Reinier de Graaf
Partner, OMA
Reinier de Graaf is a partner at The Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), where he heads the work of its think tank AMO, dedicated to demonstrating the wider relevance of architectural thinking beyond building and urban planning. Projects include: The Image of Europe, addressing the European Union's iconographic deficit; D-40210, a strategy to prevent further gentrification of European town centres; Eurocore, about the contours of Europe's first cross-border metropolis (spanning parts of the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium); and The State of Moscow, a proposal for a more accountable system of governance for Moscow. De Graaf is also in charge of AMO’s increasing work on energy planning, including Zeekracht: a strategic masterplan for the North Sea; Roadmap 2050: A Practical Guide to a Prosperous, Low-Carbon Europe, with the European Climate Foundation; and The Energy Report, a global plan for 100% renewable energy, with the WWF.
Apr 18, 2014 | Architecture Column
Architecture’s creative struggle

Last week I attended a conference dedicated to “investigating the commonalities between the creative processes of architecture and other creative disciplines such as art, film and music…” Somehow I am never comfortable when creativity is equated with ‘the arts’, or at least with disciplines that purportedly have an artistic dimension. I don’t think that creativity qua the use of imagination to create something (as in ‘inventiveness’) – can ever be regarded as the monopoly of any discipline in particular, and certainly not of the arts. Even the casual mention of architecture in relation to art, film and music in a single sentence somehow seems to indicate that this notion of creativity is wrong. Architecture is not an artistic discipline but rather a very mundane one, driven by functional and more often than not banal parameters. Inasmuch as architecture is a creative discipline, it is only so because it is able to ingeniously match the aspirational with the possible. Up there, listed with ‘the Arts’, Architecture invariably feels like the odd one out.

Architecture also assumes an exceptional position when it comes to collaboration (the conference’s other great buzzword). Architecture habitually collaborates with engineers, but on a more philosophical level architecture primarily collaborates with those who initiate its operations: the clients. Being first and foremost a translation of their will, architecture inevitably needs to be involved in causes far beyond its own convictions (but generally only realizes this after the fact). As such, the risks architecture runs are very different from art, film and music. Dominated by an ethos of having to be useful, architecture is permanently prone to being corrupted. If the term collaboration serves to denote ‘working together’ as well as ‘a traitorous cooperation with an enemy’, one can at best conclude that architecture has firmly embraced both meanings in the course of its history. In this respect the liaison with other arts brings little solace. The most perfect examples of the alignment of architecture with the arts are unfortunately also the best examples of how such an alignment can serve to advance dubious ideologies and regimes. To quote examples would be too embarrassing at this point.

Can architecture’s weakness be its greatest strength? What picture emerges when architecture is viewed as a deliberate form of collaboration with all that is not art, in the hope that precisely through this contrary movement, away from the supposed cultural elites, something might emerge that could ultimately be interpreted as art? Maybe it is only through the most extreme identification with its subject matter – almost as a form of method acting – that architecture can transcend its eternal dilemma: the obligation to be critical in the face of inescapable submission. Can architecture re-emerge as an extreme fetishizing of content over form, a kind of ‘learning from life’, where architecture teaches back to the world all that which the world has taught architecture…? Here the discipline, supposedly all about form, would ultimately face the dissolution of what it considers its own professional limitations.

Arena, Blueprint, Platform, Framework, Theatre, Stage, Sphere, Structure, Façade, Base, Foundation, Model… Even the word architecture itself is now more frequently used in its metaphorical rather than its literal meaning. It is a strange paradox that at the very moment when architecture seems completely at the mercy of the powers-that-be, many of its terms and concepts are being used to describe concepts of those very powers. Has architecture contaminated everything by which it has itself been contaminated? Perhaps that is the real legacy of architecture’s creative struggle.