B I N A R Y THOUGHT AND THE DRAMA OF UTOPIA THE DISCIPLINE-DISCOURSE SHIFT
The schism in architecture between discipline and discourse can be perceived through a framework of inquiry centered around the concepts of utopia and specialization that Manfredo Tafuri articulated in his seminal neo‐ Marxist critique Architecture and Utopia: Design and Capitalist Development. While the Vitruvian concept of architecture could be defined as the integration of disciplines, Modernity has separated the Vitruvian Tripartite of aesthetic, function, and structure; this deconstruction of architectural thinking, while irrevocably leading to the selective dominance of one aspect over the others by the architect, established a divide between constructing theories of the past to understand the present and theories to justify the present. Tafuri explains that because current architects are “incapable of analyzing the real causes of the crisis of design, contemporary criticism concentrates all its attention on the internal problems of design itself.” This shift towards the interior, a movement of regression instead of progression, exemplifies architecture’s turn towards discourse and away from discipline. To establish this dialectic formally, the discursive roles of Utopia must first be defined and coupled with an analysis of the “systems of exclusion” that differentiate the theoretical constructs of Utopia; then an analysis of specialization within Architecture and Utopia by Tafuri to generate the critical exemplifications of the discipline-discourse shift. The proposal therefore becomes how the intrinsic exclusion or selection of any elements in the Vitruvian Tripartite and the overall notions of political, economic,
and architectural integration in Tafuri’s Utopia act as an analog for the discursive shift in architectural criticism. To begin, a survey of definitions and implications of Utopia from architects, Manfredo Tafuri and Colin Rowe, followed by thoughts from philosophers, Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard, to establish the breadth of which Utopia’s meaning can exist. Tafuri’s definition of Utopian Architecture is a design that has not been corrupted or contaminated by capitalism or the bias of external influences. Since “utopia is only a residue, which is completely transformed into a dynamic model once capital has resolved the problem of creating new institutions capable of making its own internal contradictions function as the propelling factors of development.” Utopia, therefore, continually exists as a non‐existent place, in the intangibility of an unreality, and the closer it is to becoming a reality the further it gets from the initial ideals. Rowe provides a similar response stating that while “transcending reality as it does, transforming it as it may, Utopia becomes increasingly compromised as it becomes increasingly acceptable.” To this he also adds that Utopian thought is essentially revolutionary, and that as soon as this revolution is established, it only provides the foundation for another revolt; the system is then paradoxical as the control required for utopia will be continuously overthrown as it is brought into reality. He conveys this thought of natural progression by questioning the construction of a perfect city and equates it to turning the state into a static work of art, “that the
attempt to do so is the attempt to bring time to a stop, the impossible attempt to arrest growth and motion?” So while both have a political centrality to their definitions of Utopia, their internal compartmentalization of architecture drives their thoughts to relate more toward an Art Aesthetic for Rowe and a Capitalist Agenda for Tafuri. Also evident is the concept of regression as a necessary component to Utopia, that the very concept of this idealized society must be established in a Pre‐Enlightenment epoch where the infinitely corruptible ‘reason’ is not at the forefront. Architecture was “liberated and condemned at the same time by its own reason,” symbolizing that beginning of the shift to discourse could be rooted in the Enlightenment, but it required the disillusionment of post‐ war modernity to come to fruition. The regressive and virtual nature of Utopia is expanded upon with the works of revolutionary French thinkers of the mid‐late twentieth century. For Foucault, “Utopias are sites with no real place. They are sites that have a general relation of direct or inverted analogy with the real space of society. They present society itself in a perfected form, or else society turned upside down, but in any case these utopias are fundamentally unreal spaces.” Focus is thus placed on the inversion: Utopia always exists in a contrary nature with reality; if reality is in chaos than the revolution of utopia promises order ‐ the opposite is simultaneously true for a system of totalitarian control; the utopian ideal is a situation of infinite liberty and thus indeterminacy. He further
explores the intangibility and virtuality by establishing that, “In the mirror, I see myself there where I am not, in an unreal, virtual space that opens up behind the surface; I am over there, there where I am not.” So while Foucault saw Utopia as an inverse of reality, a manifestation of the opposite, Baudrillard conveys that “Utopia is the deconstruction of every unilateral finality of man or history.” Existing as part regressive and part inversive, Baudrillard offers the most anarchic version of Utopia; aligning with Tafuri, he explains that it exists as a revolution to the current ideals. But, while Tafuri explains that Utopia is either a revolution or submission, Baudrillard’s response is that “Utopia is the ambivalence which crosses every order, every institution, every rationality, even ‘revolutionary’ rationality, every positivity, no matter what, and returns them to their non‐ place.” This indecision between active and passive is effectively inconsequential because the yield of Utopia will always be a return, a regression, to the virtual. The “drama of Utopia” is its existence within the constrictive bounds of binary thought; this computational, alive‐or‐dead, thought method of modernity conceptually embodies a strict separation of values; however, the polycentricity of today’s modern cities resists this separation and simplification, which exemplifies how the definition of Utopia has become an artifact to the shift towards the discursive. Conversely, a movement back, towards discipline, towards integration, could then exist through a unionizing of the compartmentalized values that Tafuri presents in Architecture and Utopia.
