I've meandered now from the downtown ferry terminal up to the Pike Place Public Market. This collection of fully functioning 19th and early 20th Century concrete and wood buildings literally form a vertical edge between the downtown core and the waterfront. I've purchased some fresh baked bread, Spanish cheese, and a little basket of out-of-season raspberries and am now sitting in a public eating area in the center of the main arcade. The cold air permeating the market has not deterred the weekend crowds. The place is filled with grocery shoppers, children, tourists, suburban teenagers, musicians, panhandlers, young urbanites eating Chinese take-out, old Asian men eating pizza, an elderly balloon artist painted like a clown, knots of people admiring flowers, fish mongers throwing salmon, hucksters calling out specials and people just walking, looking and enjoying this intensely urban show.
I love this place, as does everyone in this region. Why? Is it that the market serves as a tangible conduit for people to make an emotional connection to this city and region? Partly, perhaps. Or is it more fundamental than that? Do we respond so viscerally to this place because it takes the everyday experience of shopping and, by its social and physical setting, reveals more truly the actual nature of "market"? The directness of social experience, the personal contact with the merchants or craftspeople, the barter, the banter, the exchange of information, the visual experience of hand-painted pricing, the careful arrangement of produce or crafts, the presence of the crowds of shoppers all serve to connect us to the fundamental essence of the institution of "commerce". It is real. And because it is so real and true we connect to it and then respond to it emotionally. We simply feel more here than at the automated check-out of the supermarket or the mall. I suspect that all markets of this classic variety arouse similar emotions.
This example of an institution revealing its true nature and thus creating an emotional and memorable response is more than applicable to our profession. It is not clear to me that we, as a profession, see or value this. It is difficult to listen to the voices of every one of the social and material components of a circumstance and produce a design that allows them to sing in harmony. It is much easier to pick up on a narrowly focused topical abstraction or a technological marvel and run with it, while ignoring the tangible realities of religion, place, materials, and even institutions.
My concern is that instead of moving towards an architecture that exhibits a deeper comprehension and reflection of the ever-present variety of this planet, we are instead moving towards architecture that very often arrogantly and myopically disrespects everything except it's own abstract theory or novel technology. This is a loss, because the very elements that can help us create a vital and unique architecture are and have always been with us, and I feel that it is our current rigid focus on form that keeps us from designing an architecture that emanates not only from historical theory or technology but also from culture, place, climate and materials.
This was literally brought home to me when I received the December 2001 issue of Architectural Record. Depicted on the cover was a beautiful computer generated drawing of a building that floated with no context, almost no sense of materiality and even seemed to defy gravity. This stunning drawing led me to conjecture that our profession's current fascination with the computer's novel and almost magical ability to manipulate spaces blinded us to the reality of all of the other physical and emotional circumstances that contribute to the making of architecture. It is my belief that in the long run we will find a deeper and more profound use of the computer, and will use it as a tool for creating designs that more thoroughly reveal and reflect the nature of our visual and emotional experiences, just as this bustling market reveals, connects and engages us to the fundamental realities of "commerce."