It is quite remarkable how we are so obsessed with originality and innovation when it comes to art or most of our daily appliances, but when it comes to architecture the story changes rapidly. In our attachment to the authenticity of the artwork, the personality of the author and the story of the object, we insist on beholding only the original Rembrandt or the original da Vinci, but then why are we so ignorant of the autenticity of the very buildings we live and work in and the entire cities we inhabit?
In a 2006 short documentary series and consequentially a book called The Perfect Home philosopher Alain de Botton investigates what we consider beautiful architecture and what makes us choose a house to make a home. Observing a concerning trend for suburban houses to be constructed in a fake heritage style, poses the question why everyone strives for the latest car design, but when it comes to homes people tend to be highly conservative and backward looking. De Botton suggests a theory that the explanation might lie in the philosophy of Freud – for whatever it is we feel like we lack in our daily lives, we look for in our homes. It is no surprise that in our fast pacing world most people feel insecure in the future and therefore yearn for the security of the past, when everything was perceivably much less complicated and predictable. The home my parents had, and their parents before and their parents before that – this should be a safe place for me too, right?
However, this sentimentality might have some unexpected effects on society, which wouldn’t be quite so comforting.
Buildings, designed and built in a style of a previous age are dangerous to our society for they disregard the meaning of architecture in our lives. The new, masked as old, masks the old as outdated. It is a vicious circle of lies where progress is being reversed and a damage to the wider public is inflicted.
We copy for many reasons, mostly however is due to a strive for characteristics which the place doesn’t have but desires. We wonder the qualities of a different place and a different time and therefore mimic their characteristic in the hope that those qualities will also apply to us soon. The act of copying itself signifies a desire to be something else, but without being quite sure how to develop to that state – so preferring a fast paced solution to a direct result. There is of course nothing wrong with that – referring to an admired example is the best teacher to acquire taste and gives a great starting point and direction for further development and search for a unique identity. However, the very nature of architecture makes it difficult to contemplate that easily. The curse and at the same time, the beauty of architecture is that it is very slow. It takes a lot of time, a lot of money and a lot of labour. It gathers many opinions, reflects many worldviews and trends. And exactly therefore it is so important to foster a progressive development with every next building.
The most copied architect in the world today is Palladio. There are countless copies of his buildings all over the world, spanning through time as long as four centuries. However, an important note is that Palladio’s architecture describes not so much a building design, but rather a system of architectural elements and the rules to combine them. Villa Rotonda became a symbol for Classicism and inspired many architects to design buildings which evolved from it. Through a systematic study progress was fostered and creativity induced. Buildings, once a copy, wrote history of their own and became the originals themselves.
Looking back and choosing to copy a style long passed, instead of learning and innovating leads to anti-progress in the field of architecture. It is seemingly like going back to the point of time, to which it was copied, only tomorrow still comes after today. To have better tomorrow, we need to work together, builders of cities and their residents, to have a beautiful environment that makes us happy, here and now, because there is no better kind of happiness than the one of the present moment.