The Matter of Thought Architecture and the forgotten power of Words and Critical Thinking
INĂŠS SALPICO May 2013
Words and rocks contain a language that follows a syntax of splits and ruptures. Look at any word long enough and you will see it open up into a series of faults, into a terrain of particles each containing its own void. Robert Smithson, “A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects” (1968) – quoted by Christopher French in Vocabulary of the Possible, in The Brooklyn Rail, May 2013
Until May 9, and for a very long month, MoMA - Museum of Modern Art wrapped itself in a conspicuous and incredibly loud silence, following the announcement, on April 9, of its board’s decision to tear down the former American Folk Art Museum, as part of an expansion plan that would then harmoniously integrate with the construction of a Jean Nouvel tower, in an adjacent plot, by developer Hines. The Museum finally came forward to announce that the institution is apparently taking a step back, rethink the resolution and bring Diller Scofidio & Renfro as the practice to lead the expansion project and decide whether Tod Williams and Billie Tsien’s design is to be kept or not. It was a gladly predictable outcome following the multiple manifestations of outrage that spread accross the web (such as the one I expressed in my own blog), namely within the architecture, design and arts communities. Online petitions multiplied, Williams and Tsien issued an elegant and heartfelt statement on their website, Architecture blogs posted under headlines such as “The Day MoMA died”. Justin Davidson of New York Magazine spoke out, in what was a particularly relevant reaction since he in fact stood up for Jean Nouvel’s project when its construction was announced in 2008. Meaning that regardless of any further arguments about the architectural value of Williams and Tsien’s project the construction of Hine’s development in no way requires the demolition of the former American Folk Art Museum. The buildings’ existence is not mutually exclusive if there’s will (and reasonable thought) to keep them. Paul Goldberger, from the heights of his Vanity Fair throne, said a crime was about to be committed. Thirty prominent members of the Architectural League sent an open letter to MoMA calling on the Museum to reconsider the decision (incidentally Diller & Scofidio’s names were not on the pledge - a very strategic option for neutrality it now seems…). But wait, let’s go back a little. Speaking of Paul Goldberger…
Last year the death of architecture criticism was announced when Paul Goldberger, the mightiest of them all in architecture criticism on his side of the pond, left his post as an Architect
Critic of The New Yorker to become a Contributing Editor of Vanity Fair. (He started in the The New York Times in 1972, under the charismatic – recently deceased – Ada Louise Huxtable.) Architecture seemed to have completely lost the relevance and legitimacy to justify a full-time specialized writer and claim its regular space in main non-specialized media.
But the discussion around whether Architecture Criticism had died or not – if it were to die with Paul Goldberg it probably had died already anyway – was based upon, I believe, a fundamental flaw of thought: the architecture criticism that was being mourned and debated was little more than the praise and slaughter of mediatized glossy commissions much in the spirit of this week’s art exhibition reviews; the capitalized Architecture Criticism, an arm of Architecture Theory, was not being put on the stand as it should have been much before. With Paul Goldberger hadn’t architecture criticism in the Times already been displaying lower caps, mostly addressing the urban concerns of the ladies in Park Avenue (whose husbands are real estate developers and sit at the board of Charities and Museums such as MoMA)? What The New York Times and The New Yorker had been largely doing for a while already was a form of architecture review but not a form of Architecture Criticism (please note, again, the caps). [A good example of the latter could actually be found in the pages of The Times itself, when Ada Louise Huxtable wrote about the demolition of the old Penn Station in 1963.] And so, as noted when Paul Goldberger left for Vanity Fair, maybe having writers from other sections researching on architecture and urban planning stories would perhaps bring much needed new perspectives, more complex and political, gaining relevance if having to fight for space in other sections of the paper. It was the absence of an active, engaged and indeed critical writing on Architecture and of influential voices able to catalyze active debate, that allowed MoMA to stay quiet for such a long month (and a month is, nowadays, a “media eternity”) without feeling the inevitability of an immediate reaction.
