Building Bad

Building Bad: How Architectural Utility is Constrained by Politics and Damaged by Expression

Jonathan Ochshorn

book cover, Building Bad

Building Bad: How Architectural Utility is Constrained by Politics and Damaged by Expression
by Jonathan Ochshorn

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In the UK: Publisher's UK webpage

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In this book, the author argues that architectural functionality is often constrained by political and economic forces, while it is also effectively undermined by modes of expression. Utilitarian building elements—for example, windows or skylights intended to bring daylight into offices or factories—may be subject to excessive heat gain, thereby coming into conflict with an evolving politics of energy conservation and global warming mitigation. Yet at the other extreme they may be deployed as part of expressive systems whose value, understood in terms of symbol and metaphor, can overwhelm these utilitarian considerations.

Politics and economics, in other words, establish lower and upper bounds for all utilitarian functions, whose costs and benefits are continually assessed on the basis of the profitable accumulation of wealth within a competitive global economy. Simultaneously, an artistic sensibility, also driven by competition, often contorts buildings into increasingly untenable forms. With utility both constrained by politics and attacked by expression, buildings—especially those that aim to be fashionable and avant-garde—often experience various degrees of utilitarian failure.

The political constraints and expressive tendencies affecting architectural utility are separately examined in the two parts of this book, while an epilogue looks at the implications for architectural education.

Jonathan Ochshorn is Professor of Architecture at Cornell University, USA. He is a practicing architect and is author of the textbook Structural Elements for Architects and Builders.