Thanks to the kindness of Salvatore D’Agostino, for the secon time The nest very gladly accepts an invitation to participate to a wide-ranging investigation, extended to many (so many!) Italian architecture-and-more bloggers.

This time it was to answer two questions that, apparently trivial, have some spicy implications.

  • What is the well-know architect you appreciate and why?
  • What is the unknown architect  you appreciate and why?

Not to disclose further details, I definitely suggest to read this post and all other of the very interesting series with the emblematic title of [BEYOND THE SENSE OF PLACE].

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Today we publish a contribution that Roy Ascott, artist and theorist from the U.S., published in 1994 on several European magazines. This is because the vision of architecture and city that Ascott outlined 15 years ago in this document will help to articulate a very interesting and rich picture of what we are interested in investigating with this blog.
Bold and other text format – except for paragraphs – are not original and were added to emphasize the most relevant parts for us.

Cyberception

Not only are we changing radically, body and mind, but we are becoming actively involved in our own transformation. And it’s not just a matter of the prosthetics of implant organs, add-on limbs or surgical face fixing, however necessary and beneficial such technology of the body may be. It’s a matter of consciousness. We are acquiring new faculties and new understanding of human presence. To inhabit both the real and virtual worlds at one and the same time, and to be both here and potentially everywhere else at the same time is giving us a new sense of self, new ways of thinking and perceiving which extend what we have believed to be our natural, genetic capabilities. In fact the old debate about artificial and natural is no longer relevant. We are only interested in what can be made of ourselves, not what made us. As for the sanctity of the individual, well we are now each of us made up of many individuals, a set of selves . Actually the sense of the individual is giving way to the sense of the interface. Our consciousness allows us the fuzzy edge on identity, hovering between inside and outside every kind of definition of what it is to be a human being that we might come up with. We are all interface. We are computer-mediated and computer-enhanced. These new ways of conceptualising and perceiving reality involve more than simply some sort of quantitative change in how we see, think and act in the world. They constitute a qualitative change in our being, a whole new faculty, the post-biological faculty of “cyberception” .

Cyberception involves a convergence of conceptual and perceptual processes in which the connectivity of telematic networks plays a formative role. Perception is the awareness of the elements of environment through physical sensation. The cybernet, the sum of all the interactive computer-mediated systems and telematic networks in the world, is part of our sensory apparatus. It redefines our individual body just as it connects all our bodies into a planetary whole. Perception is physical sensation interpreted in the light of experience. Experience is now telematically shared: computerised telecommunications technology enables us to shift in and out of each others consciousness and telepresence within the global media flow. By conception we mean the process of originating, forming or understanding ideas. Ideas come from the interactions and negotiations of minds. Once locked socially and philosophically into the solitary body, minds now float free in telematic space. We are looking at the augmentation of our capacity to think and conceptualise, and the extension and refinement of our senses: to conceptualise more richly and to perceive more fully both inside and beyond our former limitations of seeing, thinking and constructing. The cybernet is the sum of all those artificial systems of probing, communicating, remembering and constructing which data processing, satellite links, remote sensing and telerobotics variously serve in the enhancement of our being.

Cyberception heightens transpersonal experience and is the defining behavior of a transpersonal art. Cyberception involves transpersonal technology, the technology of communicating, sharing, collaborating, the technology which enables us to transform our selves, transfer our thoughts and transcend the limitations of our bodies. Transpersonal experience gives us insight into the interconnectedness of all things, the permeability and instability of boundaries, the lack of distinction between part and whole, foreground and background, context and content. Transpersonal technology is the technology of networks, hypermedia, cyberspace.

Cyberception gives us access to the holomatic media of the cybernet. The holomatic principle is that each individual interface to the net is an aspect of a telematic unity: to be in or at any one interface is to be in the virtual presence of all the other interfaces throughout the network. This is so because all the data flowing through any access node of a network are equally and at the same time held in the memory of that network: they can be accessed at any other interface through cable or satellite links, from any part of the planet at any time of day or night.

It is cyberception which enables us to perceive the apparitions of cyberspace, the coming-into-being of their virtual presence. It is through cyberception that we can apprehend the processes of emergence in nature, the media-flow, the invisible forces and fields of our many realities. We cyberceive transformative relationships and connectivity as immaterial process, just as palpably and immediately as we commonly perceive material objects in material locations. If, as many would hold, the project of art in the 20th century has been to make the invisible visible, it is our growing faculty of cyberception which is providing us with x-ray vision and the optics of outer space. And when, for example, the space probe “Cassini” reaches the dense nitrogen atmosphere of Saturn’s satellite Titan, it will be our eyes and minds which are there, our cyberception which will be testing and measuring its unknown surface.

