HIGH TECH ARCHITECTURE
High tech – a tentative definition
High Tech architects all agree on at least one thing: they hate the term “High Tech”. Apart from a natural human unwillingness to be pigeonholed, there seem to be three main reasons for this. The first is that in the early 1970s “High Tech” was often used as a term of abuse by architects who had taken up the fashionable cause of “alternative technology”. As the term passed into more general use it lost its negative connotations, but High Tech architects themselves still prefer to use some such phrase as “appropriate technology”. Second, it is an ambiguous term. High Tech in architecture means something different from High Tech in industry. In industry, it means electronics, computers, silicon chips, robots, and the like; in architecture it now means a particular style of building.
But as soon as we use the word style we come up against the third objection. British High Tech architects hate the word style even more than they hate the word High Tech. In the USA the term High Tech does refer mainly to a style, but in Britain it means something much more rigorous…
Most people interested in contemporary architecture know what High Tech means, at least in general terms. And if High Tech has nothing to do with high technology, well neither has Gothic anything to do with Goths. So exactly what does it mean?…
For now we can simply say that its characteristic materials are metal and glass, that it purports to adhere to a strict code of honesty of expression, that it usually embodies ideas about industrial production, that it uses industries other than the building industry as sources both of technology and of imagery, and that it puts a high priority on flexibility of use.
It could, alternatively, be defined in purely personal and historical terms as the label we apply to almost any building designed in the last twenty years by Richard Rogers, Norman Foster, Nicholas Grimshaw, or Michael Hopkins. There are other exponents of High Tech, and not all of them are British, but these four are leaders of the movement. And it is, in a sense, a movement. It holds no conferences and issues no manifestos, but most of its members share the same educational background and are known personally to one another. They have worked in each other’s offices, and exchange ideas, sometimes collaborating, sometimes competing.
Function and representation – Technique or style?
The exponents of High Tech, like the pioneer Modernists of the 1920s, believe that there is such a thing as the “spirit of age” and that architecture has a moral duty to express that spirit. The spirit of our age, according to High Tech Architects, resides in advanced technology. Architecture must therefore participate in and make use of that technology-the technology of industry, transport, communication, flight and space travel. Why,they ask, should buildings be any different from the other artifacts of industrial culture? Why do we continue to make buildings out of cumbersome, messy, imprecise materials such as bricks, mortar, concrete, and timber when we could be making them out of light, precision components of metal and glass, fabricated in factories and quicly bolted together on site?
Colin Davies. High Tech Architecture: p.6, Introduction. Thames and Hudson Ltd., London 1988.