John McMorrough, the Chair of the Department of Architecture at Taubman College, charged himself with opening this semester’s lecture series, “Representation,” with a lecture of his own. For the Chair to speak at his own college, is a statement of not only conviction but also of confidence, and of a well formed and researched opinion. It is an opportunity to describe a new direction for the college, a way to “feel” out whether the path less taken by is the correct one to proceed upon. His act of lecturing deserves the highest respect; it opens him to a series of commendations and critiques which are vital to the development of the profession today.

To begin the lecture, John refers to the blueprint and its inherent meaning of “plan making,” meaning in many ways the act of architecture itself. In a provocative example, he compared two visions of architecture. One shows the architect in utopia, surrounded by the canonical buildings of the past – Greek temples, Roman markets, pyramids, Egyptian temples, and catholic churches – and the other shows distopia, a rendering of a destroyed city, with social, economic, and political turmoil. The utopia, as John describes it represents the architect’s “aspiration for the good which can be found nowhere.” The distopia, in contrast, asks the question of “how does architecture respond to scarcity.” This new world of scarcity is where architects must work, challenging the profession’s existing skill set and positioning within culture today. John then refers to the “anxiety of authority” and the escapism exhibited by many architects and architecture students. This is a constant problem, and it degrades not only our profession but also our confidence and ability to act. We have all experienced this cynism, and in my opinion, each and everyone of us, needs to do our part to stop this infectious thought. Architects, John argues, can have greater influence and reward through “authority from expertise,” in doing so making a reference to Malcolm Gladwell’s writings. How do we achieve this “authority of expertise” becomes the next big question, which John addresses in the following part of his lecture.

John breaks architecture into four main parts: History, Geometry, City, and Detail. His main attention, however, focuses on geometry and the installation. His interests are in regards to the “part to whole” relationships made from component systems. To focus this investigation, an “installation conference” is being held this spring to investigate the act of installation and its role in the profession. In many ways, the installation, in my opinion, has become what the chair or the ideal house was to modernist architects. It is a new way to investigate aesthetic ideas and spatial concepts. It in no way can be seen as a substitute for architecture: it often lacks function, has no client, and often requires little collaboration with other disciplines, which are trademarks of nearly all “architecture.” The installation should be viewed as a proof of concept and not a stopping point at which the profession can be content. Last year, Lisa Iwamoto expressed an interest in moving from installation to “structure,” as this was the element she believed that would change the “installation” into “architecture.” To address John’s concern about “authority from expertise,” we as a school need to embrace the installation as an act that furthers or improves spatial theories that become transferable into architecture. The making of “architecture” – both the design of and the construction of the built environment – is the prize of that we as professionals need to continue to see as our highest goal.

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