I have taken few moments to reflect on things at the end of last year and the start of this one and briefly consider the search for equality and righteousness in our unfair and indifferent world. Alas, the best I can do is to quote the late bass fishing writer Grits Gresham who, when his wife rambled on at length about some social engagement she had planned, responded “purple worms in those tree tops should be poison.”
I also went to see a Lutah Riggs exhibit at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum last week. Lutah was an early 20th century protégé of George Washington Smith and a fine architect in her own right - both were masterful Spanish Revival architects in Santa Barbara. Say what you may about the shortcomings of the decoration, adherence to, and the imitation of a traditional building style…when created by the hand of a Smith or Riggs the resulting architecture displays a depth and richness absent in much of today’s design.
The main reason we value the Smiths and Riggses of the world is because their best work sometimes transcends the sum of its parts and exemplifies what architecture can become. Being notably good architects they were able to instill more architecture into their work than the majority of their contemporaries - most notably a sense of appropriate presence with and use of the site… and emotional qualities that make for a fuller, more complete experience.
Many good architects are able to achieve these qualities, and even more, but for the majority of our profession, the changes, added pressures, and constraints of the last half century have not been kind to architecture. Expanding population, reduced resources, rampant building, planning and design restrictions, superficial criticism, and numerous other factors have forced too many architects into practices characterized by a struggle to complete bureaucratic lists, make numbers add up in arbitrary sums, and chase deadlines in a constant paper chase. The resulting architecture is too often vapid, inappropriate, incomplete, and lacking in substance.
Smith and Riggs’ architecture certainly had and has substance. Their architecture has a richness and inclusiveness you can feel. There is a connectedness to the world that can’t be achieved by adding numbers to achieve a required number of points to determine its value. Its value comes from the heart and communicates this way as well. In the 21st century we pretty much live in a different world…less personal, more bureaucratic, and more technical…The Times They Are A-changin’.