According to Travis Price, an award-winning architect and philosopher whose work is rooted in ecology and mythology, most architecture today is just plain soulless. “You go into malls and they float all kinds of Roman columns and fake images. It’s Disney. It’s superficial. It’s mass produced. It’s empty.”
Price, a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, focuses on restoring the “spirit of place” to modern design by providing an alternative to the “sprawl, mall and tall” trend of generic suburban architecture today, or, as he puts it, “a slow moving Pompei blanketing us with the pursuit of loneliness and homogeneity.”
The issue at hand is not simply the “modern box” aesthetic (there are over 1,500 enclosed malls, not even including strip malls, miles of suburban banality and boxed towers in the U.S.) The problem, Price argues, is also that these structures lack an authentic connection to nature and the very cultures in which they exist. This, in turn, leaves us feeling disconnected, isolated and longing for true connections to each other and our communities.
While the problem is complex, the solution, Price says, is simple: We must bring nature back into architecture. “We are made from nature in nature. We miss the rhythms. We miss the hot, cold. The lack of isolation by fossil fuels. The human being needs that. Just like it needs smell and taste.”
Nature-inspired structures have a positive psychological effect on the communities in which they exist. According to a Cornell University study, proximity to natural places does indeed have a direct effect on physical and mental health, as well as stress reduction. Structures that are near natural areas promote well-being, and views of the natural environment improve cognitive functioning.
More importantly, “Architecture has to have a metaphor, it has to have a story, a meaning,” says Price.
Whether it’s the front of your house looking like a certain tradition that evokes something in you, or a very modern piece which can actually — like jazz — dig deep in to your psyche and give you whole other experience. There’s really almost no difference between the psychology of space and what architects do.
Price, also a professor of architecture at Catholic University, does not just preach his “spirit of place” lecture to students; he actually takes them out into the field, to sites around the globe to assemble new structures. They explore the landscape and the deep underlying stories in it, then create modern architecture in those environments that reflect the stories and the ecology of the specific regions. For the past 18 years, Price has traveled to 18 different locations with 18 different groups of students. Each time, the class has built new structures in an astonishing nine days. Many of the structures have won prestigious American Institute of Architects design awards. Projects have ranged from outhouses in the great northwest of British Columbia based on the spirit of masks, to a floating house in the Amazon River in Peru, to a stargazing temple at Machu Picchu. Price has even led trip to trips to Nepal to build snake shrines and built monuments to 5000 year old epics from Finland.
Most recently, Price and his students won Ireland’s Best Municipal Project award for their installation on Inishturk in County Mayo. In nine days, the students built a memorial on this remote, sparsely populated island, interweaving the construction with profiles of the people who live on Inishturk. Emmy winning Filmmakers Judith and Stanley Hallet documented the entire process in a new film, Tale of the Tongs, which will debut at the Environmental Film Festival in Washington, D.C. on March 24, 2014.
The goal with Price’s recent installation in Ireland and with each project he embarks upon is to have the modern architecture reflect the stories of the landscape and the local people. “I simply hold up a mirror and I let you look at yourself in it, but I let you look at it not as a mirror, but as a 3-dimensional space that you can walk in,” he explains. “And guess what? Just like a church, a synagogue, a mosque, a shrine — it evokes an emotion in you that touches your ancestors and inhales their enduring landscapes for the first time.”
Image reference Goldchain, M. (2015) Shipping container villages and more dreams of architect Travis Price. Available at: http://dc.curbed.com/2015/3/18/9979446/travis-price-architect-shipping-containers (Accessed: 23 October 2016).
Gray, M. (2014) The problem with architecture today (and the solution). Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/monica-gray/the-problem-with-architec_b_4869707.html (Accessed: 23 October 2016).