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In the Scheme of Things

In the Scheme of Things: Alternative Thinking on the Practice of Architecture

Thomas R. Fisher
Copyright Date: 2000
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    In the Scheme of Things
    Book Description:

    In the Scheme of Things looks at architecture’s need to respond creatively and meaningfully to the extraordinary changes affecting the profession now. In each of the twelve essays that comprise this timely volume, Fisher addresses issues of vital concern to architects and students, offering hard-hitting criticism and proposing innovative and practical ideas for reform at the level of both the individual practitioner and the profession as a whole.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9195-1
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowlegments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Design in a world of Flows
    (pp. 1-12)

    We are in the midst of a tremendous social and economic transformation, as sweeping in its impact as the Industrial Revolution was some 150 to 200 years ago. The current process of change has been called many things: the global economy, the information revolution, the age of complexity. Whatever we call it, this break with the past has shaken the foundations of our economic and social lives, laid during the Industrial Revolution, and it has rendered vulnerable the various structures so carefully built upon those foundations, including the structures of the professions and the universities.

    This transformation has been described...

  5. Monocultures and Multiculturalis
    (pp. 13-26)

    The late Oxford historian Isaiah Berlin once characterized the twentieth century as the one that tried to achieve Utopia and failed. When he made that comment, he was referring to such Utopian political ideas as communism and fascism. But Isaiah Berlin could equally have been referring to the fields of architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design, for in this century we have tried, literally, to build Utopia, creating cities and suburbs based upon utopian visions that for various reasons have failed us. The question is, What lies ahead for us, in the wake of a century of failed Utopias? Do...

  6. The Value and Values of Architecture
    (pp. 27-38)

    Like most architects, I believe that what we do is valuable to our clients and to society at large. Probably, most of us believe that what we do is also value-laden, reflective of our own values as well as those of our clients and the larger community. But we have not been good at converting others to these beliefs; we have not been as effective as we should be in proving the value of what we do or in articulating the values implicit in our work. And yet, I can think of nothing more important for the profession right now....

  7. The Architect as a Social Hieroglyphic
    (pp. 39-50)

    After architecture school and a few years of work in an architectural office, I attended a graduate program in the humanities, where I spent long days sitting by the water in Annapolis, listening to the Navy cadets run through their drills while I read, with a certain relish, supposedly subversive books like Karl Marx’sDas Kapital. I baffled some of my college friends when I entered that program. It seemed far removed from the profession of architecture, but I found almost all of it, including Marx, extremely relevant to the situations in which architects often find themselves.

    Take Marx’s discussion...

  8. The Fictions of Architecture
    (pp. 51-66)

    For as long as I can remember, both buildings and books have fascinated me, both the physical spaces we enclose in steel and glass and the imagined spaces we create with words on a page. I grew up assuming a connection between the two—until college, at which point I realized that others did not assume such a connection at all. The faculty and students of architecture and literature rarely interacted and the two curricula allowed almost no crossover of courses and credits. The separation of the two disciplines became most clear to me in my third year, when an...

  9. Critiquing the Design Culture
    (pp. 67-78)

    I grew up wanting to be like my grandfather, a Beaux-Arts-trained architect with a practice in Detroit. As a youth I admired not just the combination of creativity and command that went with being an architect, but the all-encompassing quality of the architectural culture, which affected my grandfather’s behavior, his view of the world, even his clothing and demeanor. I do not remember him wearing anything other than a suit, even at family picnics or on casual walks. As I became a teenager, looking for ways to rebel, my grandfather’s difference from the rest of the adults I knew made...

  10. Architectural Fables
    (pp. 79-90)

    One of the most memorable lectures of my college years was given by Colin Rowe in an architectural theory class, when he talked about the hedgehogs and foxes of architecture. Rowe admitted to borrowing the idea from the late Oxford historian of ideas, Isaiah Berlin. In an essay published in I951 entitled “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” Berlin had used the distinction made by the Greek poet Archilochus—“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”—as a way of understanding a fundamental difference in the ways people think. Berlin argued that thinkers such as Plato,...

  11. The Redesign of Practice
    (pp. 91-102)

    As a magazine editor, I spent years visiting architectural firms, and while most architects eagerly showed me their work, very few ever talked about their practices. When I inquired about the latter, I would hear virtually the same thing: whether busy or not, practitioners admitted that profits or compensation could be better. Why, I wondered, did the architectural profession accept this situation as if nothing could be done about it? Why did well-educated, highly experienced, extremely knowledgeable professionals tolerate incomes lower than those in fields requiring less schooling and much less risk? Why did we seem so fatalistic about our...

  12. Bable revisited
    (pp. 103-114)

    A colleague of mine once said that whenever her contractor father used the word architect, it was always prefaced with the expletive “goddamned.” Most of us shrug off such terms of endearment, so often do we hear them. But the way in which members of the building industry talk about each other contributes to its being one of the most fragmented and adversarial industries, comprising many small operations that look upon each other with suspicion and seem all too willing to litigate.

    We can no longer afford this suspicion or name calling. Increasing numbers of clients and the public rightfully...

  13. Bridging Education and Practice
    (pp. 115-122)

    There once was a troubled profession. Its members had relatively modest incomes that were slow to grow. Its schools focused on the “art” of the discipline, with relatively little time or money spent on research. And competitors from other fields made inroads into its traditional areas of practice, offering clients greater convenience and speed.

    The profession I am talking about is not architecture at the end of the twentieth century, but medicine in the second half of the nineteenth century, as it has been documented by historians such as Paul Starr and essayists such as Lewis Thomas. The parallel between...

  14. Architecture and Pragmatism
    (pp. 123-132)

    On a radio talk show once, the interviewer began by asking me, Is architecture ethical? The question caught me off guard. I had never asked myself and yet a talk-show host, speaking to a general audience, found the question of interest. I recall stumbling out something to the effect that architecture and ethics are connected in that both involve the relationships and responsibilities of people to each other. That question has continued to nag at me ever since, in part because I don’t think the answer is as simple as I made it out to be on the radio.


  15. Needed: A Conversation about Ethics
    (pp. 133-150)

    In February 1988,Progressive Architecturemagazine published the results of a survey polling one thousand randomly selected North American architects for their opinion of professional ethics. The results were not encouraging. Some 65 percent of those polled thought that a significant number of their colleagues engaged in some form of unethical behavior; 78 percent thought that the code of ethics and professional conduct of the American Institute of Architects was too weak to have much of an influence over practitioners; and 90 percent thought that the AIA would be reluctant to enforce the code even if violations were brought to...

  16. INDEX
    (pp. 151-156)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 157-157)