Discussing architecture is not discussing buildings; it is equating matters that run across a range of multiple aspects of society (of life!) involved in and affected by architectural practice. It is always a social, political, economic, aesthetic, historical, broad discussion. This is why Architecture Criticism cannot be reduced to design review. For that we have Wallpaper doing it better than anyone else without pretending (or aiming) to do more. The Critic’s1 role must be to put things in context beyond the immediacy of context itself. The true potential value of Critical Thought is not to strictly analyze object and context but to reintroduce both object and context in a larger framework of evolution and concerns. The text creates its own sets of values and claims its own identity and existence; it has its own playing
The word Critic is used and understood here as “Critical Thinker” - and not merely to “critic” as a job title – that writes, speaks, engages in debate and in the construction of discourses. 1
field, not autonomous but also not subdued to the object. If not it mostly contributes to the iterative validation of star-architects and of the phenomena of the “iconic building”, linked to the current crisis of architecture as a discipline and of its weakened voice in the public arena. By making architecture debate in most media little more than a review of niceness and a “coolhunting” report, the architect and its practice are demoted to the charming but not strictly needed professional whose services only the rich or the institutional can afford.
The Architecture section of The Cool Hunter website http://www.thecoolhunter.net/
What’s at stake is not the production of treaties or tomes of metaphysical considerations. Merely the (natural) creation of discourses that exists in continuum with design practice. A good and easy example of the importance of discourse and debate in Architectural Practice is that of the High Line (picture below). Despite the obvious quality of the Diller & Scofidio’s design (here they are again, helping me prove my point that rhetoric, generating consensus amidst conflict, is essential to push agendas), what has made the High Line such a groundbreaking example of public space design and planning was: 1) the citizens’ movement behind the idea and actual commission of the project, an unprecedented
participation and mobilization for and in the city; 2) the media, that jumped on a good story of a trendy, fashionable, artsy group of citizens, living in a trendy, fashionable, artsy part of town in a romantic quest to save a piece of
nostalgia (thus making all the
process further trendy, fashionable and artsy). What enabled that resources to be sourced and consensus to be gathered was the visibility, effective “branding” and the production of a collective narrative around the project.
The official Web site of the High Line and Friends of the High Line: Creating a narrative, a community and a piece of collective identity around a public space project
But if this example helps me to make a point regarding the importance of narrative, program and meaning in giving identity to the object, it also reveals the fragility of how Architecture Theory and Criticism is being done, slave to the whims of the media and of the seductive power of “sexy” images. It also transpires the relative passivity of the Architects in the whole process, not decisively involved as local activists and celebrity donors in pushing the project forward. Blame cannot be laid upon writers, journalists or the media, though. The problem is the extent to which Architecture Criticism suffered a process of erosion, that made it completely misunderstood by the both authors and the public. The very role of Architecture and its social and political status can only be diminished when, at the eyes of that public, it is reduced to a production of artifacts sprouting from the latest trends and the written production is trapped between self-referential scholarship, self-indulging project descriptions and critiques that sometimes are based upon nothing more than 3D renderings. This happens within the framework of a deeper and vast problem: a structural crisis in Architecture Theory. At the core of such crisis is the fact that Architects themselves have stopped writing (namely about more than their own projects), withdrawing from the responsibilities of thinking, communicating and educating that part of design and planning as much as sketching. Architecture students are shameless, even proud, about their lack of verbal skills (???), bragging about their inability and unwillingness to write, claiming to need nothing
else than visual creative genius… Perhaps some should be told and would be surprised to know that what propelled Rem Koolhaas’ career and notoriety was not a building but in fact a – long – book: “Delirious New York”.
Architects themselves abandoned the arena of political discussion and critical thinking, seeing Architecture’s presence in printed media merely as a way of potential praise for their work.
