Wednesday, October 30, 2013

23. San Rocco - Book of Copies

“The argument which follows involves the surrender or at least, the temporary suspension of a prevalent monocular vision, the willingness to recognize certain fantasies about history and scientific method for the totems which they are, the concession that political process is likely to be neither very smooth nor very predictable and, perhaps above all, the dissolution of a cherished prejudice that all buildings can be, and must become, works of architecture.”
Colin Rowe & Fred Koetter, Collage City (MIT, 1978), p.101

In 1987 Catalan theorist Ignasi de Solá-Morales published an essay titled Weak Architecture, in which a crisis in contemporary architecture was diagnosed as a symptom of the modernism’s apparent end. Resulting in a historical condition of radical groundless in which “contemporary architecture, in conjunction with the other arts, is confronted with the need to build on air, to build in the void,” Solá-Morales contrasts the concepts of weakness with fundamentalism in architecture. While the former threatens to reproduce the crisis-inducing machine that is modernism, the latter escapes its ideological and aesthetic conditions. Both tactics approach building as a representation of ideology: fundamentalism digs deeper into history in order to posit a “more true” ground whereas weakness accepts the impossibility of a true ground at all.

The project and recent exhibition Book of Copies by San Rocco, the notorious architecture collective that produces its eponymous publication, is a timely meditation on the present-day significance of these two modes of architectural production. A copy itself, Book of Copies was originally presented as a part of FAT’s Museum of Copying in the 2012 Venice Biennale. It has been revamped as a solo show currently on view at London’s Architectural Association with numerous new books a new exhibition design by young Milan-based firm PIOVENEFABI.

Each Book of Copies presented is composed of two parts: a collection of photocopied images, and a title, “naming a class of buildings that could be produced by copying the figures.” The project synthesizes the fundamentalism of naming an architectural type and the weakness of revealing the complexity of what naming a “type” may mean. While the project admittedly does not intend to “present an exhaustive taxonomy” it does posit the necessity and liberty of the taxonomization process in order to “redefine … collective knowledge”.

Throughout the books on display, the tenuous relation between each book’s signifier and signified is played with in various ways. Some books take rather common classes of building, such as Tunnels, Highways, Chinese houses, Blue buildings, Churches, and so on, to present what might not have been, but perhaps should be, considered integral to the type. Others take an opposite approach, proposing unconventional architectural types such as Pachinko Parlors, Villas Where to Shoot a Porno Movie, Buildings Arguably Built by Aliens, and Brothels, expanding the notions of what is built and can be architecture. A third approach is neither focused on the book’s title nor its content but the fact that it is a book and can be read as such, emphasizing parts of the built environment that may be overlooked as merely components of the architectural event, like Billboards, Pilotis, Park gates, and Shop Windows.

Installed with two photocopy machines in the room, each Book of Copies can be copied and taken for personal use. As such, the exhibition literally furnishes the architect with the material for becoming a bricoleur, the famous identity posited by Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter for the postmodern architect capable of forging the future. The bricoleur walks the tightrope between “scientific idealism” and “populist empiricism,” between Solá-Morales’ weakness and fundamentalism: not merely characterized as one who performs an act of bricolage, the bricoleur is one who is conscious of the context of making itself.

Book of Copies should be recognized as a critical response to the milieu of architectural practice actively dissolving its own boundaries to incorporate other disciplines as a means of extending architecture’s audience, and (hopefully) reasserting its contemporary value. Yet, though fully cognizant of the field’s expansion, Book of Copies is a bold argument for interiority. If architecture as a discipline is actively being reconfigured along with most other disciplines in an emergent post-2008 order, San Rocco accepts a certain lack of control over its future, and instead argues for focusing creative disciplinary energies on doing best what architecture is known to do, so that however architecture is conditioned by planetary forces, it can be done so consciously and respectably.

This piece originally appeared in ubcube on October 29, 2013, as 'And Again...'

Sunday, October 6, 2013

22. Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour - Learning From Las Vegas

The following post inaugurates a new type for this blog. Whereas the earlier posts could be largely characterized by an intention to explore the contemporary operationality of a work, a sort of immanent vicariousness, this post can be loosely characterized as schematic, in which the goal is not so much to use the work, but to search out and extract from the work what was, can, and could be used. If we could call the former a 'projection', we could call the latter a 'gleaning'.

It is perhaps then incisive that the first example of this type of post is Learning from Las Vegas, the infamous manifesto of 1972 that itself argues for an architectural approach that is more akin to the methodology of gleaning as opposed to projection. This book, the result of a studio at Yale, acted as the first concrete theoretical opposition to the architectural epistemology of modernism that was championed (via failure) by Le Corbusier, and as such paved the way for post-modern discourse.

The works that will be treated in the series of posts that follow in the same format will largely be of a highly sensitive nature, and it is therefore this sensitivity itself that needs to be respected and maintained. As a methodological consequence of the presuppositions that have been outline here, the content of these posts will be merely a series of quotes, introduced by a very brief historical and discursive contextualization.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

21. Giorgio Agamben - Opus Dei

"The problem of the coming philosophy is that of thinking an ontology beyond operativity and command and an ethics and a politics entirely liberated from the concepts of duty and will"

Opus Dei: An Archaeology of Duty, written by Giorgio Agamben and translated by Adam Kotsko, is the chronological and conceptual culmination of his long-standing Homo Sacer project. It could be conjectured that the overarching goal of the project has been to understand the present: to explain why we do things the way we do them and how the world as it is now could have come to be. Frustratingly so, more than pointing the way forward, Agamben reveals how what has and can be conceived of as the foundation for a future is in fact only solidifying the grip upon which the logics of the present impede the coming of history.

The book explicates two radically distinct yet congruous and overlapping modes of existence, one of "being" and one of "having-to-be." In other words, whether the substance of the individual is either their bare fact of existing, or what the individual does, makes, produces, effects. This latter ontology is posited as the dominant mode of the moderns, one in which has resulted in the total economization of time and space. Importantly, this economic ontology, in which what is only is because it can be measured in a particular way and for a particular reason and as such is structurally dependent on that system of measurement, is not itself foreign from a more classical ontology of being, but instead emerged from within it, from its very ambivalence to definition. In fact, the only way in which the ontology of "operativity" could overcome the ontology of "being" is by appropriating its language of virtue and framing it a new way and towards other ends, by making virtue a duty.

By tracing the evolution of existential ontology as akin to a colonial process, Agamben shows the impossibility of utopically returning to this more 'authentic' mode of being, but instead posits the need for a new conceptualization of being, in its reasons and its means.