The Eyes of the Public

written by Aleš Vodopivec


Two young lovers sit near the window of a dazzling new café, lining one of Haussmann's newly-minted boulevards… After a while, a ragged homeless family passes by. Enamoured by the café’s garish opulence, they stop. They peer in; the kids press their noses against the gleaming windowpane, admiring the decor and the people inside. ‘How beautiful this is!’ Baudelaire has his ragpickers explain. ‘How beautiful this is!’ But they know it’s not for them, not for their type... The male lover is touched by this ‘family of eyes’ outside; he feels a strange kinship with them, a strange affinity, despite the social distance. His lover is unmoved; she wants the patron to shoo them away, to move them on, somewhere else, anywhere so long as it’s out of her sight. ‘These people with their great saucer eyes,’ Baudelaire has her declaim, ‘are unbearable!’ At that moment the two lovers love each other a little less.  


I was lucky enough to spend most of my studies close to Prof. Edvard Ravnikar, who understood architecture as a reflex of life philosophy. His wide scope of interests, unimaginable today, ranging not only from architecture and art to literature and music, but also from history and politics to philosophy and sociology, etc., inspired us, students, as well. His lectures were brimming with socially committed ideas, and our study assignments were tailored to finding solutions for the most painful problems of people, cities and the environment. We addressed the problems of mass self-building and illegal construction, the lack of apartments for young people, the location of public spaces and programmes in the city, the inefficiency of public transport and issues affecting the population in rural areas. Ravnikar, like most other modernists, constantly accentuated the social importance of architecture. Back then—in the 1970s—modernism was still understood as a driving force of social development, optimism and faith in a better and more just world. When architecture, too, would not be a privilege of the rich. In the eyes of the people, the architect belonged to the group of the most honourable professions, together with doctors, teachers and lawyers—all those who can help people.


In the last decades, architecture has prided itself with many achievements. Major investments in the construction industry allowed for some technically extremely difficult and spectacular projects, which can be likened to the most astonishing creations of past historical eras. The new portrayal of architecture in media is glamorous—the same kind of extravagance that is associated with fashion, movies and sports. However, at the same time, architecture has lost its social influence and fell out of the group of the most respected professions. Today, people don't see an architect as someone who can help them, improve their lives and make them better. For most people who self-build, architecture means an unwanted additional cost. The earlier respectability dwindled not only with the public, but with the artists, writers, sociologists, etc., as well. Today, mostly those who seek an opportunity to make profit, favour architecture. The names of the most renowned architects now function as a trademark, which raises the end value of a project.