But facing the moment of perplexity we’re now living talking about the need to rehabilitate Architecture Theory and Thought is not an intellectual exercise: it’s an inevitability. Therefore, this crisis can be a great opportunity. Many of the economic, social and political problems corroding our society are expressing themselves primarily in the landscape of our metropolis. The empty buildings that now plague our cities are a good symbol of equally empty and disintegrated speeches. The unfinished expectant developments stand as bleak reminders of crowds of unemployed youngsters. The obscene developments in emerging markets couldn’t be better signifiers for thoughtlessness and the hegemony of the visual. In this scenario building is (clearly) not what needs to be done: words and imagination matter more than ever. They should be the main tools of Architects right now to produce the Manifests we so need to structure visions of Tomorrow. They might be the only thing that will remain and make a difference for years to come. When building is not possible nor needed, words become the brick and mortar to urgently think about the present and the future. Cities and communities face problems and challenges Architects have been trained to solve. The moment is not for Architects to lament the lack of commissions; it’s a moment to practice with thoughts, visions and strategies. Even to think about the impossible: design a much needed Utopia that might unlock this state of asphyxiating stasis we’re in. We need new manifests with clear and strong words, capable of inspiration and therefore of transformation. Reality must be approached in all its complexity and be seen beyond the visible. Inventiveness and progress rely on a great deal of irrationality. The value of Utopia is not merely imagination: it’s the pragmatism it actually brings to look at reality as it is and envision how it should and could be. And how feeble our Utopia muscles are! To envision Utopia cool 3D Renderings are not enough: pictures must come with meaning and – let’s not fear the word – ideology.
What’s at stake is not a new disciplinary approach but actually going back to something that was (is) at the core of Architecture’s status as a discipline not only of design and planning but of critical thought and social intervention. A discipline that is, therefore, in its essence political and of a multidisciplinary nature. It’s not necessary to dig that deep into History to remember how Discoursivity (in different media) used to play a central and natural role in the practice of great Architects, Designers and Urban Planners. Just a few decades ago the examples abounded: Lina and Pietro Bo Bardi cofounded the magazine Habitat and curated exhibitions; George Nelson
devoted periods of his life
exclusively to writing and acted as editor of the magazine Architectural Forum; Charles & Ray Eames’ work cannot be understood independently of their audiovisual production; Giancarlo De Carlo, Mary Otis Stevens and Thomas McNulty formed iPress Inc. (1968-1978) to publish a series of books on architecture with a social context; Alison and Peter Smithson wouldn’t have had the projection they did hadn’t they actively published (gaining bigger notoriety than some contemporary and more prolific peers); György Kepes, founder of MIT’s Centre for Advanced Visual Studies, has yet to be fully acknowledged as a fundamental editor and educator, namely for his outstanding collection Vision+Value. Their activity as authors, editors, researchers, educators and critics was one and the same with that as architects, designers, artists and planners. In fact the idiosyncrasies and conceptual depth of their designs can only be fully grasped alongside their written, editorial and curatorial production, providing a continuum of thought that positioned them fully and more completely as professionals that saw society and people’s lives as their main object of work.
Powers of Ten - http://powersof10.com/: A website and blog based on the 1977 film, of the same name, by Charles and Ray Eames
The six volumes of the Vision+Value series, edited by György Kepes, published in 1965-66
Post-modernism would invert this dynamics subduing thought and text to objects, opening the path for contemporaneity and the all mightiness of image and software, words becoming essentially captions. If proof is needed, the manifest of Generation Y’s starchitect, Bjarke Ingels’ “Yes is More”, is a tome of steroid infused graphics bloating with a tragically pre-2008 aloof optimism.
Blogs, websites, and social media have fuelled a frantic consumerism of images to which Architecture has become little more than one more provider of “coolness” losing terrain as the truly transformative discipline it is, with socio-political
foundation. The irony is that Internet has hybridized the visual and the verbal in a very explicit way. In fact, while feeding the media with images, Architecture needs, as never before, text. It needs to be read. Having a project means coming up with a press release, a tweet and a small
description for the blogs. So yes, everyone is asked to write, but most have been doing it only within the limits and requirements of the hypertext and content management platforms.
