Four Walls and a Roof: The Complex Nature of a Simple Profession by Reinier de GraafArchitecture, we like to believe, is an elevated art form that shapes the world as it pleases. Four Walls and a Roof challenges this notion, presenting a candid account of what it is really like to work as an architect. Drawing on his own tragicomic experiences in the field, Reinier de Graaf reveals the world of contemporary architecture in vivid snapshots: from suburban New York to the rubble of northern Iraq, from the corridors of wealth in London, Moscow, and Dubai to garbage-strewn wastelands that represent the demolished hopes of postwar social housing. We meet oligarchs determined to translate ambitions into concrete and steel, developers for whom architecture is mere investment, and the layers of politicians, bureaucrats, consultants, and mysterious hangers-on who lie between any architectural idea and the chance of its execution. Four Walls and a Roof tells the story of a profession buffeted by external forces that determine—at least as much as individual inspiration—what architects design.
Four Walls and a Roof : The Complex Nature of a Simple Profession
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In this extract, the OMA partner reveals the building's secret, politically fuelled past. The house, a small single-story building with a square plan and a pitched roof, is nothing much to speak of. The street along which it stands is straddled with similar and similarly inconspicuous homes. Apart from customised doorbells and mailboxes, only the colour of their facades varies: off-white, grey, Prussian green or yellow and, in the case of more recently erected homes, just plain white. The one that has our interest is terracotta red. Its exterior walls feel like a faded shade of the area's former political colouring, but we understand that analogy might be a bit far-fetched. It is the street name — the Karl Liebknechtstrasse — that serves as the real reminder of the once potent ideology that held this part of Germany in its grip for 40 years.
Image courtesy of the Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller.
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