Archive for March, 2003
Fadi is a 23-year-old unemployed computer programmer who lives in his parents’ apartment in a nice, middle-class neighborhood in Amman, Jordan. Down one street is the big Amman McDonald’s , down another is Fadi’s mosque, where he prays several times a day. Stocky, with a big, messy beard, Fadi speaks softly, hunched over, looking at the ground. When he makes an important point, he asks you to repeat it, and when you show you understand, he lifts his head, leans back with a great smile and says, ” Sah ,” ”correct.” One day, he explained to me in careful detail why he wants to be a shaheed , a suicide bomber against the United States, quoting at length from the Koran. But when he’s not talking about blowing himself up and killing American troops, Fadi talks about his other great dream. ”I want to be a programmer at Microsoft ,” he says. ”Not just a programmer. I want to be well known, famous.”
For some people the worst possible caricature of American architecture came to life at UCLA a few months ago, when a dozen leading architects spoke at a student event called “The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful.” The stage had the usual two long tables forming a V, with a seat and microphone for each speaker. Strangely the V bent away from the audience and the architects sat with their backs to the crowd, talking to one another as if nobody else was present. There was a lengthy discourse about the importance of deconstructing the path of travel through an art exhibition. For a long time a photo of several clean Dutch children dyeing Easter eggs was used to make a point about the faces of morphing “manimals” and their essential relevance to structure. Most of the work discussed was paper architecture that would never be built; only other architects would ever see it—or understand it. In other words, it was just one more day in the life of progressive architecture.
After an hour or so the oldest architect there, 58-year-old Thom Mayne, was asked to speak. He did something surprising: he turned around, faced the audience, and talked about his feelings and what he was hoping to accomplish in clear language easily understood by the uninitiated. Mayne spoke about built work—buildings he designed that had actually been constructed and exist in the world. He described the Diamond Ranch High School, completed in 1999, which he says moved him from being a paper architect to someone whose ideas and designs interact with the world outside progressive architecture. And, he said, the experience changed his life: “I was over 50 years old and this was the first time I produced a piece of work that I could believe in. This was the first project where the aesthetic act and the social act were singular.”