The effect of cyberception on art practice is to throw off the hermeneutic harness, the overarching concern with representation and self expression, and to celebrate a creativity of distributed consciousness (mind-at-large), global connectivity and radical constructivism. Art now is less concerned with appearance and surface, and more concerned with apparition, with the coming-into-being of identity and meaning. Art embraces systems of transformation, and seeks to maximise interaction with its environment. So too with the human body. We are making the body a site of transformation – to transgress the genetic limitations. And we seek to maximise interaction with our environment, both the visible and the invisible, by maximising the environment’s capacity for intelligent, anticipatory behaviour. The artist inhabits cyberspace while others simply see it as a tool.

The cybernet is the agent of construction, embracing a multiplicity of electronic pathways to robotic systems, intelligent environments, artificial organisms. And in so far as we create and inhabit parallel worlds, and open up divergent event trajectories, cyberception may enable us to become simultaneously conscious of them all, or at least to zap at will across multiple universes. The transpersonal technologies of telepresence, global networking, and cyberspace may be stimulating and re-activating parts of the apparatus of a consciousness long forgotten and made obsolete by a mechanistic world view of cogs and wheels. Cyberception may mean an awakening of our latent psychic powers, our capacity to be out of body, or in mind to mind symbiosis with others.

So what differentiates cyberception from perception and conception? It’s not just the extension of intelligence promised by CalTech’s silicon neurons, the implications of the molecular computer, or the consequences of Bell AT & T’s electro-optic integrated circuit that will compute in one billionth of a second. The answer lies in our new understanding of pattern, of seeing the whole, of flowing with the rhythms of process and system. Hitherto, we thought and saw things in a linear manner, one thing after another, one thing hidden behind another, leading to this or that finality, and along the way dividing the world up into categories and classes of things: objects with impermeable boundaries, surfaces with impenetrable interiors, superficial simplicities of vision which ignored the infinite complexities. But cyberception means getting a sense of a whole, acquiring a bird’s eye view of events, the astronaut’s view of the earth, the cybernaut’s view of systems. It’s a matter of highspeed feedback, access to massive databases, interaction with a multiplicity of minds, seeing with a thousand eyes, hearing the earth’s most silent whispers, reaching into the enormity of space, even to the edge of time. Cyberception is the antithesis of tunnel vision or linear thought. It is an all-at-once perception of a multiplicity of view points, an extension in all dimensions of associative thought, a recognition of the transience of all hypotheses, the relativity of all knowledge, the impermanence of all perception. It is cyberception that allows us to interact fully with the flux and fuzz of life, to read the Book of Changes, to follow the Tao. In this, cyberception is not so much a new faculty as a revived faculty. It is us finding ourselves again, after the human waste and loss of the age of reason, the age of certainty, determinism and absolute values. The age of appearance, the Romanticism of the private, solitary individual – essentially anxious, alienated, paranoid. Indeed paranoia, secrecy and dissimulation seems to have been embedded in all aspects of the industrial age. In our telematic culture, instead of paranoia we celebrate Telenoia: open-ended, inclusive, collaborative, transpersonal networking of minds and imaginations.

Cyberception defines an important aspect of the new human being whose emergence is further accelerated by our advances in genetic engineering and post-biological modelling. The originating of a life, biological conception, should now also be called post-biological cyberception since the decision to initiate and process the birth of children is shifting from the so-called imperatives and constraints of “nature” to the will and desire of individuals, in consort with new technologies and regardless of their age or sexual performance. And just as the cybernet is our community, we shall see increasingly, the replacement of the nuclear family with the non-linear family. The telematic culture may bring back to human relationships what industrial society effectively eradicated. Take life on the street now. I mean those streets just off the super highway. Nothing is more human, warm and convivial than a bunch of kids hanging out on the Internet. As networked virtual reality transports our telepresence, and gives us the tools to reconfigure our own identities, social life is becoming not only more complex but more imaginative. As I have long-time insisted, there is love in the telematic embrace.

Our new body and new consciousness will bring forth a wholly new environment, an intelligent environment which returns our gaze, which looks, listens and reacts to us, as much as we do to it.: smart buildings and tools which listen for our every move, attend our every utterance. We are not talking about simple voice commands at some crude computer interface, we are talking about anticipation on the part of our constructed environment, based on our behaviour, resulting in subtle transformations of the mis en scene. Just as we cyborgs see, hear, feel in ways unknown directly to biological man, (although his myths and rituals always expressed his desires for self transformation), we live in an environment which increasingly hears, sees and feels us. There is a community implication in all of this for us. Cyberception impels us to a redefinition how we live together and where we live together. In this process we must start to re-evaluate that material matrix and cultural instrument of society which we have for so long taken for granted: the city.

