Certainly the idea of “newness” is a touchstone of creativity among architects. We see arresting images of conceptual design, often from younger architects, in the pages of the leading trade journals — concepts that, lacking context, are visually provocative and exciting.
These designs are art. They have an artistic validity in and of themselves, aside from their value as representations of reality. Art, of course, is treasured for its transformative impact — breaking with the past — which helps to explain why novelty is so widely admired in architectural design.
This striving for newness is manifested, clearly, in the creation of new shapes (form). An example, in this issue, are the designs of studio bau:ton of Los Angeles (page 38), which prides itself as much on the striking visual effect of its studio designs as it does on its integration of audio/video technology into each design.
Other ways to express novelty include experimenting with new materials, inventing new or different spatial functions, and, of course, trying out new technology.
New materials, like new forms, are fun. Who hasn’t been intrigued by the other-worldliness of today’s shimmering metal alloys used for siding, and by the growing use of translucents for wall and window surfaces? Even an apparent last-minute decision by Thom Mayne of Morphosis to replace stucco with a new synthetic coating for the new Caltrans 7 building in Los Angeles (page 8) represents a paean to modernity.
In terms of spatial functions, designers like to invent new ways of doing things — “solutions” to situations wrought by social and cultural change. An example, here (page 10), is the new scheme of incorporating housing (residential) with both offices (commercial) and shops (retail) in the planning mix for New Urbanist “town centers” and revitalized urban areas.
Finally, there is new technology. This, given our penchant for electronic gadgetry, is surely the easiest way for architects to distinguish themselves as cutting-edge, yet perhaps the hardest to justify. That is because technology changes so fast, with today’s “newest and fastest” soon to appear on Wired magazine’s lists of “tired” and “expired.”
For technology to succeed in lifting a mundane design to the status of modern — forward-looking, hopeful, exciting — it must enable people to do things easier and better. For example, presentations and meetings can be enhanced by the built-in connectivity of today’s “smart” furniture (page 23); conferencing can become truly an “experience” at the new auditorium at the FedEx Institute (page 14).
Needless to say, in the case of new technology, it helps if it works.