This process of acritical visual derive is the product of the lasting hangover of the failure of Modernism, of the Revolutions associated with it and of the tragic disenchantment of and with the avant-garde. Symptomatically Le Corbusier’s Vers une Architecture was published in 1923 and his later bibliography is already more formal than programmatic, already an exercise of perhaps conscientious avoidance.
One can think of the effort put into CIAM’s congresses (the first took place in 1928) and understand how the production of a written document was a creative force in itself and a tool of design with its own legitimacy. And then all the ideological fervor imploded with the internal conflicts catalyzed by the resistance to its doctrinaire approach that seemed to mirror the rise of strong handed political regimes.
dissolved in 1959 CIAM had an already tortuous history of disagreements amongst its members, of which Team X’s dissention is probably the best example. Alison and Peter Smithson were two of the names in Team X and, not by chance, also of ICA’s Independent Group, that would be at the center of the seminal exhibition This is Tomorrow, curated by Theo Crosby, in London in 1956. The show can be seen as a sort of epitaph of that early 20th century Modernist spirit and perhaps would’ve had as a better title “What Tomorrow was going to be yesterday”.
Did the avant-garde survive the Second World War? Yes, but it became cynical, deprived of its ideological core. With the failure of the Revolutions and the infamous political involutions that followed, along went the redeeming promise of modernist architecture and its social, as much as spatial, transformative program. It’s funny to think that, even with all the communication possibilities we now have and the illusion of living in a perfectly connected and sync-paced world, perhaps the vibrancy and radicalism of the cultural communication networks that were broken with the Second World War have not yet been quite restored. In the postwar era, Modernism chose to fit the prevailing order of the West – one of guilt, fear and shame – no longer aiming at building a new society and in fact afraid about what the consequences that wanting another Revolution could indeed bring. The formal universality of form, the backdrop for a new vital, free, world and for a new socio-historical order requiring a new architecture and urbanism, was forever deprived of its soul.
The United States would be the perfect ground for European Modernist ideas to penetrate and flourish gutted from sociological or ideological agendas. The middle class was finally establishing itself and it did not want to be bothered – not by politics and not by neighbors. American suburbs offered the perfect living setting, away from the (factual and symbolic) unrest of the city. If there was any ideological program it was the absence of one. All the middle class wanted was the nice house with the lawn, and those houses European émigrés planned and Life magazine published seemed just right.
Across the Atlantic the ideology of the real-estate: Realtor Herbert Greenwald and architect Mies van der Rohe consider a model of a Mies building, Life Magazine1956
Kaufmann House, Palm Spingrs, California, 1946 Designed by the Austrianamerican Richard Neutra (1892 - 1970) Photograph by the mythical photographer of American modernism Julius Shulman
This hollow modernism (indeed dull and lifeless, no longer because of form, but because of soullessness) open the triumphant path for post-modernism, that arrived as if saying that after
all the misfortune brought upon everyone by so much thought and ideology it was time to take things less seriously and just play! Words became source of suspicion and boredom. Collective imagination no longer dared to imagine the Future: it focused on nothing but indulging in the Present. In such context Manifestos were rendered useless. Even Delirious New York presents itself as a retroactive manifesto, betraying an avoidance or denial of a responsibility in shaping the future.
Needless to say that, because all this happened as part of fracturing historical events, the weakening of architecture critical discourses is but a symptom of the large systemic weakening of Critical Thought. The aftermath of Modernism corresponded to a certain discredit and contempt for the power of word and, above all, for the purpose of activism and ideology. Along with Modernism collapsed its utopian foundations and what came next was irony and suspicion, superficiality as a way to escape the tragic failure of the redemption promised by the Godlike forces of the avant-garde and its Manifests. Post-Modernism’s answer was appropriating and banalizing speech, making statements a product. As said before, the more appropriate word to
Clockwise from left: Alain Badiou, David Foster Wallace, Slavoj Žižek, Christopher Hitchens and Judith Butler Inês Salpico_May2013
describe Today’s moment is perhaps stasis, not crisis, and there don’t seem to be enough voices articulating the complexity of the Present and thinking daringly of the actions for Tomorrow. Our “youngest” – most disruptive and mobilizing – thinkers are either not so young anymore (Slavoj Žižek is already 64; Alain Badiou is 76; Judith Butler is 57) or dead (RIP: David Foster Wallace, who in 2008 committed suicide at the tender age of 46, and Christopher Hitchens, whose battle against cancer was a form of activism in itself and a poignant process of critical thinking). Masked by apparent vitality, protest movements such as Occupy or 15M, are trapped in their own diffused message and scattered goals and can do very little against the muscled focus of the financial systems unless the awareness of problems goes beyond the immediate and the self.