Tafuri’s explains through his cynical, iconoclastic proclivities that current architectural design is in a state of static futility, and this exists because of a realization that form alone will not solve the problems of the world; this compartmentalization of an architecture driven by either form, function, of structure is still not the entirety of the problem, it is also separated from the socioeconomic and political engines. To ignore this necessity is to perpetually live in a naïve state of utopian intentions; the symbols architects embed into buildings will erode with time and their meanings will change, and “a universe of empty signs is a place of total disorder.” To combat this situation, Tafuri essentially presents two choices, revolution or submission; to revolt is to construct a new society free of the capitalistic and political entities that act as contaminators of architectural form. On the contrary, to submit, to allow the systems of control to exert themselves freely, Tafuri, at his most nihilistic, argues “salvation lies no longer in ‘revolt’, but in surrender without discretion.” But, Tafuri subtly presents a third option, subversion, to utilize the system from within, while at the same time dismantling it; for this, he offers Thomas Jefferson as the integrative example of the architect, politician, and leader. “The utopia of Jefferson the architect is a fully expressed in the ‘domestic heroism of his classicism” and his “antiurban ideology.” The architectural/political principles of Jefferson could then be expressed as a system of subversion to the normal or real; evident in his use of European classicism but stripped of any symbolic notions “that might
isolate it from civil life.” This ideology exists within Jefferson’s agrarian notion of urbanity, a continued subversion of the real, and therefore his attempt at introducing inversion into the existing landscape; it also embodies his attempts of advancement toward a Utopian realization. Tafuri’s critique thus starts to allow this push away from binary thought; it presents how the possibility of an integrated architecture could exist, and essentially, how this union could propel architecture back towards the field of a discipline, looking backward to progress forward. An example of the political and economic disconnection from architecture is evident in Tafuri’s analysis of the separation of architecture from urban planning. “In the American city, absolute liberty is granted to the single architectural fragment, but this fragment is situated in a context that it does not condition formally: the secondary elements of the city are given maximum articulation, while the laws governing the whole are rigidly maintained. Thus urban planning and architecture are finally separated.” Architecture’s attempts at retaining purity by avoiding the overlords of the development and planning industry has simultaneously enacted its own demise and established this system of fragmentation within design. This divide between the articulated objects of architecture and the ‘dross’ of the rest of the metropolis is just one outcome that exists from architecture working in isolation from planning/development. The Utopian vision of an architecturally defined building is then obliterated
by the surrounding context, leaving a field of architectural carcasses, whose will to formfulness is only equaled by its inability to express any intention. Tafuri’s presentation towards this problem is still in the established method of binary thought; either participate with capital and allow its corruption or exist beyond its grip and be suffocated by the surrounding buildings. “The plan tends, on one hand, to be identified with the institution that supports it, and on the other, to be set forth as a specific institution in itself. The dominion of capital is thus realized strictly in terms of the logic of its own mechanism, without any extrinsic justifications, absolutely independent of any abstract ‘ethical’ end, of any teleology, or any ‘obligation to be’.” In order to transcend this external effects of capitalism, Tafuri calls for a “completely collective city, free of speculation,” for this situation his proclivity toward Marxism results in the preference for revolution over submission in order to reunite these components. For more detailed framework of capitalistic influence, Gilles Deleuze’s analysis of societies of control presents the shift to modern capitalism and its effect on societal norms; this in effect is analogous to the architectural shift from discipline to discourse. “Nineteenth century capitalism is a capitalism of concentration, for production and for property. It therefore erects the factory as a space of enclosure, the capitalist being the owner and means of production…but, in the present situation, capitalism is no longer involved in production...it no longer buys raw materials and no longer sells the finished products: it buys the finished
