Water Is Key
Photography by Scott Johnson
THE BIG IDEA: Criticality and Practice in Contemporary Architectures
192 pages
6" x 8 "
ISBN: 978-1-890449-38-4
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Paperback w/ flaps

The Big Idea uses an autobiographical approach to explore issues of how large theoretical ideas influence day-to-day architectural practice. Architect Scott Johnson has, over the last few decades, been privileged to work in rarified environments in Berkeley, New York and Los Angeles when big ideas of architectural theory were emerging. This is an account of how one architect has made sense of his time and place.

Younger architects, for whom the unraveling of modernist orthodoxy and the emergence of various alternative ways of thinking about and designing architecture is already a chapter in the history books, will find Johnson’s account particularly interesting. His professional experiences with some of the most important names in the world of architecture are both informative and entertaining in this very personal journey through the overarching themes of contemporary architecture and the discovery of professional practice. Ultimately, The Big Idea is Scott Johnson’s testimony in defense of architecture as a life-affirming art.

The Big Idea is a series of dispatches from the front lines of the intellectual battles over the meaning of architecture in a postmodern world. Johnson shows that architecture—good architecture—is neither an intellectual abstraction nor a commodity, it is an experience choreographed by the architect and completed by the users through their own openness to the experience.
—Dennis P. Doordan
Chair, Department of Art, Art History and Design
University of Notre Dame

Many visible and accomplished theorists and practitioners alike are voicing support for the notion that criticality, or theory, is no longer meaningful in the making of a relevant and powerful architecture. The academic and the practitioner seem finally, or momentarily, to agree: theory and design have no need for each other. It is precisely this agreement of which I am suspicious and which I investigate in
The Big Idea and I now feel certain that the interplay of criticality and practice continues to be a more than useful, if complex, marriage.
—Scott Johnson, FAIA