The problem is above all political. There used to be no fear of using the word and of being political. Art and creative thought were themselves viewed as critical and, in essence, political. Then it became shameful, laughable. The political and the ethical got gradually and increasingly eroded. But there seems to be no way to avoid the need for Critical Thinking – and political critical thinking – for much longer now.
“It’s not only that ethics is unthinkable outside the domain of the political, but that thinking itself depends on the complex intertwinement of the two.” Judith Butler, from Lecture on Hannah Arendt, European Graduate School, September 2009
But could it be that we simply lack the political conditions to produce consequential critical discourses, anchored on the political? Or are we finally on the verge of witnessing Ethics standing up and walking away from the corner where it has been kept by Neoliberalism? Conservatives will say that we’re entering a pre-post-critical period, forced to look back to the 1920’s as a comparable period of crisis (yes, there’s a remake of The Great Gatsby in the movie theaters right now). It’s a dangerous assumption though. It means that we’re void of ideas not only for the future but also for the present. There must be another way. One that thinks about the present and envisions the future with daring perspective, not in retrospective. That we don’t understand the World we live in has become a common place statement. That we lack binding collective narratives even more so. Discourses fail to appear, fail to have strength because we are simply unable to grasp the issues that need to be tackled. One thing is certain: in order to understand we need to slow down and actually give things some Thought. And in order for thought to be actionable it needs to be articulated and shared. It needs to be put into words that will help to pin down the fleeting
events, give a name to the unknown and answer the distress of not grasping what’s going on. How did we get here and how do we get past it? This is where theory and practice meet.
“There’s nothing more practical than a good theory.” Kurt Lewin
Why change hasn’t yet been thought of and triggered it’s because it scares everyone for it forces us to think precisely about Ethics and about Politics. And how can two generations that were taught not to think about politics and ethics suddenly think about it? The conundrum is that while we’re not (seriously) thinking about change, change is staring us in the face. In talking about “crisis” there’s a sense of weightlessness and atomization that is definitely not the ideal ground for great thought (of any kind) to flourish.
And the question is what remains from the ephemeral intensity of the events? Images from the 15-M protests in Madrid’s Plaza del Sol, May 2011(above) and of Occupy Wall Street, Zuccotti Park, NYC, September 2011 (below)
Movements such as Occupy represent a sort of “prefigurative” politics (and i.e. “prefigurative” Urbanism), envisioning the future by implementing it in the present. That’s the problem. There’s a cynical pragmatism linked to the inescapability of the circumstance of the now, void of political vibrancy and of the propelling force of Utopia, that power of imagination (and transformation) that requires looking ahead. Critical Thought offers precisely a tool of resistance against the dominance of the enactment of the immediate, grasping fundamental meanings and connecting with the political and the social.
It’s the willful grasp of objects, making them vivid and with clear edges. That is the value of Utopia: giving a view point beyond the visible and the existent that makes what is close incredibly sharp. Criticism harmonizes practice and discourse and frames the collective, understanding the individual as the unit whose actions are fragments of shared needs and interests. Thoughts become actions that trigger thoughts that propel further actions. If actions exhaust themselves in events - if they don’t find enduring meaning in language they’re bound to a fleeting present and have no consequence in the future at all.
