When a mother can look out of her Stata Center office window and catch a glimpse of her child in the day-care center’s playground, Bill Mitchell would have us believe, “That’s what architecture is about” (“Blurred Boundaries: Life in the Stata Center,” MIT News, July 2005).
Evidently, any preindustrial-society village has architecture as successful and advanced, since parents could easily see their kids from the door of any yurt, or hut, or tepee. By Mr. Mitchell’s measure, any playground qualifies as successful architecture, too, if a parent on a bench can keep an eye on the swings. But what about the rest of the experience of the place?
The architect of the Stata Center took the client’s program and made a building out of it, but the program should have specified the relationship of the offices to the day-care center. If the program didn’t, and the architect himself made it happen, that doesn’t make it architecture: that only means that the architect improved the program, and thus the eventual “commodity” of the space (to use Vitruvius’s word).
Likewise, Mr. Mitchell and author Samuel Jay Keyser happened to run into each other in the center’s parking garage; would Mr. Mitchell claim that the building’s architecture somehow encouraged, or supported, this “chance encounter”?
Architecture has the same relationship to commodity that a human brain has to a mind: the physical object can support or interfere with the functioning of the intangible processes. But does the brain make the mind? Or just give it a home? I would suggest that good architecture allows commodity and makes a home for it, but cannot make it, contrary to what I believe Mr. Mitchell has suggested.
Oren B. Helbok ‘87