There exists a tenuous distinction between “experimental architecture” and “professional architecture.” The industry and profession of architecture can be said to be based on a refinement of an individual’s architectural ideas and theories over the life of a career. The only manner by which to understand more fully the personal and cultural implications of one’s designs is to begin with some form of study, some form of experimentation; whether that be through the use of temporary structure (which provide a more suitable environment for architectural experimentation) or more permanent ones in built form (which constitute a more costly form of experimentation). Using this logic, “experimental architecture” will eventually refine itself down to becoming a more professional form, and “professional architecture” is always experimental; thus a distinction between experimental and professional architecture is difficult to identify in the big picture.
Professional architecture is experimental. To a certain extent, any and all people who put into practice the processes of architectural design spend their life defining and refining their interpretation of “architecture” and “design.” For example, Le Corbusier, who had great influence on the development of modern architecture began to develop an architectural theory based on five simple driving concepts (pilotis, free floor plan, free façade, ribbon windows and rooftop garden) early in his career and continually worked to refine his theory with each new project that he confronted. His experimentation with the five points led his designs from the traditional Dutch style of his 1905 Villa Fallet (which most people would never link to the architect due to its severe divergence from his commonly understood theories) to the fully modern culmination of his architectural theory: the 1928 Villa Savoye. The architecture of Le Corbusier, arguably one of history’s most influential architects, can easily be considered “experimental architecture;” but his career was one of the best examples of “professional architecture” in history. Thus his architecture was fully “experimental architecture” and, simultaneously, constituted a “professional architecture.”
Villa Fallet Villa Savoye
Temporary architecture is experimental and experimental architecture will become professional. The construction of a temporary structure assists architects in the definition and refinement of their architectural theories, which, as previously discussed, are based on experimentation. Like a life-sized model, architects can study differing effects that they are trying to achieve with no long-term pressure present in the construction of permanent structures. For example, Mies van der Rohe’s 1929 German Pavilion exists as his first “essay” of sorts about elements of architecture. The architect focuses on blurring the distinction between interior and exterior, the relationship between floor and slab and a multiplicity of movements based on a simple gridded plan. From his studies at the Barcelona exhibition, van der Rohe refined his architectural theories to lead him to the designs of the 1956 Crown Hall for IIT and 1968 Neue National Gallery in Berlin. Van der Rohe’s construction of the temporary German Pavilion gave the architect a unique opportunity to experiment with architecture and essentially acted as the starting point for his career. Based on this idea, the experimental qualities of architecture led only to a more and more “professional architecture” – one with solid ideas and refined theories. In this way, “experimental architecture,” over time, becomes or leads to “professional architecture.”
German Pavilion Neue National Gallery
Although the analysis of these big name architects can easily apply to the concepts that have been put forth, the same ideals exist for architects everywhere. From the time that we begin our modern day architectural education, students work toward developing their own architectural theories. Perhaps based on an influential career of history, perhaps based on their own design aesthetics; perhaps developed and followed early in life, perhaps developed as a result of experimentation over time. Nevertheless, everyone who puts into practice the processes of architectural design work to develop these architectural theories over a lifetime. The distinction between “experimental architecture” and “professional architecture” may exist, but if it does, it will not last for long, as one cannot exist without the other.