Reprinted from:
Architecture & Urbanism magazine, No. 60 - 61
February 2001, Tehran

Globalization of Architectural Fundaments

By: Darab Diba, Iran
Times have changed, more than would have been imaginable ten years ago. Quick data transmission, access to all benefits of knowledge and human sciences, and the possibility of becoming connected to a world wide web, have brought about major changes in man's interpretation of the world and existence. Traditional societies are unavoidably faced with a flood of information, modern phenomena and social-legal ideas of modernity. Closed, cramped boundaries of the past have been replaced by an arena, in which man is in constant contact and dialogue with daily events, and all well-intentioned men can only face this avalanche of information and ideals.

If traditional society has given us ethnic values for living, modern society has brought us established values of social justice, freedom of speech, hygiene, human rights within civic societies, enlightenment, decent life for all, balanced allocation of revenues and, generally speaking, more equality for individuals, who also call each other brothers.

Today, the juxtaposition of these two worlds pervades our everyday lives and the globalization of men and phenomena not only concerns economic or technological exchanges, but also involves acquaintance with daily facts concerning all nations and societies. Today's plurality of phenomena and interdisciplinary and intercultural developments have on the one hand enhanced comprehension capacities, and on the other cast doubts on past percepts. Today's progressive man has a more complete right of living and his thirst for facts is only natural, because the global informational revolution has entitled everyone to scientific and legal values in their lives.

In an international society of global phenomena, the juxtaposition of cultures is still imperatively necessary, and globalization doesn't mean the annihilation of environmental originalities, because the diversity of cultures and the wealth they create can provide us with loftier frameworks: a new identity based on neighboring cultures, and superior utilization and interpretation of each.

Today regenerating the unadulterated cultures of a few centuries ago is but a more dream, and keeping nations behind closed informational and physical boundaries is a philosophical and historical mistake. Along this path, the people of the world can only face the facts and rise themselves and their countries to the highest levels of moral principles, economy and welfare.

Our young people's awareness in every domain is incomparably higher than in any other period, and their eagerness to progress in all of them is entirely justified, because a great country with brilliant cultural past can only reply on its youth to keep abreast with the latest developments, and it must therefore pave their way in this direction.

Today, the relation between countries are not assured solely through global economy and exchanges of goods. Spiritual, ethical and moral issues have also reached higher levels, and anyone living anywhere has to adapt himself with this reality: informational-scientific-legal knowledge. And the only way to keep our indigenous cultural values alive appears to be to adapt ourselves to this neighborhood and cultural exchange.

Now, in this arena, what is the fate of present-day Iranian architecture to be? To be sure, the solution lies neither in the central courtyard of the past, nor in the framework of the desconstructivists' solutions, because both are too radical to bear any relationship to our times' enlightened attitude.

Can Iranian architecture not be as successful in the world as Iranian movies, a spectacle of fine social phenomena and facts contrasting with the complex Western world of sex and violence? The formula used in the case of Iranian movies may not prove effective with regard to architecture and urban planning, because movies is a different matter with tools of its own. But if a step is to be taken, it has to be towards finding how, in our present day architecture. We can both be ourselves and rank among the children of this brilliant global era.

The international architecture community does not expect present-day Iranian architecture to imitate or adopt the methods of Western architecture, because, as mentioned above, today global identity consists of a correct understanding of original cultures.

We need to bring about a fusion in our architecture between the essence of our cultural heritage and modern technological mentality, taking into consideration some perennial ideals and values of this land.

Adopting a global outlook does not mean effacing oneself, just as keeping an eye on international advances, does not mean imitating their achievements. It is a matter of personal judgment concerning elements philosophically and artistically worthy of being introduced and postponed.

If the empathy are cultures is present within us, it can also manifest itself in arts and architecture, but this road seems arduous in the domains of architecture and urban planning.

Important architectural events have occurred in the world. The single-minded alienation of the Western modernism and functionalism of the first half of the  2oth century, the insuring reaction towards diversity, and the pluralism resulting from this reaction that have eventually contributed to the diversity of today's expression and opened numerous paths that have considerably broadened the scope of this field. Paradoxically, at the turn of the century, Western architecture appears to stand at a point, where clearly established values no more exist. Mass communication and social relationships have relocated some enduring cultural values and the words, in which the concepts are presented to the public, seem to have lost their original meanings.

Words such as reason, economy, democracy, progress... have been so constantly used and abused that many people have come to seriously question their validity and deep sense as they are used today.

