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  • Today I'm going to speak to you

  • about the last 30 years of architectural history.

  • That's a lot to pack into 18 minutes.

  • It's a complex topic,

  • so we're just going to dive right in at a complex place:

  • New Jersey.

  • Because 30 years ago, I'm from Jersey,

  • and I was six, and I lived there in my parents' house

  • in a town called Livingston,

  • and this was my childhood bedroom.

  • Around the corner from my bedroom

  • was the bathroom that I used to share with my sister.

  • And in between my bedroom and the bathroom

  • was a balcony that overlooked the family room.

  • And that's where everyone would hang out and watch TV,

  • so that every time that I walked from my bedroom to the bathroom,

  • everyone would see me,

  • and every time I took a shower and would come back in a towel,

  • everyone would see me.

  • And I looked like this.

  • I was awkward,

  • insecure, and I hated it.

  • I hated that walk, I hated that balcony,

  • I hated that room, and I hated that house.

  • And that's architecture.

  • (Laughter)

  • Done.

  • That feeling, those emotions that I felt,

  • that's the power of architecture,

  • because architecture is not about math and it's not about zoning,

  • it's about those visceral, emotional connections

  • that we feel to the places that we occupy.

  • And it's no surprise that we feel that way,

  • because according to the EPA,

  • Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors.

  • That's 90 percent of our time surrounded by architecture.

  • That's huge.

  • That means that architecture is shaping us in ways that we didn't even realize.

  • That makes us a little bit gullible and very, very predictable.

  • It means that when I show you a building like this,

  • I know what you think:

  • You think "power" and "stability" and "democracy."

  • And I know you think that because it's based on a building

  • that was build 2,500 years ago by the Greeks.

  • This is a trick.

  • This is a trigger that architects use

  • to get you to create an emotional connection

  • to the forms that we build our buildings out of.

  • It's a predictable emotional connection,

  • and we've been using this trick for a long, long time.

  • We used it [200] years ago to build banks.

  • We used it in the 19th century to build art museums.

  • And in the 20th century in America,

  • we used it to build houses.

  • And look at these solid, stable little soldiers

  • facing the ocean and keeping away the elements.

  • This is really, really useful,

  • because building things is terrifying.

  • It's expensive, it takes a long time, and it's very complicated.

  • And the people that build things --

  • developers and governments --

  • they're naturally afraid of innovation,

  • and they'd rather just use those forms that they know you'll respond to.

  • That's how we end up with buildings like this.

  • This is a nice building.

  • This is the Livingston Public Library

  • that was completed in 2004 in my hometown,

  • and, you know, it's got a dome

  • and it's got this round thing and columns, red brick,

  • and you can kind of guess what Livingston is trying to say with this building:

  • children, property values and history.

  • But it doesn't have much to do with what a library actually does today.

  • That same year, in 2004, on the other side of the country,

  • another library was completed,

  • and it looks like this.

  • It's in Seattle.

  • This library is about how we consume media in a digital age.

  • It's about a new kind of public amenity for the city,

  • a place to gather and read and share.

  • So how is it possible

  • that in the same year, in the same country,

  • two buildings, both called libraries,

  • look so completely different?

  • And the answer is that architecture works on the principle of a pendulum.

  • On the one side is innovation,

  • and architects are constantly pushing, pushing for new technologies,

  • new typologies, new solutions for the way that we live today.

  • And we push and we push and we push

  • until we completely alienate all of you.

  • We wear all black, we get very depressed,

  • you think we're adorable,

  • we're dead inside because we've got no choice.

  • We have to go to the other side

  • and reengage those symbols that we know you love.

  • So we do that, and you're happy,

  • we feel like sellouts,

  • so we start experimenting again

  • and we push the pendulum back and back and forth and back and forth

  • we've gone for the last 300 years,

  • and certainly for the last 30 years.

  • Okay, 30 years ago we were coming out of the '70s.

  • Architects had been busy experimenting with something called brutalism.

  • It's about concrete.

  • (Laughter)

  • You can guess this.

  • Small windows, dehumanizing scale.

  • This is really tough stuff.

  • So as we get closer to the '80s,

  • we start to reengage those symbols.

  • We push the pendulum back into the other direction.

  • We take these forms that we know you love

  • and we update them.

  • We add neon

  • and we add pastels

  • and we use new materials.

  • And you love it.

  • And we can't give you enough of it.

  • We take Chippendale armoires

  • and we turned those into skyscrapers,

  • and skyscrapers can be medieval castles made out of glass.

  • Forms got big,

  • forms got bold and colorful.

  • Dwarves became columns.

  • (Laughter)

  • Swans grew to the size of buildings.

  • It was crazy.

  • But it's the '80s, it's cool.

