Architecture in the Age of Austerity - 2

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sunset at Mallory Square in Key West


   The Era of the Company was the time of the Consuming Economy, and it is now ending. Its three primary virtues were quality, speed, and economy... or better-faster-cheaper, if you prefer. Today, if you are an architect and all you have to offer is some combination of better, faster, and cheaper, you're likely not going to make it. This is an issue of survival. To be clear, it's not that companies won't continue... they will... but they're unlikely to be the centerpieces of our economic lives that they've been since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.


rowboats in harbor at Mahebourg, Mauritius

   The replacement for the Era of the Company is the Age of the Idea, which is now dawning. Its three primary virtues are likely to be patience, generosity, and connectedness, and it is likely to embody the return to a Conserving Economy.


sundial on a white stucco wall with small arched window above

   Patience is, in many ways, the opposite to speed. In the Era of the Company, we were in a rush for everything, from fast food to speedy cars. But in the Age of the Idea, it takes time to get a following for your ideas.


three trays of sweet rolls and bread on a black soapstone kitchen counter

   Generosity is quite opposite to to economy. Practitioners in an age of austerity operating by the rules of a Consuming Economy could not imagine giving anything away. But today, a "teaser" is treated with the same respect as spam, which is complete disdain. Unless you're willing to give things away that are useful on their own, with no expectation that the recipients will come back to you for other things, you haven't discovered true generosity. But when you do, you will get far more in return than you ever would have gotten if you protected all your material.


two men debating beneath white statues in a park in Madrid

   Connectedness is curious, because while it's not the opposite to quality, it does sit at the opposite end of the timeline. In the Era of the Company, you began by producing high-quality work. That high-quality work led to many connections with people that wanted to know about you. But it could lead to arrogance because of the hubris that comes with making it on your own. In the Age of the Idea one starts at the other end. I founded the New Urban Guild over a decade ago, four members of which are in today's audience, and the members of the Guild tend to make each other better. I have seen many improvements in my own work, for example, because of the Guild members I have worked with. When you realize that your own improvements are due to the skills of others, that realization leads to humility instead of arrogance.


Coca-Cola can on left; protest in front of Madrid civic building on right

   The transfer mechanism of the Era of the Company was the brand. A brand is highly proprietary. If someone infringes upon your brand, you protect it vigorously by calling in the lawyers. A brand only spreads by selling... if you quit selling, the brand quits spreading. A cause, on the other hand, is the preferred transfer mechanism of the Age of the Idea. Unlike a brand, a cause is open-source, and it is given away. And it is spread by telling, not selling. So a cause you create can take on a life of its own and spread to people you will never meet, and those that live far beyond your lifespan.


giant flywheel of industrial equipment at Schloss Furnace in Birmingham, Alabama

   The Era of the Company operated on a mechanical paradigm... as a matter of fact, the mechanical paradigm opened the Era of the Company at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The mechanical paradigm needs a Consuming Economy to generate more customers for more products, in order to keep the machines running at increasing rates. 


control gauges at Schloss Furnace in Birmingham, Alabama

   The operating system of the mechanical paradigm is the command & control system. It is top-down, hierarchical, and linear along the chain of command.


horse and colt in green meadow in England

   The Age of the Idea, I believe, will operate instead by the organic paradigm. The organic paradigm is the highest expression of the Conserving Economy because there is no waste in the organic world.


black cow peering over grassy knoll in England

   The operating system of the organic paradigm is the process of life itself. A living tradition is not the process of life itself, but it gives honor to the process of life. Put another way, a living tradition is the best we humans can do to honor the process of life. A living tradition, unlike command & control, is grassroots, bottom-up, and multi-linked.

   As an aside, it is extraordinary that the Prince of Wales, while first in line to the throne, is such a champion of the organic and the grassroots. In my opinion, he is the likeliest candidate we have ever seen to redefine the role of monarchy itself from top-down rule to champion of high ideals… a change that has been needed for centuries, ever since the advent of the parliamentary system.


   ~Steve Mouzon


   This is one of 6 posts that contain my presentation to the joint INTBAU-Notre Dame conference in London, Architecture in the Age of Austerity, on April 30, 2012.

Here are the posts:

Post 1

Post 2 (this one)

Post 3

Post 4

Post 5

Post 6


Legacy Comments


Richard Bono · Owl Valley Studio at Richard J. Bono, Architect

I certainly hope you are right...but the Corporate State is quite powerful today...even as it comes ever closer to commandeering the people's governments...at all levels of scale.

Jun 8, 2012 11:28am


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