It is now clear that, when applied to functional contents and molds, a limpid hierarchy of human, philosophical and social values can hardly constitute an adequate ground for the emergence of artistic or aesthetic manifestation, whose visual analysis can reveal the sensitive points of a society and the values prevailing in it.

Architecture and art continue on their productive way, in a relatively chaotic and unsteady situation itself based on apparently unstable foundations. Frankly, what exactly are our antecedents and what are the principles of the lasting perennial values on the basis of which a work of art can take shape?

Spiritual and cognitive values speak of a world that is hardly applicable in today's environment, and the rational logic of Western positivism based on early assertions derived from the Industrial Revolution of the 18th to 20th century has failed to bring its elevated ideals to an adequate conclusion.

A dialectic discussion on causes and effects running parallel to religious knowledge and spirituality has been a junction point that has more often given birth to antagonism than to peace of mind and communion of hearts. From the Industrial Revolution to the philosophical assertions of Hegel, Kant, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, what superior meanings have we truly discovered, upon which works of art and architecture can be based in an analytic process. Perhaps like Proust in search of time lost, we should embark on a travel into memory and history, as can be seen in some commercial, consumer-oriented post-modern productions. In the discussion of Western philosophers, from Heidegger to Derriba, Gadamer and Habermas, and later Ricoeur, all we see is a effort; an effort to lay the foundations and build the infrastructure of a meaningful rational thought capable of carrying of the burden of man's lofty growth. But, Have we reached an intersection? Can difference and doubt give birth to the form of a coherent identity in architecture?

Faced with this problem, the architect creates works of art within the frame of his solitary mind, and its justification is also his own. He conceives an elevated ideal in the flight of his mind and, by connecting himself to eternal history, he aspires to a thing the modern movement has long left behind. You only have to look at the works of Carlo Scarpa, Aldo Rossi, Mario Botta, Raphael Moneo and many others to well appreciate the reality of this claim.

Despite its composite architectural forms, the post-modern era was a warning aimed at returning to environmental, emotional and historic grounds; a point with modernism has more or less disregarded in its absolute view of the matter. Deconstructivistic methods of analysis may have become established in determining philosophical views and architectural spaces, and borne potentially dynamic solutions, but in our field we have witnessed the creation of incoherent forms incompatible with a research method, in which every result obtained is faced with yet another question. We take our lessons from history and civilization within our own selves, in creating our architectural works, we prefer to develop our own productive talents, and we screen the floating values of today's world through a hierarchy of values, and thus architectural forms acquire an identity, in which the far and near metaphors of history are merged with the modern world and the latest developments on the threshold of the 21st century. We also conceive a new individual mission towards it. The works of Gehry or Liebeskind say it all. We may interpret their statue-like plays of forms as a mere new spatial experiment, but in the end they bear the totality of the problems of today's world, in which daily policies, economic production and the consumer society play very important roles.

Another highly important issue on the international scene today calls for attention being paid to the environmental and social ground of architecture. It rejects single-product architectural works created for their statue-like beauty without regard for their context, and its aim is to harmonize architecture with the city, the human environment and the economic realities.

The important fact is that many developing countries are relatively poor. Their urgent need is for a fundamental social infrastructure, not a monumental architecture. However, the quality of a country's architecture and urban planning indicate its degree of civilization, and all have the incontestable right to enjoy aesthetically pleasant spaces in a human environment.

How we can forget that more than three billion human beings out of the total six earn less than one US Dollar a day? On their way towards development, more than half of the 189 nations of the world are struggling with poverty, financial corruption, national managerial and financial disorganization, governmental-political turmoil, lack of effective social welfare institutions, and daily problems of earning a livelihood. Many of these countries are enhancing the living standards and human dignity of their population despite their economic limitations (the most conspicuous examples being India, Kashmir and some African countries). Poorer countries, with their large needy population, truly live in poverty and it remains to be seen how globalization will establish a human-financial relation between these countries and the economically development world.

Perhaps one of the duties of these countries' architects is to plan their constructive efforts in this direction and adopt an architecture defining a minimal space foe the benefit of these deprived people.

In today's world, in these times of globalization, we are treading along a slippery aesthetic and architectural path between tradition and modernity that is sometimes tumultuous and sometimes resembles an unending spatial travel like a roaring sky that will some day eventually experience azure serenity.


Research: Architecture


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