  • (Laughter)

  • We're all hanging out in malls

  • and we're all moving to the suburbs,

  • and out there, out in the suburbs,

  • we can create our own architectural fantasies.

  • And those fantasies,

  • they can be Mediterranean

  • or French

  • or Italian.

  • (Laughter)

  • Possibly with endless breadsticks.

  • This is the thing about postmodernism.

  • This is the thing about symbols.

  • They're easy, they're cheap,

  • because instead of making places,

  • we're making memories of places.

  • Because I know, and I know all of you know,

  • this isn't Tuscany.

  • This is Ohio.

  • (Laughter)

  • So architects get frustrated,

  • and we start pushing the pendulum back into the other direction.

  • In the late '80s and early '90s,

  • we start experimenting with something called deconstructivism.

  • We throw out historical symbols,

  • we rely on new, computer-aided design techniques,

  • and we come up with new compositions,

  • forms crashing into forms.

  • This is academic and heady stuff,

  • it's super unpopular,

  • we totally alienate you.

  • Ordinarily, the pendulum would just swing back into the other direction.

  • And then, something amazing happened.

  • In 1997, this building opened.

  • This is the Guggenheim Bilbao, by Frank Gehry.

  • And this building

  • fundamentally changes the world's relationship to architecture.

  • Paul Goldberger said that Bilbao was one of those rare moments

  • when critics, academics, and the general public

  • were completely united around a building.

  • The New York Times called this building a miracle.

  • Tourism in Bilbao increased 2,500 percent

  • after this building was completed.

  • So all of a sudden, everybody wants one of these buildings:

  • L.A.,

  • Seattle,

  • Chicago,

  • New York,

  • Cleveland,

  • Springfield.

  • (Laughter)

  • Everybody wants one, and Gehry is everywhere.

  • He is our very first starchitect.

  • Now, how is it possible that these forms --

  • they're wild and radical --

  • how is it possible that they become so ubiquitous throughout the world?

  • And it happened because media so successfully galvanized around them

  • that they quickly taught us that these forms mean culture and tourism.

  • We created an emotional reaction to these forms.

  • So did every mayor in the world.

  • So every mayor knew that if they had these forms,

  • they had culture and tourism.

  • This phenomenon at the turn of the new millennium

  • happened to a few other starchitects.

  • It happened to Zaha

  • and it happened to Libeskind,

  • and what happened to these elite few architects

  • at the turn of the new millennium

  • could actually start to happen to the entire field of architecture,

  • as digital media starts to increase the speed

  • with which we consume information.

  • Because think about how you consume architecture.

  • A thousand years ago,

  • you would have had to have walked to the village next door to see a building.

  • Transportation speeds up:

  • You can take a boat, you can take a plane, you can be a tourist.

  • Technology speeds up: You can see it in a newspaper, on TV,

  • until finally, we are all architectural photographers,

  • and the building has become disembodied from the site.

  • Architecture is everywhere now,

  • and that means that the speed of communication

  • has finally caught up to the speed of architecture.

  • Because architecture actually moves quite quickly.

  • It doesn't take long to think about a building.

  • It takes a long time to build a building,

  • three or four years,

  • and in the interim, an architect will design two or eight

  • or a hundred other buildings

  • before they know if that building that they designed four years ago

  • was a success or not.

  • That's because there's never been a good feedback loop in architecture.

  • That's how we end up with buildings like this.

  • Brutalism wasn't a two-year movement,

  • it was a 20-year movement.

  • For 20 years, we were producing buildings like this

  • because we had no idea how much you hated it.

  • It's never going to happen again,

  • I think,

  • because we are living on the verge of the greatest revolution in architecture

  • since the invention of concrete,

  • of steel, or of the elevator,

  • and it's a media revolution.

  • So my theory is that when you apply media to this pendulum,

  • it starts swinging faster and faster,

  • until it's at both extremes nearly simultaneously,

  • and that effectively blurs the difference between innovation and symbol,

  • between us, the architects, and you, the public.

  • Now we can make nearly instantaneous, emotionally charged symbols

  • out of something that's brand new.

  • Let me show you how this plays out

  • in a project that my firm recently completed.

  • We were hired to replace this building, which burned down.

  • This is the center of a town called the Pines

  • in Fire Island in New York State.

  • It's a vacation community.

  • We proposed a building that was audacious,

  • that was different than any of the forms that the community was used to,

  • and we were scared and our client was scared

  • and the community was scared,

  • so we created a series of photorealistic renderings

  • that we put onto Facebook

  • and we put onto Instagram,

  • and we let people start to do what they do:

  • share it, comment, like it, hate it.

  • But that meant that two years before the building was complete,

  • it was already a part of the community,

  • so that when the renderings looked exactly like the finished product,

  • there were no surprises