23 September 2007

gluck in metropolis

An interesting article in this month's Metropolis talks about Peter Gluck's career and how he has restructured his business model with the goal of making socially-conscious projects more feasible.

I've never been particularly familiar with nor fond of Gluck's work, but I can't help but recognize the tremendous validity of his argument: that the present state of the construction industry in this country, with its redundant layering and distribution of risk, marginalizes the architect and his/her capacity to realize progressive or provocative designs with minimal means. It is interesting how he has effectively eliminated/assumed the role of general contractor -- I'm sure this is something all practicing architects have wished for at one point or another. Gluck's call for architects to take on more responsibility (and risk) is certainly right on target. But I do wonder how the numbers work out. It seems that his firm still needs to maintain a "bread and butter" business of high-end luxury residences in order to subsidize its more "social" endeavors. Excuse my capitalist argument, but following Gluck's line of reasoning, shouldn't more risk deliver more reward?

As for Gluck's argument that architecture schools do not prepare their graduates for professional practice: as a young practicing architect, I can surely sympathize with this frustration. But I do think that such an anti-academic stance is unproductive and will ultimately come back to bite architects in the ass. Gluck's clear disdain for academia (and Zacks's uninformed and misguided statement of today's "poor state of architectural education") not only discounts the valuable research underway in architecture programs worldwide, but its implicit conclusion - that architecture schools need to deemphasize "academic" or "theoretical" pursuits for a more hands-on, "practical" education - would further exacerbate the architect's present marginalized role. Sure, it is important for us all to have the expertise and knowledge of how a building goes together, but it is also just as important for architects, especially in today's world of globalized tumult and moral ambiguity, to grasp the bigger issues at stake.

Gluck is right: there has to be a better way. But resist the temptation of total reaction. We don't want to wake up one day to find our profession limited to the construction of buildings devoid of all intellectual purpose.

link: "Peter Gluck's Social Work" by Stephen Zacks, in Metropolis
link: Peter L. Gluck & Partners

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