Critical FX: New column by AIA-Detroit president debuts

We need a thoughtful dialog on architecture and the quality of our built environment. We need action to change our culture that is not sure how to make great buildings and a great city.

Last Thursday at the Dalgleish building, rogueHAA, a group of dedicated architects from Hamilton Anderson Associates, organized an exhibition and a panel discussion on just this subject.

I want to thank all of the members of rogueHAA for their hard work in organizing this event. It is events like this that give me hope for Detroit’s future.

Panel discussions are difficult. There is not much time, you have to think fast, ideas get spoken over in the rush to sound good and sometimes the questions are a surprise and require more introspection than a few seconds of thought. Nonetheless they are worthwhile. It’s fortunate that Model D offers this platform to revisit a few of the important questions.

The first question asked was, "Is architectural criticism dead or ineffective?" The simple answer is "no." We should always discuss and critique our surroundings so that we can create something that is better than what we have. In fact, my definition of architecture, "The making of better places to live," requires that every architect and everyone concerned with our built world look critically at what was so that we can improve what will be. It may be that there are no real authoritative critical voices anymore and that is a challenge.

It has always puzzled me that people will go on vacation to some beautiful faraway place and then return and remain satisfied with a home that is not vital and beautiful. Detroit has a powerful and creative spirit that has been focused on manufacturing for so long. We have neglected our built environment, but I know that is changing. Now, we are redirecting that energy and creativity toward livability, sustainability and urban quality and vitality. 

Ultimately the panel and audience came to these questions: How do we speak to each other about architecture and urban design issues? Do we have a language that we share, allowing us to develop some consensus about what a beautiful and wonderful building or city might be? The answer is we do have a language but it is full of holes. Sometimes we are on the same page but often not.  

What makes a great street or a great plaza or a great park? What makes a great urban building? How do we direct development so it contributes to a common and good vision of what this city should be? These are questions we hope to answer. At AIA Detroit, architects are dedicated to these questions and are here to be a part of that discussion. We ask everyone to think about the wonderful places you have been and try to see how Detroit can remain authentic and true to itself and become a beautiful livable place in its own right. We ask everyone to see the value of great architecture, old and new, and realize that we can make this place great by making the right decisions. 

Think about the words you can use and share as we work together to re-imagine, reform and rebuild this great place.

Frank X. Arvan is president of AIA Detroit and principal architect at FX Architecture in Royal Oak.

Photos courtesy of Frank X. Arvan and rogueHAA.
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