With the rise of digital platforms for architecture and design, the importance of making tasteful projects that are well photographed is increasing. Today the architects who have a greater number of followers have access to more clients and therefore to more work, this could be, if not already, a danger for quality architecture.
The first thing in this reflection would be to ask ourselves what "good taste" is and who dictates it.
Good taste is a kind of fashion dictated by famous architects and designers who are well off with clients who give them publicity through large and important projects. Before, these trends depended on the context and the place, today with digital platforms they are being standardized more than ever, thus losing the identity of each project with its immediate context.
Since 1920, the modern movement that emerged as a method to attack the problems of homelessness and accessible construction, became a kind of aesthetic style competition in which famous and “revolutionary” architects were leaving function and quality aside. . The main schools of architecture, directed by them and the practitioners in the offices, preferred to focus their efforts on aesthetics and art than on construction quality. Since then, the concept of “starchitect” arises, which were the architects/artists who imposed their ideas and taught their students and practitioners that it should be designed in this way. Many of these architects did not even pay their interns, which sadly continues to be done today.
All this does not mean that the aesthetic is bad, far from it. Aesthetics are important and it is very likely that a beautiful building can contribute to a person's spiritual well-being. The problem comes when aesthetics, being the main goal, ignores the other factors that make a project of quality.
There are countless beautiful, even iconic, architectural projects that have failed in something as basic as habitability. The clearest example may be the Villa Savoye designed by the immortal architect Charles Edouard Jannerette (Le Corbusier), who proposed a house made with a flat roof slab that, due to its large size, filtered rainwater inside. . When the client complained to the architect, he replied that the house was acclaimed by other architects around the world, which the lady did not care at all, she wanted to be able to live in the house she paid for.
Another case was that of the Farnsworth house, designed by the architect Ludwig Mies van Der Rohe. In the design of this house most of the requests of the clients were ignored. Thus resulting in endless lawsuits that even reached a legal instance. The house has had to be moved, rebuilt, restored, because the place where it was built is not suitable for a house of this type. In the end the architect won the legal battle but left some deeply disappointed clients.
But then, what gives quality to a project? Quality is such a broad yet comprehensive concept that the best way to understand it is to break it down parallel to the design and construction process.
The first way to understand quality comes from knowing what a service is and it is due to a client and a user who must be dignified at all times. It is useless to make beautiful buildings if they do not comply with the requested architectural program. Or if users are not thoroughly analyzed to understand their capabilities, needs and absolutely all the actions they are meant to do inside the building and outside of it. All human beings and, in particular cases, plants and animals must be able to function fully in relation to the building. There are luxury projects in which the utility room is inhumane or houses of social interest without identity built in inaccessible areas that end up being ghettos. Office buildings without lighting or natural ventilation, hospitals without well-resolved circulation and in the case of animals, slaughterhouses and even shelters that degrade the lives of animals.
To achieve this, it is important to consult with experts such as anthropologists, sociologists, biologists, etc., but above all with the client and the user. The deeper the studies, the better the architect's understanding when orchestrating.
What follows in the quality process is the study of the context. It is important to understand that the context is very extensive. It is not just understanding the sunlight, the climate and a little history of the area. It has to cover the ecosystem, the community, the surrounding buildings, the subsoil, the seismic coefficient, the nearby points of connection and transport, etc. It would be ridiculous to think that all this can be analyzed by an architect or a team of architects. It is vital for the project to rely on experienced consultants and scientists and let them have a say in the design. How many buildings in the Federal District did not collapse in the 1985 earthquake? How many communities have not been affected by the gentrification caused by massive housing projects in popular neighborhoods? How many ecosystems have not been destroyed by huge hotel complexes. How many social interest housing complexes are abandoned because they are far from work centers.
To close the process, we have the construction of the project. Construction for some people is even more important than the project. A building that is not well built discredits any design intention, no matter how good it may have been. For this it is important that at the project level all the construction details are studied and drawn. That the structures are properly calculated and that the proposed materials are consistent and of quality. An architect must understand that the budget can be controlled and respected from the project stage. Understanding what the limit is and designing accordingly must be part of a comprehensive quality process.
It's amazing that the awards that best understood how a project should be rated are now extinct. The Decade Awards (2000-2009) rewarded what concentrates the main points of the quality of buildings and that is: how they age.
Unlike current architecture awards and publications, which only ask for photos and plans of the project, they do not even bother to visit them, much less experience them, and which are also not based on any fixed criteria, but rather on the merely subjective opinion of other renowned architects. The "Decade Awards" rewarded projects that had been built for 10 years or more. Although they only recognized works within Barcelona, standards that recognized durability, relationship with the context, importance in the community, habitability and the opinion of the people who inhabited them and their surroundings were taken into account. Values that mean transcendence and not fashions.
It is essential, as an architect and any other role that is performed in relation to construction, to understand that the main function of a building is to contribute to the development of people. Taking into account the resources involved, the time and risk involved in doing them, and the impact they have on people, it is important that their integrity lasts as long as possible.
In the end, what importance do style, photos, likes, or awards have if people cannot inhabit a building with dignity?
In the end, good taste is subjective, quality is not.