As far as Architecture is concerned, there certainly are interesting agents seeking alternatives in this moment of transformation. But those practice must meet discourse. Enter the realm of the political. Fearlessly. Until now the so called socially engaged practitioners and projects have refused to get messy and confused with actual politics. Well, practice (artistic, architectural, etc.) in no way operates in a domain autonomous from the social World – it does not govern itself or have its own criteria. In not acknowledging this, architects undermine their own role in society. Also, in order to be consequential, it’s necessary to go beyond the visual and articulate coherent programs, models and paradigms. Fight the bull of Critical Thought applied to creative practice. We live in a particular moment. Different from that when Le Corbusier wrote Vers Une Architecture (1923), Robert Venturi wrote Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966) or Koolhaas wrote Delirious New York (1978). Different even (and how!) from when Bjarke Ingels’wrote Yes is More. Totalitarian is now financial, not political; the President of the United States’ surname is not Bush; Margaret Thatcher is dead; credit is not cheap. Different moments call for different discourses, and it’s high time we produce our own.
Architects can no longer dwell between claiming a sort of creative – aspiring to moral – superiority dismissing Theory and Criticism as distracting annoyances. It’s this high-brow attitude (that in many cases amounts to a great deal of defensive insecurity) that has made it harder for architects to, as of late, claim a voice in the political arena. Just when their voice would be so needed to address the management and planning challenges of the present. When architects take the stage it’s more often than not to “talk about their work” or to whine about the state of a world that doesn’t understand the higher sensibility of the designer. The discussions are usually hollow or embarrassingly self-reflective. At the other end of the spectrum a highly entrenched intelligentsia wants, as said before, to get engaged without getting messy. Two sides of the same coin, both preventing effective political and social relevance. If Critical Thought is a domain of the elite – it always was – Architecture must claim its elitism by embracing it not by denying it. Leaving Critical Thought out there, orphan in a savage world, being bullied by cool hunting, is particularly dangerous when even geopolitical order questions Architecture as a discipline and as a profession. Most building is taking place in places were discussion and debate is not the priority. Economy rising powers and urban giants in the making
are stages of censorship (China), deep social inequality (Brazil, India) or pure suspension of disbelief (UAE). And it’s the images of the projects being commissioned in these geographies that provide a steady media feed with a lot of wow factor. Alternatively there’s always the peek into how the European and North-American 1% live.
The architecture sections of Wallpaper and Designboom’s websites, in which the focus obviously isn’t Architecture Criticism or the debate of the complex socio-political and economic problems that express themselves in contemporary urban landscape
There was a (brief) moment, in the first days of the blogging frenzy, when the new media and the communities it generated were a hope for the emergence of a new strong Critical Thought in Architecture and Urban Planning: the reader consumer would come forward as the new theoretic. What happened following the announcement of the possible demolition of the former American Folk Art Museum – namely the space given to MoMA’s silence – proved how scattered voices and unstructured considerations do not make up for the solid discourses we are missing. It’s time then. Time to end the era in which judgments of appearance (often of 3D renderings) take the place of judgments of context, values and intentions and in which it is OK for the Architect/Critic/Thinker to be apolitical. We might think we’re still in the age of the legible, of the press-release, of the interview and the blog post, in which words are caption but not force of creation. But objects have proved not to suffice in themselves to face the present, let alone their representation and consumption.
Some would argue that the “political impossibility for criticism” is part of too broad of a context, against it is impossible to fight right now. How to demand critical thought of practitioners and writers when work is being made by underpaid, short-term contract freelancers? Writers having to please editors who in turn respond to advertisers aiming at an audience with short attention
span; interns slaving away in Architecture Offices2 that know that if they give some worried thought to the working conditions on building sites in China and Dubai, some other intern won’t. This is part of the great hazard of the traction Richard Florida’s theories gained, legitimizing precariousness, fuel competition and individualism, thus impairing any possibility for engagement and working ethics by a crowd of blank-voters labeled as the brave new creative class. Thinking is not the priority. Survival is. It’s each man for himself. This worked well while there was food to feed all mouths.3 Indeed. The crisis of critical thinking is also a problem of labor. Hopefully, however, this context will reach a tipping point in which the unbearable will catalyze debate. Matching actions with intentions and meaning – namely in architectural design – will present itself as inevitable to face the individual and collective loss of purpose. Words will emerge as the tools of structured transformation.
