opinion: KEEP THE RAIN OUT

The field of architecture started with a very simple idea; let's put a roof over our head.  It was the idea of shelter.  Controlling our environment.  Putting something between us and the elements.  Quite simply, to keep the rain out.

Given these humble origins, it is all the more pecuilar the problems occurring in contemporary architecture.  The roofs aren't performing their basic function, they aren't keeping that rain (or sun, wind, etc.) out.

The modern day examples are plentiful.  Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava has been asked to pay for repairs to a leaky winery roof, American architect Frank Gehry was sued by M.I.T. in 2007 for a leaky roof at his $300 million Strata Center, and the roof of Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind's Westside Center in Bern, Switzerland collapsed two times in three years.

If the simple roof is the most basic element of architecture, why are there so many issues with improperly designed roofs today.  Has the architecture profession forgotten its basic purpose?

  The beautiful, yet faulty roof of Santago Calatrava's Bodegas Ysios winery.                  image: archdaily.com

The beautiful, yet faulty roof of Santago Calatrava's Bodegas Ysios winery.                 image: archdaily.com

Of course, no building is ever built free of flaws or complications.  It's impossible to account for and cover every possible crack and crevice.  However, many of these examples of radical architecture failing to provide the basic function of shelter has less to do with common problems, and more to do with fundamental flaws in their designs.  In a desire to constantly reinvent and push the envelope, architects have been forced to ignore generations of knowledge gained about shelter and working with nature.  A pitched roof free of water-collecting valleys keeps the rain out, it is really that simple.  This would seem to fall pretty squarely in the realm of common sense.

Frank Loyd Wright famously once said, "If the roof doesn’t leak, the architect hasn’t been creative enough."  It speaks to an approach to design from an aesthetics point-of-view, as opposed to embracing the practical side of architecture.  Wright may have been talking about the inevitable trial-and-error that comes with creativity and experimenting with new ideas.  However, innovation and practical function are not mutually exclusive.  Innovation can still be achieved while working with the base of knowledge that has been collected for countless generations (they've already done a lot of that trial-and-error for us).

While architecture may be born out of the human desire to control its environment, there is only so much we can do to fight nature.  Nature is relentless and ever-present.   We are waging a losing fight attempting to design against nature.  Temperature control, steel structures capable of cantilevering massive weights, and modern waterproofing methods have made us think we can create any form in any climate.  Unfortunately, nature will always win.  That flat roof in tropical Miami will leak, that glass wall in Los Angeles will become a heat box in the sun, and that concrete shelf cantilevered over a plaza may be striking...but gravity has never lost a fight.