Slow Architecture

One of the benefits of being stuck in Melbourne’s traffic so often these days is being able to listen to a great variety of podcasts. And one of my favourite podcasts is Big Think which brings together scientists, writers, actors and range of other clever people who discuss a variety of issues.

Time is a theme that has popped up on a few occasions on Big Think and what I have learnt is that our relationship to time is not straightforward.

Although I am no time expert however, I do know is that time plays an important role in architecture. You have probably guessed that I am no fan of the kind of junk space we see being built in much of our cities – cheap materials, poor building practices and an over-reliance on artificial lighting and technology to create interest. We rarely spend much time in contemporary urban places. We rarely linger or enjoy the places our cities have become. Sure we might visit, we might pass through places and take a selfie – but rarely do we just be and soak in the atmosphere and enjoy what’s on offer.

Consider for a moment how we used to build buildings. Many buildings were designed and built to last. And last many of them did – many of the buildings we enjoy today are well over 100 years old. While they need maintenance, the bones of many older buildings are as sound as they were the day they were first built. I doubt many contemporary buildings will last more than 20 to 30 years. Look at any recent curtain wall building and you’ll see the coloured glass panels fading at different rates – not the crisp look the designers hoped for.

Even the time architects are given to design projects has become compressed. We all know the phrase ‘time is money’ which really means do less and do it more quickly. Architects rarely get time to consider different options and look at better ways to do things. We used to draw by hand and yes whilst this is somewhat cumbersome – it allowed us to take time to conceive of buildings from the overall viewpoint down to the very essence of its detail.

If we consider buildings such as the Pantheon, Kimbell Art Gallery, Grand Central Station in New York or our very own State Library Dome – we experience space where time standing still. The pace of life slows right down and we get to enjoy place, the environment and people. These places are inspired by natural light, space and connection to nature. Places that delight and inspire us through human ingenuity and innovation. These are places that resonate with the human spirit and a deeper connection to place and time. In a rapidly changing world where our connection to technology, being somewhere, doing something is taking over our lives – it is nice to be reminded of the joy of just being able to enjoy places, people and events in a wholesome and honest way.

Yes all of the above examples are great pieces of architecture and so it makes sense that we spend more time appreciating their attributes. However, design and place can be equally magical when say a cafe owner takes care with their signage, the furniture they choose, the lighting levels and the way we are greeted when we first arrive. Theses are the kinds of places we remember and where the time we spend in a place is valuable, enjoyable and authentic.

Call me old fashioned – but to me architecture creates places where we slow down and enjoy the place in which we find ourselves. Time stands still in great buildings and spaces – or there is a timelessness about the work – even if the works comes from a specific era or time. I prefer slow architecture to the fast pace of modern life and unlike what Einstein worked out – we don’t have to travel close to the speed of light to make time stand still