Criticism must one again meet Critical Thought and, if it is to survive the instant, move from facts/objects to concerns, not stating but suggesting solutions: Critical Thought (and with it political awareness) as the backbone of planning, creativity and design. So these critically impaired generations must start acknowledging the impossibility of simultaneous detachment and (enactment of) engagement, in which actions serve as events but not as signifiers. Community gardens, “performance architecture” in the public space and camping in squares, as lose actions, lack soul, strength and endurance. They lack the meaning and resilience of a binding discourse. In order for ideas to be fully forged, communicated and assimilated, language is essential: representation and understanding are beyond images; words go alongside the visual in creating individual and collective experiences embodied with meaning and purpose. It was knowing this that so many Architects in the past used words as a tool as important as sketches. Manifests were not produced to allow the “legibility” of objects: they were part of the object themselves. The power of words is immense for both their weight and their lightness. As said by Robert Smithson in the quote that opens this essay, words, like rocks if given enough attention reveal a microcosmos of particles, each unique and each containing a bit of pure void that connects them to the universal, the absolute and the timeless. “Look at any word long enough and you will se it open […]” Words can endure time much better than any building or design – they don’t crumble, they cannot be demolished, they don’t succumb to aesthetic and technological turns; they can travel with such ease and so far (in space and time). Many more people have read the words of Le Corbusier or Koolhaas than those who will ever visit their There are interns being paid shamefully little or not paid at all. Some wealthy parents even pay for their children to build a CV in top Architecture Offices. Should the reader wonder that this is hearsay or gossip consider the “internship auction” that was about to be set up by Imperial College’s Westminster School 3 Spain is a paradigmatic example of this issue. The building craze at the core of the real estate bubble called for an influx of architects, planners and designers and gave Architecture a visibility (and employability) that allowed for the self-recruitment of an army of undergrads. Spain now has the second highest rate of youth unemployment in the EU, 55.9%. (The highest is in Greece – 59.1%) 2
buildings. The buildings that are still standing that is.4 So it’s time for Architects to start writing. Even if they have to learn from scratch.
It would be indeed great if we were walking toward a moment of real fracture and rupture. That would mean we would fall from the edge of this boring precipice and either crash or jump to the other side. That will only happen if we start imagining how the other side – the future – can and should be. Otherwise this stinking stasis, while not good, will always seam preferable because it’s still somehow safe. This is the danger of idle critical minds. Thus the importance of words. They are the only thing we need and have to build the Utopias than can take us to the other side of the abyss. But then again, maybe the neo—conservatives are right after all… all this is perhaps really just pointless revolutionary babble. Things will settle. There’ll always be someone selling parachutes. And insurances.
Note: It was particularly ironic that, while this whole drama around the former American Folk Art Museum unfolds, MoMA is showing 9 + 1 Ways of Being Political: 50 Years of Political Stances in Architecture and Urban Design. Don’t see it as contradiction, just as meaningful simultaneity: I doubt the members of the board frequently wonder through the Museum’s galleries unless there’s a fundraising event and there are glasses and favors exchanging hands.
The degradation and demolition of landmark – namely Modernist – buildings has become a serious cultural issue in recent years. For some further reading on this matter go to: http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/may/29/modernist-architecture-demolished-listed-buildings http://www.goethe.de/kue/arc/pan/en6690127.htm http://www.theatlanticcities.com/design/2012/03/paul-rudolph-and-challenge-preserving-modern-architecture/1584/ http://www.domusweb.it/content/domusweb/en/architecture/2013/04/17/the_flux_of_humanlife.html 4
This work by Inês Salpico is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.