Before proceeding to discuss the training of the architect, we must first be clear in our minds as to the scope of the activities subsumed under the name architecture.
Architecture is a process of giving form and pattern to the social life of the community.
Architecture is not an individual act performed by an artist-architect and charged with his emotions. Building is a collective action.
Society determines the contents of its own life and thus the contents of architecture within the framework of a specific social system within a specific period of time with specific economic and technical means and in a specific place in a real situation.
It is therefore something closely touching the material concerns of a collective stratum, a class, a nation.
Architecture is thus a social manifestation and indissolubly linked with the structure of society at a given point of time. Once separated from the society of its age, it becomes an empty sham and a toy for the infatuated followers of vulgar fashion. Today, in an epoch of the greatest social confusion when one social system is merging into the next, we should not be surprised if architecture itself displays the heterogeneous forms of the transition.
The architect is thus a regulator and shaper of the living processes of his society. He studies its material and spiritual needs and converts them into plastic reality,
he organizes the technical and structural possibilities, he is familiar with the biological prerequisites and knows the social object of his work, he understands the historical mission of the constructor, and knows how to draw upon the folkloric and cultural heritage, he unites in his work the most disparate arts, the dynamic photograph of publicity, the play of water, the elements of traffic, the arts of the gardener.
Thus the architect is an organizer. He is an organizer of the specialists without being a specialist himself!…The architect is an artist, for all art is a matter of organization; that is, of reality shaped according to a new system…
Like all the arts, architecture is a matter of public morals. The architect is fulfilling his moral function if he analyses his assignment with single-minded truthfulness and puts it into the form of a building honestly and boldly.
The cry for an “international architecture” in this age of national self-sufficiency, of the awakening of the colonial peoples, of the common front in Latin America against imperialism, the socialist reconstruction in the Soviet Union, and of the expropriation of the railways, large estates and oil wells for the benefit of the people in Mexico, is a dream of those building aesthetes who, anxious to be thought in the forefront of fashion, conjure up for themselves a uniform world of buildings constructed of glass, concrete and steel, detached from social reality…
This brings us to the problem of content and form in architecture. The form of the building must have a social content, otherwise it is mere decoration and formalism. We condemn the exhibitionist as an antisocial element in society, and we should also condemn that type of architect for whom the building of a house is merely an opportunity to parade personal formal preferences for all the street to see. And the content of the building must be expressed with formal mastery so that there can be no doubt as to the social functions of the building. The standardized hut of the Mexican railway worker as an element of a progressive, democratic state, represents a higher form of housing than the hut in a labor camp in present-day Germany, although they are both exactly the same in construction and appearance.
We would call the process of building a conscious patterning of the socio-economic, the technical-constructive and the psycho-physiological elements in the social living process. We architects must master this task in its totality, i.e. in all the demands — biological, artistic and historical — it makes upon us.
We must find a dialectical solution to the problems of building (i.e. in the novel context of a given time). We must find a differentiated form for them (i.e. in the novel functional form of a given time)…
It is crucially important that the public should play a part in the training of the architect…Here in Mexico I am struck by the way in which architectural circles are isolated from the people whereas fresco painting enjoys a unique popularity! In 1931 in Prague a group of young architects made an analysis of living conditions in the beautiful Czech capital. It caused such a stir that the police had to close the modest exhibition in which it was presented.
In Oslo in 1932 a co-operative of young architects made a camera reportage on the housing in the old town which forced the newspapers of every political persuasion to take up the question of housing and bring it out into the open. The upshot of both cases was that broad masses of the population began to concern themselves with the idea of architecture as a means to hygienic living conditions…
Why is it that here in Mexico, where there is a vigorous trade union movement, a workers’ university, and an awakening peasantry, there is no way of associating the people with the business of giving architecture its shape in co-operation with the architects?
If we accept the conception of architecture described here, the following conclusions can be drawn concerning the training of the architect:
a) He must be trained as an analyst, he must be able to grasp reality in all the different forms in which it appears: Since he is concerned throughout with a socio-economic reality, he must have a knowledge of sociology (without being a specialist sociologist). How otherwise will he be able to work in, say, Mexico where so many social systems (pre-feudal, feudal, capitalist, and a system in transition to socialism) are intermingled? How will he be able to understand the forms housing takes in these four sets of social conditions? It is not enough for him to have some glimmerings about the co-operative or the trade union movements in general, he must be able to grasp the differences between co-operative and trade union life.
b) He must train to be a creative inventor who helps to bring the new architecture into being through exact and analytical thinking (he is not a formalist artist). He must be conversant with biological sciences (without becoming a specialist biologist!).
For without hygiene or climatology or the science of management he will have no functional diagrams, i.e. no data on which he can elaborate his architectural forms.
c) As an artist he must be a master of the various ordering systems and the artistic orders. By these I do not mean the Corinthian or Doric orders, with which he will naturally be acquainted as a matter of architectural history. I mean more particularly the psychological orders of lines, planes and solids. I mean the tensions between various materials, their surface structure, division, proportions: their effect in a group or singly…in brief the wherewithal for a deliberate psychological shaping and patterning of material.
d) His technical and constructional training should include above all standardized forms. (For in special cases he will need the help of the specialist engineer!) He should be familiar with the standardized building methods on which both the handicraft and the highly industrialized building concerns are based. But he must also be conversant with old methods of building. (If he is not, how can he possibly carry out renovations or reconstructions and understand the history of architecture?)
e) He must be a master of architectural history not as an empty theory of building forms but as a record of the relationship between style and the form of society. Only if he grasps, for instance, the co-operative character of the mediaeval guilds and their desire to be masters of their own fate, will he be able to understand the multitude of functional forms which were new to the Middle Ages in Europe (I am thinking of staircases, oriels). He must learn to understand that the rhythm of Doric columns changes with the rhythm of social life, and that a repressed people can never create free orders of columns. He must be capable of appreciating folklore as something more than textiles and decorated pottery; namely, as a translation of the imaginative world of nature and religion into such functional media as plant fibers, wool, clay, etc. The colorful story-telling of Mexican textiles would be quite unimaginable in a gloomy environment!
f) He must have a knowledge of town-planning (without being an urbanist). How else will he be able to fit his building into the general framework of the town?
How will he be able to study structural forms in town planning, particularly the distribution of accents, the skyline, parks and verdant zones, unless he has some notion of the purposes of town planning?
But the trained architect is not himself a town planner!
…In conclusion let me summarize my suggestions for the reorganization of your academy of architecture:
Remember: Architecture is a weapon which at all times has been wielded by the ruling class of human society. In Mexico you are living in a state which is one of the most progressive democracies in the world. Fight for the truly progressive architecture of this state.
Lecture to the San Carlos academy, Mexico, 30.9.1938. (Manuscript in German).