Architecture – A Canvas for Life

by Guestblogger Roman Skok

When I heard architect Roman Skok give a talk on the influence of the buildings around us on our lives, I was really taken by his passion for his calling. What he said made me think about and look at the cityscape around me in a new way. I asked him to write up his talk for Fusion View and I was very excited when he agreed! This is his article:

Architecture directly influences our lifestyles, the way we interact and are physically connected or disconnected. It also defines our experience of the workplace where we spend a quarter of our lives, public spaces where we all meet and private rooms where we hopefully can find refuge after a long day. Yet, this influence is quite often not perceived as tangible. It is rather seen as a background to our main interests and activities, something given, created by a usually anonymous team of specialists (I wonder how many Londoners remember the name of the architect of the Houses of Parliament?). Because of this I like to think of architecture as a canvas for life – a canvas that with little or no hesitation will record, store and reflect on our history, culture, activity and individual and social aspirations.

Winston Churchill once noted, “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us”. Indeed, reflecting on these words I go to the extremes and find architecture that on one hand inspires, enables and gives shelter - manifested in the form of lovely houses, welcoming hospitals and grand courts, or on the other hand facilitates humiliation and destruction. The infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp is a terrifying example where architecture coupled together with the Nazi regime gave birth to a site that became a symbol of the tragedy of World War II. Being Polish myself I learned how the site is fervently used by states, especially Germany, Israel and Poland to form their distinctive identities and sometimes conflicting agendas.

Another less dramatic yet fascinating example is our British capital, London. In its cityscape and streets, parks and plazas one can see an ongoing and multifaceted play between pre and post war, historic and contemporary. Cruising through historical Kensington and Chelsea one admires the heritage, class and culture of the Royal Borough and naively wishes that its qualities can be reproduced everywhere. One wonders how technology and business is pushing the boundaries of planning and construction by looking at the current stampede for skyscrapers. Notably the Gherkin, the rising Shard and upcoming Pinnacle are boldly defining the new high rise age in the capital. It is clear that the debate on whether skyscrapers are welcomed in London is a matter of the past. Now, the topic is how to capitalise on distinct and eye-catching landmarks. Finally, there is a clash with hundreds of housing estate sites developed according to the idea that “the house is a machine for living in” devised by the French architect Le Corbusier. In my view, in this area politicians, planners and architects failed in a BIG way by going for the lowest common denominator, and by pursuing the rule of quantity over quality. The original intention to revive redundant sites to provide housing at the lowest possible cost over the past 40 years created swathes of troubled communities. Now these become subject to never-ending and expensive regeneration programmes that keep the above trio busy in their jobs, followed by a severe headache.

These impressions come merely from scratching the surface of a daily urban experience. You yourself may find an interesting composition stretching from blatant and ordinary to exciting and worth discovery at the risk of being late. You can also find out the motives and wider relationships behind the buildings and urban spaces. The understanding of what has happened and how it is likely to develop always brings freshness and the warmth of satisfaction. I hope that next time, when zipping from London’s “A” to London’s “Z”, you will allow yourself a luxury of a curious look, wonder at the surrounding picture, and notice the architectural canvas holding it.

Roman Skok is a principal at Pure View Architects, London based architectural practice specialising in residential, interior and mixed use projects. He is particularly interested in the context and interface between historic and contemporary architecture.

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Photos: thanks to Roman Skok

One Response to “Architecture – A Canvas for Life”

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