random thoughts on architecture history theory and criticism

3 unasked questions

after a conference-filled week, i don’t think i have the energy, time, or desire to summarize, but i did accumulate a series of unasked questions in my notes. here are the 3 most critical ones, in lieu of commentary:

to alejandro aravena:

how do you deal with the government? can you explain the slide you skipped over, where all your houses had political propaganda on them? [i won’t say which one] you argue that to compete with the private industry, you have to undercut their prices, isn’t that a dangerous stance to take? tafuri [your former teacher, i believe?] critiqued ernst may’s siedlungen because they were enclosed neighborhoods that did not address the city’s problems, one might argue the same of your interventions: they don’t address the enormous scale of illegal settlements. do you have any thoughts on ways to address this problem at the scale of the city? [yes that’s more than one question]

to peter eisenman [webcast], a question requiring three preliminary statements:

1.      postmodernism cannot be reduced to venturi and scott-brown [hey you were there too], and venturi and scott-brown cannot be reduced to genius loci and zeitgeist. this glaring omission of your own contribution to the postmodernist discourse seems to be a way to hide and resurrect an old argument anew [yes krauss called you a postmodernist. we’re not talking historicism here, but rather the whole time period and all its different manifestations].

2.      where would the denise scott-browns of today write their books, you asked. where would they go? um, the internet? india? south america? china? your examples of the incongruity of a brooks brothers store in an airport [whereas before, all harvard, princeton and yale people would go to the same store] just reminded us of the elitism and old white male club character of architecture. who cares there is a brooks brothers store in an airport?

3.      your argument against the failure of innovation and your own lack of relevance seems to be an admittance of the failure of the autonomy project. if you can only see innovation in terms of autonomy, it is clear that this project is over. your paradoxical nostalgia for the paper and the pencil seems to be a nostalgia for the elitism of the cult of the individual. you said yourself how ‘architects like gehry’ are now pressured into building big—which is actually also a sign of lateness since i’m pretty sure you’re talking about 5 years ago and probably more—.

the question is, are your statements of lateness really a veiled attempt to disown your own progeny of form for form’s sake digitally rendered children through this late nostalgia and tongue-in-cheek awareness of your own irrelevance?

to rafi segal:

your initial focus on wittkower and corbusier seemed off-topic. i would suggest more attention to ernst may and margarete schutte-lihotzky, particularly the latter’s interest in taylorism, and relate that to neufert’s architect’s data.

using chantal mouffe’s statement on political art, i would argue that neufert’s drawings [which you showed as a search for the ‘minimal’] are intensely political in what they do not say: their search for an ideal ‘type’ is after all completely congruent with neufert’s nazi associations [which you also forgot to mention—hello?]. as an example, the whole south and central american continent used neufert’s book for decades, and keeps designing based on measurements drawn from an aryan type [plazola’s enclyclopedia is an alternative]. i also think you should address the fact that all of the drawings for the ideal type are men, except when it comes to cleaning, vacuuming, and dusting, when we see an exclusively female house cleaner.[not a fan of hyper-political correctness, but showing these drawings without some sort of acknowledgment of how outdated/offensive they are participates in their complicity—note: i could not find the exact drawings of the neufert hard-working maid—]. these drawings should remind us that our task as historians and critics is to precisely unmask these claims of neutrality, and i would argue that this unmasking was missing in your presentation, and would be helpful when addressing the auschwitz drawings—which in their seeming neutrality and banality of design, are actually politically charged, not in spite, but because of their claims to neutrality.

ps. for more on architecture and politics see krier and ockman’s debate on oppositions 24 (sept 1981), somewhat echoed later by eisenman and ghirardo on pa (ghirardo nov 1994, reply feb 1995).

Filed under: ., aravena, eisenman, may, mouffe, politics, rant, schutte-lihotzky, tafuri,

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