Appropriate, Attractive, Affordable

Luis Fernández-Galiano 

The work of Harquitectes encourages to propose a new version of the Vitruvian triad. Instead of the Latin terms that have carved in stone the message of the Augustan architect, a carefree formulation in plain language: appropriate, attractive, affordable. The exact crystallization of Vitruvius – firmitas, utilitas, venustas – was already revised by Alberti, who by proposing soliditas, commoditas, voluptas subtly nuanced the trio, though maintaining the tripartite organization that Mario Praz, quoting Winckelman, considered the essence of classicism. But beneath the compact classical expression also lies what Kantian Enlightenment called pure reason, the mathematical and mechanical foundation of construction that firmitas or soliditas abbreviate; practical reason, the functional adaptation to uses suggested by utilitas or commoditas; and judgement, the territory of aesthetics, beauty, and fruition which venustas or voluptas evoke.

In more recent dates, and taking as a reference the French Revolution’s motto – freedom, equality, fraternity – Rem Koolhaas has coined today’s new sacred trinity – comfort, security, sustainability –, in fact only a version of the Albertian triad which adds to commoditas and soliditas a rigorist variant of voluptas that makes beauty and pleasure dependent on a political correctness tied to the respect for the environment and the defense of the planet. For the Dutch architect, these are the dominant values of 21st century culture, and their implementation can be considered a true revolution that has gone almost unnoticed. But perhaps these three priorities reflect nothing but the timeless demands that accompany us since classical Antiquity, and that in the field of architecture have known different incarnations, though in this last one making beauty ultimately dependent on morality, as was defended by the most fundamentalist modernity.

All this is brought to mind by the work of the four partners of Harquitectes, a model office in its ability to provide value for public or private clients, in its responsibility when intervening in heritage buildings or urban environments, and in its determination to pursue sustainability in terms of energy, waste, or life cycle of materials, issues which they tackle with unique thermodynamic sophistication. And these buildings, which are already smart in their approach to design and construction, are also aesthetically sophisticated in their use of povera materials and economical in their budgetary discipline: so besides appropriate, attractive and affordable. Though here we have proposed a new, smiling Vitruvian triad, the colloquiallism should not be understood as deferential politeness, but as an expression of the strong conviction that this is precisely the kind of architecture that must be practiced today, and this everyday formula is an invitation to do so.

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