A week ago I attended a lecture @ Cooper Union to see Foreign Office Architects (FOA)'s Alejandro Saera-Polo speak about his office's current work. Although I overall tend to like FOA's work (or atleast some ideas behind it) Saera-Polo's lecture focused on what he felt was an architects position in contemporary culture especially focusing on the current economic climate. His lecture, titled "Cheapness", began with evaluation of today's architectural culture in comparison to the architectural culture of the past. The architectural culture of the past being one focused on the equality of various socio-economic boundaries while the architectural culture of today is one that is to be devoid of politics and focused on economics. Summed up, his lecture focused on the envelope of the building and how an architect can use the skin to create an architectural expression rather than trying to solve a social problem through the form of the building. The projects he focused on were mostly commercial programs so perhaps his argument works in just the realm of commercial architecture. Even though I found this stance slightly depressing, I felt that Saera-Polo's project for a Shopping Center in Istanbul, Turkey goes against some of the statements that he made in his lecture. Although the shopping center follows the programmatic requirements needed to make it economically successful, to say that they weren't attempting to redesign the form of a shopping center is deceitful. The topography of the project rises and dips to create a public space within the surrounding shopping landscape that not only allows the necessary storefront condition but also creates a seemingly successful gathering space for the community.
Soon after this lecture I watched Joshua Prince-Ramus's Ted Talk which continues the discussion of the growing importance of economic constraints in architecture. While Saera-Polo's lecture left me feeling disillusioned, Prince-Ramus's lecture was inspiring with the level of ingenuity and consideration that can still be reached within the economic and programmatic constraints of an established building typology.