It's been a revelatory week here in school, which obviously means its time for a blog post. In my past few months here at the school and through whatever little exposure I have to the American market, it has become clear to me that American architects/students/profession at large has an entirely different outlook to the profession than what I've been used to in India.
I'll get straight to the point. As an american architecture student, you have the freedom to become/pursue whatever aspect of the field you'd like and they're all considered equally successful/viable options. This means that you could finish your education and get into real estate, construction, services, management, marketing, academics, research or what we call mainstream 'architecture' and still be considered successful. In fact, institutions deem it their responsibility to teach students to equip themselves with the skills to suit their interests.
The contrast of this situation is India, where there is a constant shaming associated with supposedly 'diverging' from the mainstream practice of architecture. It has been 7 years since I started my education in India and I still see students from across the country being drilled with similar ideologies. It is somehow deemed 'lesser' to pursue commercial intrigue instead of an artistic exploration. Furthermore, an artistic exploration is deemed lesser in comparison to a socially inclined project. There are layers of moral judgments we impose on one another in a constant effort to prove that one is holier than thou.
This brought me to question for myself what is mainstream 'architecture' - and honestly, it is a combination of all these things and more. Architecture is contingent on society, culture, history, economics, politics, ecology, climate, personal taste,aesthetics, function and more. It is not possible to remove any one of these contingencies and say that we now have 'better' architecture. Having said that, to focus only on any one of these would mean a conscious ignorance, turning a blind eye and is no better either.
Long time running is the debate of good v/s bad architecture and it does us no good to engage in this in when trying to assuage insecurities of our own work. It especially does no good to teach this to students, for it means that we show them only half a picture and teach them to judge instead of being critical. (HUGE difference !) We need to move ourselves out of this time warp and inform ourselves of the numerous contingencies that our efforts are catering to. The world needs work that caters to multiple needs.
The question of good vs bad architecture will be ongoing, as it should, for it challenges us to define what 'better' means and it is not easily definable, but in trying to define it lies our ability to expand our work and worldviews.