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Do bricks really talk?

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“You say to Brick, ‘what do you want, Brick?’ And Brick says to you, ‘I like an Arch’…. And it’s important, you see, that you honour the material that you use.”

[Louis Kahn, conversation with students 1969]

 When I read about Louis Kahn’s famous talks with his students, what struck me was an apparent claim to design to a material’s nature. But what is that nature and who decides this? Surely a material holds a wealth of possibilities, one state as valid a claim as the next.

Just because Brick is good at making an arch doesn’t mean Brick likes an arch. What if given the chance Brick could make a fine perforated screen or woven basket. And why isn’t anyone commending Brick’s ability to talk with Louis Kahn, this is surely a greater contribution to nature than its arch.

Perhaps what Kahn is suggesting instead is that a designer cannot simply impose a historically egotistically ambitious seeking on the material, but must remain receptive to what may emerge organically from the chosen material, shaping them towards a specific purpose.

Is truth then about passive receptivity? And did the brick really talk? If Brick did talk, can’t we have more of a conversation together, rather than be simply told what Brick likes.

We will explore a material’s destiny, a process which uncovers that perhaps what may be true is the talking, and how in our experience at Intervention Architecture, maybe we should ask the neighbourhood the questions.


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