Interesting article on the role of client in architecture, and particularly, the symbiosis which often occurs between architect and client (and is often ignored in favour of the Randian myth of the über-architect).
However, there's a passage there which ends on an odd statement - well, odd to me. Warning: this argument may quickly head for some tired old ground, almost as bad as the PC vs Mac debate. Enter at your own risk:
"Visitors to Bilbao are dazzled by the stunning originality of Mr. Gehry's exuberant forms, but the building's artistry also resides in its ability to solve a host of difficult planning issues, from channeling an existing rail line through the structure to crowd control. Indeed, much of the artistry is that these problems are handled so deftly we no longer see them as challenges. Architecture, alone of the arts, takes the messy problems of daily life as one of its raw materials."
Here comes the art vs. design argument ... but I find it odd that architecture is perceived as an art here, despite taking on board the "messy problems of daily life" - where exactly are these definitions of art and life-investigation as mutually exclusive? On the other hand, practically speaking (and being oh-so-simplistic), perhaps a simple difference between art and design may be the original impulse to create - architecture has a client, a purpose and real world problems to really solve.
Therefore it is not an art.
If it's not an art, then it's not alone in taking messy problems on board i.e. see all other design-related practices, not least information architecture and informational product design, both of which rely on deep ethnographic research into messy problems of daily life - in fact, actively engaging with and building on them (of course, Computer Science (its sub-set of Systems Analysis) and Product Design in general have both done this for decades.)
It's not enough to be beautiful, and therefore an art - again, a cursory glance at design history will reveal many beautiful objects, which also solve real-world problems. As idiosyncratic and wonderful as, say, the Guggenheim Bilbao is (and I stood, mouth agape, staring at it for, oh, about 4 days when I saw it), that doesn't mean that its beauty is in its form any more than it's in its problem-solving - for that site in Bilbao was a real problem-solving exercise. So beauty alone doesn't define it as an art.
Unless you really want to declare it an art, in which case so is design, in all its myriad forms. Check the Design Museum, or the Cooper Hewitt, not least numerous brilliant creations online. Or on the streets. As Frank Zappa said, stick a frame around it, and it's art.
I guess the tone of that phrase seems funny - oh, it's an art despite having to deal with that troublesome life thing. Seems to me that the problem here is casting architecture as an art, which actually really does it a disservice. Unless our definition of art can be richer and include these-design related practices? But what would that serve? In my trade, I think Jeff Veen had it right when he called his book 'The Art & Science of Web Design'. It is both. I'm no architect, and totally unqualified to speculate that it's the same, but I reckon it is ;-)
But it feels kinda pointless to separate these things out. I feel we should revel in the opportunity to address "the messy problems of daily life" and celebrate that desire, whether art or design.
NY Times: For Great Buildings, Get a Great Client [requires registration, free]