jargon & the fear of normalcy

The most frustrating aspect of architectural jargon is that, unlike other disciplines such as medicine or law, it is not a set of terms specific to the profession. They are general terms we borrow and inject with multiple meanings, just as we are trained to work in (or at least talk about) multiple scales and contexts.

We prefer to keep our words ambiguous, either to mask the mediocrity of our designs or to convey an idea that cannot be described verbally. Architecture professors echo the same rhetoric and design publications employ the same language; we become so inundated with these terms we start to believe that architecture requires speaking a coded language.

This is especially true with architectural education. Students and teachers alike conform to the mentality that school is a place solely for experimentation, where the expectation for originality trumps all other factors. Concepts reign supreme; buildability, spatial qualities, and other niceties, not so much. Architecture is all about talk, hence the stress surrounding critiques and final reviews– events that foreshadow the professional shows.

Securing clients and a budget is largely dependent on presentation, and knowing how to construct a persuasive argument for a project is a necessary hurdle before even nearing the process of building. Thus, the use of architectural jargon is not so much reflective of a divide between academia and practice, theory and building, as it begs the question: Does complicating architecture benefit or limit its potential? Do we need complexity or clarity?

At the moment, I would say clarity. I find that Japanese architects have a tendency to keep their descriptions simple and straightforward. They don’t feel self-conscious just talking about doors, windows and columns. Even their theory is directly related to building and the physical properties of light, air, and texture. In contrast, architecture in the U.S always seems to be tied into a range of issues: politics, economy, sustainability, urban context, etc. Social issues become the primary focus of grandiose building and/or development schemes deemed “at the forefront of architecture”. Architecture faces the pressure of not only resolving the program at hand, but to make a statement about social organization, such that students resort to architectural jargon to be heard, and architects to get built.

A fear of normalcy seems to be permeating the discipline.