends who were also trainees in the same office as me and we used to drive around the country, visiting four precious masterworks of the history of architecture a day, making fun at all the effort and dutilness we saw in those buildings. We were so restless and informed that none of those things impressed us. If the guide we’d bought pointed at the spired cathedral we would look at the bus stop instead. We were masters at finding the “real masterpieces”. Once, as we were sitting in the café of a museum we had just metaphysically teared apart, one of us comes up with a strange idea: architecture, in a sense, doesn’t need us. Caves, as long as they have the proper dimensions, are basically dwellings. A crevice in a meteorite heading towards the Earth can be architecture; just no one has seen it yet.

Architecture without us.

Of course, this isn’t big news.

But thinking about a building as something that meets a visual or geometrical criterion rather than something that is built purposefully for inhabitation broadens our sense of our surroundings. We become space-hunters rather than space-makers.

Like these devious creatures I found in a National Geographic Magazine sitting in a waiting room.

Next Up: Architecture Without Us #2 – The Revenge of The Mold

All images credited to Kai Fagerström for National Geographic Magazine



  1. Pedro Clarke

    Interesting thought, but one could argue, and I certainly would, that in this type of cases the “creation of such a space” might not have yet occurred in the meteorite (or may not even occur when it physically cuts into the earth), but actually that such “creation” only takes place by our act of appropriation (using whatever senses are available to us at that time) and that this would happen whether or not we are conscious of this. Many of the spaces we remember from our childhood have a scale and are spaces that we will never again be able to inhabit, yet they were spaces, worlds that we “created” when we were there.

    These spaces (or a non spaces) only gain their attributes and qualities once we interact with them and “see” them in that particular “light”. Of course there is the counter argument that those spaces have always existed and have been there, waiting to be discovered, and that in fact we do not alter it at all by our perception (and might see them differently in different “lights”) definitely makes a good case to see us as non-agents in this process.

    Going along with an idea discussed by John Turner, in a now distant book “Housing by People”, it becomes more relevant to instead of asking the question of how did we do it? or did we do it? To start judging housing (in his case), and I will extend this to space in general (and architecture in particular), not by how it is shaped, looks or is built, but rather by what does it do? What is the valuable functioning that it can allow us to achieve.

    This sometimes forgotten approach, widens our playing field and very much as your proposed shift of model from space-makers to space-hunters gives architects new (old) ways of looking at the work we can (and should) be doing. After all what’s the point of anything if it is not there to used?

  2. DLA

    I guess I came through very metaphysical, which wasn’t my intention… I totally agree with the idea that “seeing” space (not just seeing, of course, the other senses, even if minor, have important roles) is what gives meaning to inhabitation. By inhabiting we create.

    I’m not so sure about use alone… If you go the first post in the blog, I try to make a case for architecture being everything that is NOT use. Buildings do always the same things. As technologies they are rather boring. We love them because they communicate. Otherwise I could dedicate my life to the appreciation of washing machines.

    That’s my two cents, at least.

    Hope that you keep reading my dear friend.

  3. Pedro Clarke


    I will carry on reading, have enjoyed it so far!

    Maybe it was my message that this time that did not get across 100% as intended. By USE I was not referring to use-function, as a form follows function because then it would hardly be arguable that a black box would be the best place to keep books (though that might not make a very useful library), but to use-value, as in what can achieve/deliver. (ie. shelter can be provided by a palace of shack, and depending on the situation, one may be more valuable than the other)

    The same piece of architecture, may have exactly the same function-use for two individuals, but varying personal circumstances will derive completely different values (of use) for them (for many the shack may in fact be more valuable than the palace).

    Not quite sure if I’ve made myself any clearer, but what I was trying to present was: the idea that we might want to start thinking about “not what architecture can do for you, but what you can do with architecture”? It’s about being people centred and valuing the use you can get out of things, after all a palace is of no use for a poor person (without the means to keep it).

  4. Great post. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this thread.

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