Saturday, 16 March 2013

Master Builder

What is a master builder? Do they exist anymore? Might we even aspire to such a thing if we understood the baggage that came with it?
You can have the term master builder conferred on you, like Albert Speer. He was no doubt very pleased at the time but it hardly did him any good in the long run. However it would seem that there are those who might cherish the ambition from an early age, who will strive for it and live for it and perhaps only partly come undone by it, as with those sixties brutalists, or the character of Ibsen's play of the same name who becomes fully undone by it. There is no doubt that as a young student I was confronted by a multitude of master builders, the Neave Browns and the John Winters, for whom it was largely inconceivable not to build, who in some way cherished the semblance between drawing and building, even if it were nothing but a beech hut, just as long as they were being an architect and being on site commanding building operations. Some confuse these people with 'modernists'. But Mies was not the big daddy of master building because he was a great modernist, not at all, whatever he actually was.
But ourselves, we had little stomach for it, we wanted to be conceptual, we were post-Faustian (which is not the same as saying we were post-modern) we poured scorn on professional practise, and those who could definitively be labelled not master builders seemed to have won the day for a while - until perhaps, some latent desire overcame them. Peter Cook for instance, for all his influence and importance, is no master builder, neither is Zaha, for making buildings that look as if you enjoy the process of fabrication by virtue of parametrics, doesn't seem to be the same thing. However they might want to be; inside every non master builder there might be some crazed master builder trying to get out. Meanwhile the joker in the pack might be Norman Foster, who does little if not build, and there are five hefty volumes to prove he does little else whatever he does do.
The next vexed question you might ask is does the master builder know what he or she is doing? The answer must be a resounding 'yes' and that kind of definitive and catagoric 'yes' that does not tell the whole story. It would seem you might also require some vast reserve of, what's the name for it, indifference, a very substantial blind spot, to be a master builder, and that was not what I was expecting, but it is what Ibsen alludes to.

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