At a talk naming architecture’s biggest embarrassments Thursday night, Morse and Stiles escaped unscathed.
“Seven architectural embarrassments” were listed during a Yale School of Architecture presentation by award-winning architect and Columbia assistant architecture professor Thomas de Monchaux. In front of a crowd of nearly 200 students and faculty, Monchaux made an in-depth argument about the role of abstract concepts such as spirituality, poverty and utility in architecture.
“Utility embarrasses architects,” de Monchaux said. “I hate it when people ask ‘What kind of architecture do you do?’ This question is terrible because it imposes a limitation on this profession, which is of course a profession that does everything.”
Similarly, de Monchaux said spirituality is “architecturally excruciating,” while poverty embarrasses the field because it forces a divide between architect and client.
But it was de Monchaux’s remarks on cruelty that elicited the strongest reaction from the audience. He asked the audience why architects are traditionally cruel to both students and employers before pausing for a few seconds, looking around, and then moving on to the next embarrassment to audience laughter.
De Monchaux said these embarrassments are natural for architects.
“They are a source of extraordinary strength in that they illuminate what [architects] are afraid of,” he said.
De Monchaux drew several parallels between his seven embarrassments and what renowned architect Philip Johnson described as the “seven crutches of architecture” in a 1954 lecture at Harvard. He received some criticism from audience members for this comparison, who said that this parallel was somewhat expected and obvious.
Architecture students and faculty who attended the lecture left with mixed opinions.
Among them was architecture major Chris Perez ’12, who went to the lecture without knowing the lecture topic.
“I appreciated what he said, but all of it is contingent on your opinion,” Perez said. “Some aren’t as embarrassing as he said they were, but it’s all food for thought … it was a very provocative lecture.”
Architecture major Kevin Adkisson ’12 said he agreed with an architecture professor at the talk who accused de Monchaux of “preaching to the choir” because many of his arguments are already presented in less-extravagant terms in college architecture classes.
Adkisson said he felt that the manner of de Monchaux’s presentation was somewhat unsettling in itself.
“[De Monchaux] was a little cocky and it hindered his argument because that in and of itself is an embarrassment to architecture,” Adkisson said. “But I thought they were interesting points for a student to learn and I definitely agree with point four: cruelty is an inherent part of architecture classes.”
But Adkisson said that one of de Monchaux’s points resonated beyond the lecture.
“He said ‘There is no triumph over gravitation, only strategic collaboration,’” Adkisson said. “That’s something that I haven’t really considered before.”
De Monchaux is currently writing a book titled “The Designs of your Heart’s Desires: A Man’s Guide to Guns, Trucks, Dinosaurs, Rockets, Robots, Forts and Girls.”