products or assembled parts. What it wants to sell is services and what it wants to buy is stocks.” Even capitalism, the apparent nemesis of Tafuri, is not without its own binary condition and internal strife towards progressive systems of development. Discipline is therefore attached to the nineteenth century model of capitalism, where the integration of owning and producing is equivalent to the planning and construction within the architectural model. When the shift to discourse/modern economy occurs, it inverts the relationship, capitalists now own no physical products and outsource every means of production; this renders a system reliant on representation, it sells ideas and it buys virtual fragments of a company’s embodied wealth. To reject this natural progression of the economic system is to enact a “rejection of the highest levels of capitalist organization, the desire to regress to the infancy of humanity.” The architectural analogue is the profession’s division of thinking and labor, which corresponds to how this specialization removes any physicality or ownership of the architectural process; clients purchase a contract from the architect, a plan or idea of the building but not the building in reality, the creation too, is a separate process entirely. “From now on synthesis is impossible. Utopia itself marks out the successive stages of its own extinction. This is a separation destined to become always more extreme, as the gap widens between the institutions that realize the plan technically and those that control the dynamics of it.” Lars Lerup, a contemporary and critic of Tafuri, even sites that
“the division of labor between architects and developers, designers and builders, thinkers and doers seem ironclad.” Given the established methods of submission or revolution, it would seem more appropriate to employ the Jeffersonian subversion when attempting to unite forces with the keepers of capital and the builders of structures. Tafuri concludes his critique of the capital by explaining that, “it is therefore important to understand both the subjective character of the choice made by the intellectual work, and the constant marginalization it underwent within capitalist development. Utopia became of service to development as a reserve of tendentious models and as an arm or the extraction of consensus.” While the influence of capital is central to Tafuri’s criticism of modernity and the established shift towards discourse, the role of semiotics in describing the inherent and prescribed symbolism of architecture in the city is also pivotal in analyzing design’s transition away from discipline. The role of semiology, or more importantly, the symbolic justification utilized in design is inherent to a discursive nature of architecture; Tafuri explains that the futile quest for symbolic meaning and modernity’s insistence on internal criticism is resultant of a feared loss that occurred with the primacy given to reason. “Through semiology architecture seeks its own meaning, while tormented by the sense of having lost its meaning altogether.” This sense of loss attributed to the formalistic nature of empiricism, marks again, a shift towards the interior, discourse, and away from discipline; the injection of symbolic meaning combined
with the ephemeral nature of semiotics leads to a city of vacuous symbolism or “exasperated objects ‐ objects of pure form that in their baroque formfulness disguised the fact that they had nothing to say.” Roland Barthes expands on the issues of urban semiology by expressing that “signifieds are like mythical creatures, extremely imprecise, and at a certain point they always become the signifiers of something else; the signifieds are transient, the signifiers remain.” So since modernity in its complete rationalism, turned to a specialization in function and a minimalization in form, it returned to that Baroque sense of formfulness; empty forms requiring an additional layer of meaning, a post‐rationalization of symbolic representation, a reminder of the disintegration of the Vitruvian tripartite. Design is then “no longer enabled to present itself as a utopia, ideology indulges in nostalgic contemplation of its own outmoded roles, or disputes with itself”; architecture is then entangled in this struggle between a remembrance of utopian notions and the “fundamental law of systematic infraction of the rules, the law on which avant‐garde theory was structured.” The implication in design is the continual creation and destruction of symbolic meanings, and that “ this fundamental rhythm of signification which is the opposition, the alternation and the juxtaposition of marked and of unmarked elements,” is the structure of semiology within architecture; architects therefore, must not attempt to fill in this system, but acknowledge a designs position within the city’s semiological structure. In addition to the role of semiotics in design, the embodiment and