Architecture

The problem with Western architecture is that it is too much concerned with surfaces and structures and too little concerned with living systems. There is no biology of building, simply the physics of space. What we might call the “edificial” look is all. The city is seen as a battle zone in which this or that architectural genre or idiomatic impulse fights to survive. It’s a matter of relative inertia. The classicists wishing to protect the total inertia, political and cultural, of a stylistic past, the modernists protecting the privileged inertia of a stylised present. No one is interested in radical change, or intimations of the future. Edificial images, superficial surfaces define the contemporary city. But to its everyday users, a city is not just a pretty facade. It ‘s a zone of negotiation made up of a multitude of networks and systems. What is needed is designers of such spaces who can provide forms of access which are not only direct and transparent but which enrich the city’s everyday business and everyday transactions. The language of access to these processes of communication, production and transformation is more concerned with systems interfaces and network nodes than with traditional architectural discourse. And, without the fundamental understanding, on the part of planners and designers, of the human faculty of cyberception and its implications for transactional behavior, the cities will remain the arid and unwelcoming tracts of modernist glass and concrete or tacky post modernist folly that we are generally forced to endure. We need to reconceptualise the urban strategy, rethink architecture, we need bring into being the idea of zones of transformation, to accommodate the transpersonal technologies that are shaping our global culture.

Cities support and embody the interactions of people, the arts add value to such exchange. Today it is predominantly electronic systems which facilitate our interaction and connectivity, and the art of today is based on such systems. Cities can be dynamic, evolving zones of transformation, just as interactive art itself is about transformation and change. And just as cities can offer rewarding complexities of buildings and streets to navigate, leading to surprises, delights, mysteries, beauty, and are, at their best, about human dreams and human fulfilment, so interactive art urges you to navigate its many layered multi-media realities. It invites you to immerse yourself in its cyberspace, to get online to its global networks. If it is through recent innovations in art and science that we have become aware of cyberception, it will be cyberception at the level of city planning and architecture that will lead us to the city of the 21st century. As has already been argued in this journal, art is no longer about appearance, and certainly not about representation, but is concerned with apparition, the coming -into- being of what has never before been seen or heard or experienced.

Cities which are no more than a set of representations function badly. Their buildings may speak “hospital”, “school”, “library”, but unless they articulate these meanings within integrated, cybernetic systems, they lie in their teeth. And too many buildings lie in their teeth. Their monuments, unless they invite the recreation of the past by means of interactive media, are no more than inert witnesses to the duplicity of official history.

Cities work best when they are constructed to empower their citizens to find fulfilment . Such urban aspirations call for the support of an art which is less concerned with representation and expression and more concerned with radical construction and imaginative realisation. This is the art which is presently emerging out of the fusion of new communications and computer media. It builds on the complexity and diversity of dreams and desires that our multi-cultural, multimedia world brings forth. Just as we call this art interactive , the enriching environment which our cities must become should be based on the same principles of interaction and connectivity.

The city in the 21st century must be anticipatory, futures oriented, working at the forward edge of contemporary culture, as an agent of cultural prosperity, as a cause of profitable innovation rather than simply as an effect of the art and products of a former time. It should be a testbed for all that is new, not just in the arts but in entertainment, leisure, education, business, research and production.

A city should offer its public the opportunity to share, to collaborate, and participate in the processes of cultural evolution . Its many communities must have a stake in its future. For this reason, it must be transparent in its structures, its goals, and its systems of operation at all levels. Its infrastructure, like its architecture, must be both “intelligent” and publicly intelligible, comprising systems which react to us, as much as we interact with them. The principle of rapid and effective feedback at all levels should be at the very heart of the city’s development. This means highspeed data channels crisscrossing every nook and cranny of its urban complexities. Feedback should not only work but be seen to work. This is to talk about cyberception as fundamental to the quality of living in an advanced technological, post-biological society.

Just as architects must forget their concrete boxes and Disneyland decorations, and attend to the design of everything which is invisible and immaterial in a city, so they must understand that planning must be developed in an evolutive space-time matrix which is not simply three dimensional or confined to a continuous mapping of buildings, roads, and monuments. Instead planning and designing must apply connectivity and interaction to four quite different zones: underground, street level, sky/sea, and cyberspace. Instead of the planner’s talk of streets, alleyways, avenues and boulevards, we need to think of wormholes, to borrow a term from quantum physics, tunnelling between separate realities, real and virtual, at many levels, through many layers. Similarly the paradigms and discoveries of Artificial Life science must be brought into play. The architect’s new task is to fuse together material structures and cyberspace organisms into a new continuum. Architecture is the true test of our capacity to integrate into humanly enriching zones and structures, the potentials of the material world, the new consciousness, and virtual realities. In this enterprise many traditional ideas must be jettisoned, ideas whose inherent instability was always implicit in the dichotomies by which they were expressed: urban/rural, city/country, artificial/natural, day/night, work/play, local/global. The boundaries on these ideas have shifted or eroded altogether.

