Saturday, February 18, 2006

But Isn't Playing God the Whole Reason We're Here? Thoughts on Edward Lifson's oath for city planners, developers and architects

With Trump Tower now rising out of the ground and beginning to block the gorgeous, unobstructed view of Mies van der Rohe's IBM Building we've had since the old Sun-Times building was torn down, Edward Lifson, host of WBEZ's Hello Beautiful, who would had preferred to have had the view maintained with a open plaza, has been prompted to post on his Teatro Lifson blog his version of Hippocratic Oath, this time targeting city planners, developers, and architects.

Well worth a read, it's a highly idealistic call for modesty and urbanity. Some of the points - an obligation to the less fortunate (see: Archeworks), and the emphasis on the importance of craftsmanship, for example - draw on long Chicago traditions. (Although the way the Chicago architectural establishment invoked craftsmanship in their condescending trashing of Rem Koolhaas Student Center at IIT reminds me of a quote attributed to Goethe, "If the artist is not also a craftsman, the artist is nothing, but calamity: most of our artists are nothing but craftsmen.)

At Lifson's invocation, "Do not play at God!" I must draw the line. What is human life but trying to grasp within that fleeting intermission of an eternal sleep a taste of unfettered power and being? What is life for an artist or architect than to be able to think you've finally found the answers that have eluded everyone else, and, in the words of the poet:
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all" -
Only to have the world respond:
"That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all."
The glory and the horror and architecture is how clearly it reveals our innermost aspirations, whether result be the Acropolis or Las Vegas. To ask a developer or an architect not to build is like asking a dog not to scratch. Our most natural impulse is to do what comes naturally (marketing to the reptillian brain, anyone?), and although it may be fought in finely tailored suits, in wood-paneled boardrooms, the battle to shape our built environment is a take-no-prisoners wrestle amongst both the most indolent and most aggressive elements of our deepest pysche.

That's just my initial take. There's much to think about in Lifson's oath. Check it out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Mies van der Rohe.
Not Donald Trump.