3-D movies seem to be everywhere (at least if you’re the parent of Disney-aged kids).  There are even 3-D televisions for those who want to bring the fun home.  But as my world-weary and jaded 8 and 10 year-olds will tell you, 3-D is sooooooo two minutes ago.  The real hardcore experience is 4-D.  You need to feel the ogre sneeze on you; your hair needs to be ruffled as the alien experiment breathes down your neck; the very earth beneath you needs to quake with the monsters’ footsteps.

What on earth does this have to do with architecture?  I feel that architecture falls into the same categories as other traditionally visual experiences: 2-D, 3-D and 4-D.  O.K., I realize that technically all architecture is 3-D but I’m speaking on a more metaphorical level – I’m an architect – it’s what I do.

Like movies, I believe that the vast majority of architecture is 2-D.  Examples would include most mass-produced architecture like strip malls, cookie cutter subdivisions, one-size fits all office spaces.  It usually fulfils the most basic requirements adequately in the same way that a cardboard box will generally be able to hold anything you can shove into it.  But 2-D architecture ultimately lacks the ability to engage the user or viewer in any meaningful way.

The more prominent architecture falls into the 3-D category.  This would be what I call architecture as art and as such, is a highly visual experience.  Architectural magazines abound with examples of 3-D architecture.  These creations are impressive and get great press.  However, all too often when the magazine photographers have left, and the creators and financiers have taken their bows and exited stage left, the end users of the spaces are left to try to figure out how to perform their daily tasks within the confines of this work of art.  I mean am I the only one here that has looked at the beautiful glass walled homes in Architectural Record and pitied the occupants’ lack of freedom to enjoy Sunday breakfast in their pajamas or to behave like complete idiots playing with their children without putting on a show for all neighbors and passersby?  3-D architecture can be beautiful or awe inspiring but it is generally remote from daily routine.

So what is 4-D architecture?  I think that 4-D architecture is a built environment that encourages and facilitates physical interaction with the user.  Let’s use office space as an example.  A 4-D office is just as much an employee as every human that works within it.  It is your head of marketing announcing to every visitor exactly what your company stands for.  It is the HR director inviting in new talent and showing them how great it would be to work here.  It is your accountant making sure that work flows efficiently and economically.  A 4-D office is an active participant in a well-run business; beautiful but also functional.

2-D and 3-D architecture are sooooo two minutes ago.  Why should the kids get all the cool stuff?!  4-D for everyone!