implementation of ‘control’ in relation to architecture is the third and final element in the conceptual framework for describing Utopia. Foucault’s example of the totalitarian levels of control required for the realization of Utopia are apparent in the evangelization of South America; “The Jesuits of Paraguay established colonies in which existence was regulated at every turn…the daily life of individuals was regulated, not by whistle, but by the bell.” The sort of Orwellian society required to enact the ideals of Utopia are subservient to the concept that the controllers and controlees both perceive their existence as Utopian. Tafuri’s position is that in “the utopian model, the aim of which is the prefiguration of a ‘total’ resolution of the technological universe.” The attempt to resolve society or imagine a solution to societal problems is rooted in the idealistic notions of design where “architecture ‐ beginning with itself – [mediates] realism and utopia.” The problem exists in the construct of binary thought and the pursuit of the other; with the mediation between real and virtual, natural and artificial, control is lost and marginalized towards one pole or the other. The plan must then be “based explicitly on dynamic development, on organized disequilibrium, on interventions that presuppose a continual revolution of mass production,”; this is representative in “the unity of the urban image ‐ a formal metaphor of the proposed ‘new synthesis’, a sign of the collective dominion over nature and the means of production confined within a new ‘human’ utopia.” Tafuri again offers the concepts of a Jeffersonian
subversion, to acknowledge the chaos and the order then to work within its realms, not in order to mediate this polarity but to actively engage both ends simultaneously; through this, one can remove the impulse of a regressive Utopia and strive towards the eternally intangible notions of a progressive Utopia. In his efforts to critique the claims of modernity, Tafuri essentially established his own tripartite as representational for the discursive shift of architecture; while Vitruvius created a more specific set of values concerning the aesthetic, function, and structure, Tafuri is more engaged in the gestalt of society and economy with his set relating to capital, semiology, and control. Architecture must then “recognize the hidden tendencies, the real objectives of contradictory strategies, and the interests connecting apparently independent economic areas,”37 in order to exist in the flux “between capitalist plan and urban chaos; between the ideology of planning and the ‘poetry of the object’.”38 Similarly the role of semiology should avoid the use of completely defined or resolved values; “a completely structuralist criticism, however, can never ‘explain’ the sense of work. It can do no more than ‘describe’ it, since the only logic at its disposal is that based on yes‐no, correct‐incorrect, precisely analogous to the mathematical logic that guides the functioning of an electronic brain.”39 Tafuri urges away from the controlled determinism of binary thought and towards a post‐structuralist response that accepts the ambiguity and gradation of contemporary society. Finally, that control should accept that the “formlessness
and chaos of the city is therefore to be redeemed by extracting from within it all its progressive virtues.”40 Throughout Tafuri’s critique he expresses that while the regressive Utopia is based on selective ignorance and total control, a progressive Utopia is embodied through socio‐economic integration and the acknowledged limits of control. Instead of the binary thought of positivism and modernity, where solutions are either submission or revolution, Tafuri often opts for subversion; to acknowledge the overwhelming systems of control and to work within those realms to dismantle the system completely. In the ‘drama of utopia’, architectural salvation exists in a position within the capitalistic flux, the gray areas of aesthetic reason, and the throes of controlled chaos; Tafuri’s tripartite represents an acknowledgement of the hidden systems of control and a return to an integrated architecture.
Works Cited Barthes, Roland. 1970. “Semiology and the Urban” Rethinking Architecture. Ed. Edmund Leach. London: Routledge. Baudrillard, Jean, and Stuart Kendall. 2006. Utopia deferred: writings for Utopie (1967‐1978). New York: Semiotex(e). Deleuze, Gilles. 1992. “Postscript on the Societies of Control”. October. 59. Foucault, Michel. 1967. “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias.” Rethinking Architecture. Ed. Edmund Leach. London: Routledge Foucault, Michel. 1970. “The Order of Discourse.” Trans. Ian McLeod. Untying the Text. Ed. Robert Young. Boston: Routledge. Lerup, Lars. 2000. After the city. Cambridge: MIT Press. Lerup, Lars. 1994. “Stim & Dross: Rethinking the Metropolis”. Assemblage. Rowe, Colin. 1976. The mathematics of the ideal villa, and other essays. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. Tafuri, Manfredo. 1976. Architecture and utopia: design and capitalist development. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.