"Architecture is not art" says Patrik Schumacher
in Venice Architecture Biennale rant

| 82 comments

Patrik Schumacher portrait

Venice Architecture Biennale 2014: director of Zaha Hadid Architects Patrik Schumacher has taken to Facebook to launch an attack on political correctness in architecture and a perceived trend for prioritising art over form-making.

In a post this morning, Schumacher accused the judges of the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale of being motivated by a "misguided political correctness" and said that architects need to "stop confusing architecture and art".

His comments come just a week after Rem Koolhaas revealed that his plans for this year's Venice Biennale would focus on presenting research and the history of architecture, rather than contemporary architecture projects.

"Architects are in charge of the form of the built environment, not its content," said Schumacher.

"We need to grasp this and run with this despite all the (ultimately conservative) moralizing political correctness that is trying to paralyse us with bad conscience and arrest our explorations if we cannot instantly demonstrate a manifest tangible benefit for the poor - as if the delivery of social justice is the architect’s competency."

An installation documenting the Torre David vertical slum in Caracas won the Golden Lion award for the best project at the last biennale, which was curated by David Chipperfield. Best pavilion was awarded to the Toyo Ito-curated Japanese pavilion, which focused on alternative housing concepts for the homes that were destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Two weeks ago, Zaha Hadid responded to questions about migrant worker deaths in Qatar, where her stadium is currently under construction, by saying that architects have nothing to do with the workers. "It's not my duty as an architect to look at it," said Hadid.


Patrik Schumacher's Facebook post in full:

"STOP political correctness in architecture. But also: STOP confusing architecture and art.

"Architects are in charge of the FORM of the built environment, not its content. We need to grasp this and run with this despite all the (ultimately conservative) moralizing political correctness that is trying to paralyse us with bad conscience and arrest our explorations if we cannot instantly demonstrate a manifest tangible benefit for the poor - as if the delivery of social justice is the architect’s competency.

"Unfortunately all the prizes given by the last architecture biennale where motivated by this misguided political correctness. STOP political correctness in architecture! And yet, architecture is not a l’art pour l’art discipline. Architecture is NOT ART although FORM is our specific contribution to the evolution of world society.

"We need to understand how new forms can make a difference for the progress of world civilisation. I believe today this implies the intensification of communicative interaction with a heightened sense of being connected within a complex, variegated spatial order where all spaces resonate and communicate with each other via associative logics."

  • Noah

    It is very sad to see such a competent person make such a thin and ultimately reprehensible argument. For him to lack the understanding that the design of spaces does not have an impact on social justice issues implies that he doesn’t understand how people interact with space.

    I have a great deal of respect for this firm and I think that they have done some incredible projects, but I think that they have embraced the duplicity of the field to an irresponsible degree. By agreeing to work for dictators and by carefully crafting what has the potential to be the most prominent element of their public image, you become part of their propaganda machine, and you assist them as they perpetuate abuse. To absolve yourself of responsibility for the treatment of workers on your projects is just a PR move meant to keep the wrong people happy.

  • Marco Geilenkirchen

    I think their work is really spectacular. Almost everything they build transcends its function and becomes, in case of a building, an icon in the city.

    Back in the nineties I was introduced to Noam Chomsky’s generative grammar and at that time I couldn’t see how it would ever lead to human speech because it felt so mechanical.

    Listening to Mr. Schumacher’s story about this new style (the parametricism) one might get the idea of the rise of a new totalitarian order that’s ready to overgrow our cities, but when you in fact look at and listen to what the works say when left speaking for themselves, that’s not the case at all.

  • Tiagof

    Nadir Afonso, 1920-2013

  • Tiagof

    In 1948, Nadir Afonso, in ESBAP defended the thesis “Architecture is not an Art”, directed by Le Corbusie. Just to remember.

  • Michael G Macias

    Since when does a form change anything? Aesthetics definitely contribute to an experience within the built environment, but it is not going to progress world civilisation until we understand what we are building for. Therefore the content is our concern!

    Architects should focus on whether a building may or may not be needed in the first instance. Architects should assess the program and whether a building is necessary, usually buildings are not the answer.

  • susanng

    What is art?

  • GlassArchitect

    I’m focusing in on one line, which when analysed, his entire argument breaks down. He says: “Architects are in charge of the FORM of the built environment, not its content.”

    Now I could be totally off base here, being an architect turned artist, I’m sure I have no room to speak about this, cough cough, but the form of architecture just happens to BE the content!

    Or, if we look at the utilitarian aspect of architecture, then we’re talking about the space contained within the form, and its relationship to the user(s), or their relationship to it.

    Thus the form and space of architecture become its content, its visual language. What is art if not a visual language?