The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Steve Jobs: architects model and preservationists nightmare?

“Jobs’ lesson for architects and architecture students is to hold your nerve.  If you can sense your client’s desires   , design in a few surprise- and – delights, the thing they never knew they wanted…Nothing risked, nothing gained” writes AJ Editor Christine Murray in her editorial (AJ 13.10.11), calling for more architectural confidence and “a certain measure of ego”, and not surprisingly her architect readers seem to love the message.

I’ve also been brooding on the coverage of the Apple co-founder’s death and was most struck by this assessment:   “Success was built firmly on the idea that…. you should not give consumers what they want…  Jobs repeatedly created things that people came to want more than anything else only by not trying to give them what they already wanted.  This challenges the idea that consumer culture inevitably means pandering to the lowest common denominator.  Markets are not necessarily conservative: truly great innovations can become popular” (Philosopher Julian Baggini Guardian2 7/10/11 p.6.)    So was Jobs just a genius in a league above those post war architects who tried so hard to do exactly this and are now so regularly dismissed as mis-guided paternalistic ego-maniacs?   Is architecture just harder than hand held gadgets?   Is the problem that iPhones etc get constant updates and are willingly replaced by their owners every two or three years, whereas buildings are expected to stagger on and on with no maintenance or adequate management?   How come so many people trusted Jobs and even hero worshipped him, and can architects ever get that level of following? 

I also note that Jobs’ anti-preservation stance has not had much of a mention.   He bought The Jackling House, a 1925 Spanish Colonial Revival house by the leading proponent of the style,  architect George Washington Smith.  This was built for copper mining magnate Daniel Cowan Jackling, in the Woodside area of California, and looks as if it was pretty spectacular.  Jobs lived in it for a while, but was accused of leaving it to rot when he moved to Paolo Aalto, and after a long legal battle it was demolished in Feb 2011.   Macs and Ibooks will be so straightforward to preserve in thousands of design collections, architecture is once again much more problematic.


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