“Wow! what a building” I exclaimed, passing by a colony designed by a famous architect. Rolling her eyes my friend said “No, I don’t want to listen to another of your architecture stories” I chuckled and continued anyways on how great the design is, the material, and kept rambling about the architect and his other structures. My friend who was annoyed at the moment said, “Nobody even lives here!” For her, the building, the whole colony was just an unsuccessful piece as there were no inhabitants in those buildings; and it was just a dilapidated ruin to her.
This made me wonder how do people outside of the architectural fraternity view buildings? For them, it does not matter who the architect is and what the design concept was; obviously! What marks the success of a building is not its location or design it is the way people use it – the usability of the product. Let us take the example of a mobile app, what marks its success? The UX designer? No. The UI design? No! It is the way users are using it and the number of users hooked on to it. Thus. I think for any design the usability and user interaction with it is what matters the most.
Let us have a look at some examples and understand why the usability of a building matters the most
A small village in the north of Spain, Cirueña was established in the 2000s as a city for nearly 10,000 inhabitants on the outskirts. Around 100 cottages and multi-apartment buildings formed a part of Cirueña, This also comprised restaurants, stores, swimming pools, and even a golf club. But with global finance declining in the year 2008, the fate of this Spanish city declined as well. The global recession prevented the settlement here and today it is left ghosted, though around 100 citizens are still a part of this city. But Cirueña was not a great success and shows that the economy can have a huge impact on architecture, no matter how great the design is.
Some 30 km away from Luanda, the capital of Angola is a city built by a Chinese investment corporation and is known by the name Kilamaba. The story is that before the elections the contesting party has promised the construction of a large number of buildings in the shortest period. Kilamba was constructed in 2012 with 750 multi-story apartment buildings in order to house a half million people. The city had more than 100 shopping complexes and educational institutions. With a total construction cost of $3.5 billion, the city of Kilamba and the hundreds of buildings here lie unoccupied and unused. The worst part is that the residual population of around 1000 people living in this city are below the poverty threshold and cannot afford to live in these unused buildings even with the help of a mortgage. This shows that the success of architecture also depends on the social strata and user affordability, not just the design.
The Nakagin Capsule Tower
Tokyo’s Ginza district was once famous by The Nakagin Capsule tower or ‘Nakagin Kapuseru Tawā’, the local icon. Architect Kisho Kurokawa designed this structure as an emblem of Japan’s post-war recovery. This movement was known as ‘The Japanese Metabolism movement. The ‘futuristic’ tower which was based on the plugin adaptive architecture abandoned and unused. Nakagin Capsule Tower’s decline was due to political uncertainties. The idea of conserving an architectural masterpiece has been defeated by chasing the land value in the prime center of Tokyo and putting it to better use. This implies that no matter how famous the design or designer is political and social aspects impact architecture to a large extent.
We conclude that in the practical world the social, political, and economic aspects are as important as the design. To us, architects’ design might be an abstract art but the ground reality is that any architecture is not successful merely because a starchitect designed it or because the concept was great, or because the architectural community speaks highly of the project. If the user is not aligned with the design the design won’t be a successful one. But that does not mean that we can bargain with the design. Design is ought to be good, no doubt but more importantly it must resonate with the user.