Sunday, February 20, 2011

Word play

Apologies for the lack of new posts in the last month… I was planning something important - a very complex sequence of events that needs attentive arrangements. There was stress, mistakes, and regrets, but in general I found myself enjoying the process. Perhaps it's occupational obsession. After all, architecture is mostly about planning complex sequences of events.

In addition to describing a person who designs buildings, the word "architect" also means a creator who devises and guides a plan in general, like in "the architects of the constitution," or "the architect behind the Italian job." So when we use the word specifically for architecture, it still indicates the planning of where to put things, how things are organized, and what comes first, etc. Architects are "schemers" (yes, we do make schemes), conceiving visions of the future and plotting steps towards their dreams.

But architecture is not only about plans and dreams. Etymologically, the word "architect" derives from the Latin architectus, itself derived from the Greek arkhitekton (arkhi-, chief + tekton, builder). So the profession (chief builder) has a component of execution. Unfortunately, there is too much blah blah blah in our current training and discourse, and the art of building seems to be neglected as something "uncool." But we should not forget, there is no such thing as a good plan when the planner doesn't care about how it's done.

In China, the term "architect" didn't really exist until Liang Sicheng redefined the profession in the early 20th century. Traditionally, scholars or governors came up with ideas, and builders finished construction according to standards (like Yingzao Fashi, the State Building Standards of the Song Dynasty). What we need now is a good combination of thinkers/planners and executors. And that's what the word "architect" really means.

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