Architecture….the term which not too long ago meant a lot to walk along depilated historic buildings in sweltering heat only to figure out that that you just cant understand the dialect of the guide you have hired….or at least this is what I associated architecture with for a long ignorant part of my life. Thankfully all that changed when architecture suddenly became synonymous with design ,creativity and a whole lot of thought process,but the I understood the frightening depths of this subject only when my professor put it into my mind in a clichéd quote “with great power comes great responsibility..”If truth were to be told I never understood this quote of his completely until the end of my first year where it dawned on me on how big a role my profession plays in the society.It may not be able to solve oil crisis or cure diseases, but it definitely makes a strongest impact on people irrespective of its results….
So how far can architecture matter in reference to the quality of life??? Though this is a far too magnanimous theory to write about considering that my tryst with architecture is limited only to a couple of years, still I think to understand this one would actually have understand the phrase…”quality of life”…and it would be too presumptuous to mix up the idea of “quality of life” with that of standard of living. I know how far fetched and arbitrary the same phrase can be to a layman, a hundred questions run through your mind…is quality of life based upon being rich or poor??...or is it about modern v/s traditional feud that has been going on forever or is it about the ongoing term sustainability and green ???. To tell the truth quality of life has got nothing and everything to do with the above criteria’s. As paradoxical as it may seem quality of life cannot be summarized into a few words .It may sometimes be the driving force for a person’s sustenance and sometimes be just another catch phrase, but it all comes down to what you want to make out of it. For example, Laurie baker whose perception of the same term extended to the far horizons of achieving equality in terms of living conditions without any sub clauses. It is essential to knowing and understanding him, because for the last couple of decades, you could pretty safely presume that any architect who focused his or her talents on helping the poor did so at the expense of design. Indeed, I have sometimes wondered if social consciousness and aesthetics weren't linked in a zero-sum game: if you cared passionately about one, it was almost a given that you didn't care as much about the other. Strong, creative, powerful and inventive modern design has generally been the province of the rich, or of rich and sophisticated institutions, like museums and universities. Subsidized housing, when we build it at all, has generally been banal, dreary, unimaginative and hopelessly conservative - either because we haven't believed that poor people deserved the best, or because we haven't wanted to challenge their taste, and we have embraced banality in the guise of "respecting" their wishes. I don't doubt that most people who haven't been exposed to architecture are hesitant to accept the unfamiliar. People will always go first to what they know, not to what challenges them, since there is great comfort in the familiar. But Baker understood, I think, that people deserve to be challenged and to have their sights raised every bit as much as they deserve to have a roof over their heads, and he strived to do both. He did not accept the premise that clients of little sophistication and little money could not respond to the promise and the exhilaration of modern architecture. To fail to give them the chance, Baker believed, would be to condescend to them. Which again brings us back to the role of the architect in this social saga..as a student of architecture myself I can certainly say that architects tend mainly to think of themselves as responsive to clients, which they are and should always be, but all too often this is used as an excuse for doing the wrong thing, or for doing very little, or for not being active in the civic realm. It's true that no architect can, alone, fix what whole association of architects is. But the inability to change the world is not a reason to retreat from the civic realm, and to step aside from continually trying to use your expertise to make life better.
Social responsibility in architecture is, at least in part, a matter of believing, passionately and absolutely, in the potential of architecture to improve the quality of life. Obviously Laurie Baker believed this, and never saw what he was doing as just a job. But is there really any point to this today? We are much more inclined to wonder what effect architecture can have on society at all, and whether it makes sense to create serious works of architecture, to devote resources to creating them in this day and age. After all, we ask ourselves, how can we bother with such things in a time of joblessness, in a time of homelessness, a time of AIDS, a time of so much anxiety and despair? What possible good can architecture do us? Does architecture, even good architecture, matter?
What is the point of architecture? Is it naive to believe, as Baker did, that it can play any role in making a place civilized - in giving a family focus and strength, in making a community, in rendering a city livable? Let's lay the cards on the table. Architecture is not as important as enlightened public policy, perhaps, or as a healthy economy. It doesn't solve AIDS, or cure cancer. It is not bread on the table, and it is not justice in the courtroom. A great court does not guarantee just laws; a great school building does not in and of itself teach people, though it may provide a better environment for teaching people. A great house does not protect you from the rain any better than an ordinary house - indeed, if the history of architecture in the twentieth century is any indication, a great house often protects you less well from the rain than an ordinary house. But does that mean that a special work of architecture cannot, in its own way, have a profound and subtle effect on the quality of life?
These are not easy questions, in part because they can invite such easy and glib responses. The truth is that there is no way to tangibly measure the effect of architecture on our lives, and there is no way even to be certain that it can make a demonstrable impact on the nature of a community. Don't think I'm going to follow up on what I've just said with some platitudes and homilies about how wonderfully architecture improves the quality of life, because the fact of the matter is that I am not sure how much it always does. I will leave the certainty on that subject to Frank Lloyd Wright, who was very good at dismissing his leaky roofs because he was so certain that a life spent under them, however wet it may have gotten you, was an enobling and life-changing experience. Well, I would like to believe that is so, but I don't know that we can necessarily count on architecture to do all this wonderful stuff, whatever Wright may have thought. Architecture is an effect of culture as much as a cause; it reflects our values at least as much as it creates them.
Yet we cannot leave it all at that, as if there were no connection between what we build and what kind of society we are or can be. We can't let architecture totally off the hook by saying it is nothing but an effect and not a cause of our cultural condition. Winston Churchill's line - "We shape our buildings, then our buildings shape us" - may be shopworn, but it is not so far from the truth, and it remains the most cogent summary of the complex and dynamic relationship between architecture and society I have ever read, for it acknowledges that the relationship works both ways. Architecture is both an effect of social condition and a cause.
But we could as well speak of new architecture on its own when we raise the question of how much does it matter, the question of how much of society's resources should go into architecture - the question of necessity versus luxury. I'm not speaking of architecture in terms of elaborate buildings, but in terms of works that exist as making some kind of statement about a public realm, about their role as something other than pure pieces of private property. Once, the city was seen as a kind of public trust - even private property was developed with a sense of responsibility to the urban whole. Much of that attitude has disappeared in our time, pushed away by the values of a time in which the city is seen far more as a set of real estate opportunities, as a blank slate on which can be written ever bigger buildings, than as a community. thus comes the circle of nessisity where quality of life is not only indicated an individual level but it also considers the society as a whole and hence the need arises to address the same by raising our stakes on a common pedestal only to strive harder to bring a united front keeping in mind the individuality and sealing the same with the permanent affidavit of architecture
Maybe that's what it comes down to, in the end: architecture is about the long haul. It's here to say that something that mattered yesterday still matters today, and more important, will still matter tomorrow. It can matter in different ways, and mean different things, from one generation to the next, but it is still a way in which the generations speak to each other.
And the way we have to speak, the way we have to continue speaking, is by creating, by nurturing the new and giving it room to breathe. Creativity is a form of social responsibility, then: creativity and social responsibility are not different things at all, but parts of the same mission. Creativity is how architecture makes itself matter, and how the generations take up the tradition of using architecture as a means of speaking to one another. and if there is any essential architectural goal today, it is not to make one kind of building or another, but to make sure that the dialogue continues into the next generation and the generations after that, and to remember that the highest form of social responsibility architecture can aspire to is creativity. Yes, architecture matters - and the way it matters is by creating resonance over time .