Architecture and Design That Makes the Case for Discomfort
There are some things all of us, no matter our aesthetic leanings, can agree on: A building is meant to protect us from the worst weather. A …
There are some things all of us, no matter our aesthetic leanings, can agree on: A building is meant to protect us from the worst weather. A building should not collapse upon its inhabitants. But beyond that? Well, that is a matter of opinion.
For example: Should a building — even your home — be comfortable? The answer, to the great majority of us, is “yes.” But not to everyone. To some, comfort is not a requirement but a choice.
I suspect that’s a choice that, again, the great majority of us would make. But it’s the people who think otherwise who can sometimes create the most remarkable designs; who can, in their refusal to respect the rules of convention, push their fields forward. The same for design that’s friendly, likable or understandable — choices all, but if everyone made buildings that were comfortable or likable, where would architecture be?
In our biannual Design issues, we celebrate people who choose the other way. Not always, and not only, but often enough that their projects make us see anew, make us question what we’d long assumed: What is the purpose of a building? How about a chair? How about a garden? Of course, money helps enable many of these rebellions, but it’s not a prerequisite, and nor does money guarantee interesting design. What’s more important is a strong point of view, even if that point of view can be difficult to articulate.
Take, for example, the Swiss architect Valerio Olgiati. Olgiati, 63, who lives in his tiny Alpine hometown of Flims, has only produced some two dozen buildings over the course of his long career, and yet he has had more influence on his peers than someone much more prolific. His refusal to concede — to clients, to the market, to closely held ideas about what architecture should be and do — not to mention his projects themselves, which are expressions of his commitment to pure abstraction, toward non-allusive or -referential design, make him sui generis in a field that has become bloated with money, ego and personalities.
On the Cover
You may not want to live in an Olgiati structure yourself. You may not like them. (Olgiati probably wouldn’t care either way.) But what you can’t do is deny them: not their inventiveness, not their strangeness, not their distinctiveness. And really, isn’t that what design is meant to do? Challenge us, provoke us, unsettle our expectations. Comfort is welcome. But discomfort can be, too.