Not so long I came across a book that somehow dealt with the Hiram Key, or the sort, and within it, there had been mention about how a man once designed and manifest a town plan with the one stroke of a pen, or how in one sweep of his hand, the entire village or enclave transformed from an arid desert town into a livable green city. His role today would be no different from that of town planner, I believe, and whose original and pure object is to arrange and manifest a town plan, or a building block, whose inhabitants would enjoy a lifestyle that would be the result of his brilliant work, the way he would specify to plant trees, install water bodies and introduced lakes, and whence he could direct mountains or rocks to be displaced and relocated or hacked off, or how a barrier is created and a road network introduced to either connect neighborhoods or indeed tear apart a public realm or divide a village. His all-powerful role today brings about both a positive change for a better living or environment or indeed he brings about permanent and irreversible damage to lives of thousands of people affected by his design. He is indeed like a pharaoh, a revered person with vast knowledge and whose great wisdom was admired by all his citizens and whose intellect and expertise and know how was the envy of his neighbors who could only dream of kingdoms as vast and supreme as his own. He was the all knowing architect, the immaculate ruler and the creator or spectacular gardens, of pleasurable green cities with abundant trees bearing sweet and juicy fruits, a propeller of wealth for all nations. Not only were these architects of great design our reliable heroes in salvaging cities from disasters in times of hardships and calamities, they also had insights and knowledge of the greatest of visionary leaders, skills of a celebrated olympic champion and bear charismatic qualities of a revered king. This so-called town planner, the architect and the pharaoh was the one and same person, he was an astronomer, an horticulturalist, he was a landscaper, a mechanical and electrical engineer, a hydrologist, and a war or maritime expert, a geologist, a writer, musician, an astrologer who read the stars, and a traffic consultant and a structural engineer with great ideas, and more, all rolled into one. He may have had many advisors then, yes, but all in all he had specialist knowledge in many, many areas and discipline, to enable him to deploy many a wise decision, he was able to plan, instruct and implement great schemes and as well as that, he understood infrastructure, appreciates materials and has a complete understanding of his resources, and he took responsibility to deal with energy issues, which today we term as sustainability or green building. By comparison, architects, town planners and landscape designers today have little left in them to be called modern day pharaohs. The master builders of the bygone civilizations have vanished from the face of the earth? Whatever happened between the time of the great hanging gardens of Babylon and the Singapore’s gardens by the bay is anyone guess. Might we have depended too much on technology and have we not invested too much time building cities that had failed to deliver the life quality we desire, or rather have we not conserved that which is important to us as citizens of earth. We lost sight of our purpose, perhaps. Or are we on the right path still? And where are our modern day Michelangelos, our lost Leonardos. What civilisation are we if we cannot even resurrect our renaissance man. Never mind our lost Pharoahs.

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2 thoughts on “the architect: modern day pharaoh?

  1. I have read that, in early Greek culture, architecture and other forms of knowledge such as medicine were considered dangerous because, while they were seen as powerful and indispensible, they were also seen as morally ambiguous. This is because the Greeks saw techne as an acquired knowledge and thus susceptible to debasement. They contrasted this against virtue or inner goodness which was seen as a form of innate knowledge.
    The gist of the argument is that techne must be guided by virtue and without it we are lost no matter how ‘skilled’ we are.
    I hate to think my failures as an architect are due to a lack of virtue but more to do with a general lack of virtuousness in the many activities I, as an architect, am now called upon to house. Its not much of a comforting thought however, because it begs the observation that I am what I do. I can draw the line between good and bad so I’ve only got myself to blame when I look around at the world of bad architecture I see. I can understand why many good people are driven to activism including architects.

  2. Architecture was and still should be a guild, to be apprenticed from one generation to the next, it cannot be the work of one modern day, self centered, single minded tyrants whose virtuous deeds are prepared to serve his own means at the expense of his neighbors and those who elevated him to do this evil. Yet there are still indeed, many more, who operate below the radar, and that these are the ones who produce even the more intriguing and lovely work: our geoffrey bawas, of this age, for instance and so on. Here lies the morale, to do less evil one has to design not the building, but the heart. A city runs in accordance to its program. The program is designed and endorsed by mayors and governors to enrich either the architect (whom are the planners and the project team) or the inhabitants, or both. Anywhere in between would have been alright. The problem is when it swings only one way. Or when the enrichment is not of the intellect nor the heart or soul but is of the materialistic sense.

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