Archive for January, 2011

Rhetoric

Jan 05 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I think (and therefore write) about rhetoric fairly often. Rhetoric is nothing more than using language to communicate effectively and persuasively. The prototypical American Architect is a master of rhetoric, ze (gender non-specific pronoun) can sell any project by explaining it in the appropriate light. In Architecture, rhetoric is the verbal equivalent of graphics; it is academic knowledge and charisma made manifest. It is a powerful tool.

For example: I’m convinced that my team won 3rd place in a competition last year entirely because of how we positioned the project during the final presentation. We were supposed to pick one person’s project and develop it as a class. But, we hadn’t been able to function effectively enough as a team to pick a project, and so we ended up starting from scratch and making an entirely new project, without any clearly defined team leader. It was murder, but the project came out alright. The presentation was genius though.

We essentially re-wrote history. We presented our project as a group effort, collaborative and cooperative, like some sort of socialist, feel-good, iterative hybrid. And won third place. Because we manipulated the judges with the sort of rhetoric they wanted to hear.

Like I said, it’s powerful. If you’re willing to say what is expected of you, the system rewards you. If you go against the rhetorical norms, it’s a struggle. I have a lot of respect for those who recognize it for what it is, and who aren’t afraid to critically examine their rhetoric, because it lets them see the truth behind any given project. These are the sort of people I want to work with someday, and this is the type of person I strive to be.

It’s certainly an ethical stumbling block though. Is it ethical to manipulate someone by telling them what they want to hear? If you’re engaged in a competition, would that even be considered manipulation? Is it unavoidable? Or is it worth sticking to your guns, representing the design reality accurately? Is it worth waiting for a client that understands and appreciates the honesty as integrity? Is it worth ignoring those who see honesty as an affront?

Rhetoric, like all of the language we choose, is  no small matter. If you want to really sell a design, it has to reflect what you say it does. In other words, if you sell out in your language, then you have to sell out in your design. If you’re saying that your design is the trendiest option, it needs to visibly conform to the trend. You subvert your own good judgement and trade it for rhetorical fill. Instead of using rhetoric as a tool, you begin to let rhetoric use you as a tool to propagate a trend. Is it worth it?

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