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Tony Watkins

 ~ Vernacular Design 

Ask your architect 2008 Print E-mail

ImageYou can recognise truly great architecture by the sound of the laughter.











So you have a good site and a great architect. Are there any questions you need to ask?

On the March 2008 course we made a few suggestions, without pretending that the list was complete.

Questions for your architect.

1) Is your architect willing to take a pledge to protect the life of the planet? If not, why not? (Any client needs to ask if they would go to a doctor who had not made a commitment to protect their life.)

2) Is your architect willing to take a pledge to do no harm (to place, to landscape, to heritage, to stories, to culture, to tradition, to whakapapa). If not why not? (Any client needs to ask if they would go to any doctor who put personal ego above the health of your child.)

3) Does your architect love life in all its fullness and wonder? (If your architect does not rise above just “protecting” the planet, to the passionate embrace, then your building will be prose rather than poetry. Think of the building as your epitath. Do you really want to be remembered because the plumbing worked?)

4) Will my building leave the planet richer than I found it? Will future generations give thanks for my building? (If your building is not going to improve the world and create a surplus you need to seriously wonder how you can justify what you are doing.)

5) Has the architect done a balance sheet for the entire life cycle of the building? (Making the building can be a cost to the environment and so can demolishing it. A balance sheet which leaves out half the figures is useless.)

6) Has the building been put together so that it can easily be taken apart? (Screws and bolts, not nails. Fabrication from components. Avoid adhesives. Avoid CCA which is going to compromise the future use of materials. Etc. etc.)

7) Has the architect done a time indexing analysis of the building? (How many times will lights bulbs need to be replaced over the life of the building? How many times will the carpet be replaced? Will the frig go out of fashion before the house does? )

8) Is the house more than just a consumer object? (Materialistic consumerism is the primary cause of climate change. If your house is not part of the solution then it is part of the problem.)

9) Will I be able to use the house in fifty different ways? (Your house should be able to accommodate the totally unpredicted without the need for physical change. In the design of your house your personal brief is almost irrelevant because it is for only one moment in history.)

10) Will my house improve with age? Is your architect going to wait fifty years before taking photographs for the architectural magazines? (The idea that the house is finished when the architect is finished is nonsense. That point should be just the beginning. Every wedding, christening, death, celebration, or party adds the patina of life to a house and creates the memories. Leave the cold images to the cold magazines.)

11) When it has gone what mark will my house leave on the landscape? How long will it take for the damage to heal? (If you have destroyed the water table it could take tens of thousands of years for healing to take place, if it ever does. So who takes responsibility for that?)

12) Is my home going to be a healthy home? (Will the windows open wide enough to let all the toxic fumes out? Is it going to be more healthy outside with the bugs and the ants? )

13) Is my home going to be a healing home? (You hope it will never happen, but you are going to get sick. The new Auckland hospital is a bit hopeless so you are probably going to need to go home once the high-tech stuff is over. What will your house do to your spirit?)

14) Are all the systems in the house interconnected into a single integrated whole? (The different parts of any decently designed house will have very different environmental standards. The surplus from one becomes a source for another. Our bodies are a whole system, not disconnected bits.)

15) Is the skin of the house like my own skin? (Is your architect willling to put her head into a plastic bag? I doubt it. She will not then want to put your life into a plastic bag either. Green star plastic bags are still killers.)

16) Will the manakitanga of the house add to my mana? (“If you do not have manakitanga how will anyone know that you have mana?”)

17) Will people feel welcome in my house? (Houses can really get in the way of human relationships. When you think you are impressing people you are probably turning them away.)

18) Will everyone give thanks that my house was built? (If your house does not enrich the universe why bother?)

19) Will my house set me free? (You came into life without any burdens. Why spend your life heaping burdens onto yourself?)

20) Is the whole process of building and demolishing my house going to be fun? (If your house gets under way with an OSH barb wire fence around the outside to keep people out it is all going to be downhill from there. It is easy to recognise truely great architecture because you can hear the sound of laughter.)

If your architect comes through with a 2020 rating go for it.

As everyone commented on the course none of this of course is really to do with Green Architecture. These are questions we need to ask about all architecture.


All this in response to a student question on 29 March 2008. 

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