The city as an amalgam of systems interfaces and communications nodes is likely to be much more supportive of creative lives and personal fulfilments than the grossly conceived and rigidly realised conurbations of the industrial age. In place of their dense and intractable materiality, we can expect the environmental fluidity of faster- than- light pathways, intelligent surfaces and structures, and transformable habitations. The end of representation is nigh! Semiology is ceasing to underpin our structures. Buildings will behave in ways consistent with their announced function, rather than speaking their role by semiological implication. Appearance is giving way to apparition in art, and notions of unfolding, transformation and coming-into-being are suffusing our culture. It will only be with the understanding that buildings must be planted and ‘grown’ that architecture will flourish. It’s a growbag culture that is needed, in which seeding replaces designing. Architectural practice should find its guiding metaphors in horticulture rather than in warfare. Ultimately we can perhaps talk about pollination and grafting.

Building, like cities, should grow. But without cyberception, the traditional architect and urbanist have no idea whatsoever of what we are proposing. To see that technology changes, that building methods, economies, and planning systems change, but to fail to recognise that human beings also are radically changing, is a grave error. Perhaps classes in consciousness and gardening should replace the study of classical orders and historical canons of style and genre which stultify architectural education!

Where is there a building, much less a city, which supports a cyberculture, that sees cyberception as central to human sense and sensibility? Where is there an urban space in which we can fully celebrate “Telenoia” ? Where is there an architectural school which is, as a whole, united body, determined to create the conditions for the proper evolution of a truly 21st century city? Where in architecture and planning are connectivity and interaction taken as primary principles of the design process? The debate in architecture should not be a matter of either/or. Either classical or modern, either new or old, either idealistic or pragmatic, either functional or frivolous. Between idealism and pragmatism, between conception of the desired and perception of the possible, lie the evolutive initiatives of cyberception .

As a frustrated HyperCard programme might say, “Where is Home?” Where will we cybernauts of the turning millennium live? What is the nature of community and cohabitation in a telematic culture. How is cyberspacial transience to be accommodated? Where are those zones that we can cyberceive as beautiful and fulfilling? We inhabit material forms with psychic dimensions set in the limitless boundaries of cyberspace. We are networked to the universe, our nervous systems are suffusing the cosmos. We navigate inner and outerspace. We don’t need buildings so much as we need ourselves to be built, or rebuilt from the genetic foundations which we are rapidly re-evaluating and may soon restructure.

Perhaps the most radical challenge to the old ideas of architecture comes from the consequences of telepresence, the disseminated self. When human identity itself is undergoing transformation, the collaborative mind and the connected consciousness replacing the unitary mind and solitary consciousness of the old order of Western thought, architecture must look to new strategies if it is to bring useful ideas about living and interacting in the world. Telepresence is the province of the distributed self, of remote meetings in cyberspace, of online living. Telepresence means instant global interaction with a thousand communities, being in any one of them, or all of them, virtually at the same time. Telepresence defines the new human identity perhaps more than any other aspect of the repertoire of cyberculture.

Contemporary architecture and shopping have become more or less the same thing. Architecture, having turned its back on the need for radical responses to the realities of the teleself and distributed presence, constitutes little more than a shopping cart world of boxed packages, wheeled around the sterile zones of a mall culture. Each building is a prettified and packaged product, each component mail-ordered from a catalogue. The “have a good day” code of building practice has put the appeasement of tradition before collaboration with the future. But the need for an architecture of interfaces and nodes will not go away. We shall increasingly live in two worlds, the real and the virtual, and in many realities, both cultural and spiritual, regardless of the indifference of urban designers. These many worlds interconnect at many points. We are constantly on the move between them. In the creative zone, transience and transformation identify our way. Hi-tech chic and Bauhaus bluff will not fool our keen cyberception. Change must be radical. The new city, both in its visible immateriality and its invisible construction, will grow into a fruitful reality only if it is seeded with imagination and vision. It is artists who can become the sowers of these seeds, who can take the chances needed to allow new forms and features of the new city to grow. It is their cyberception that equips them with the global awareness and conceptual dexterity to resee, rethink, and rebuild our world.


We point out the interesting post by Salvatore D’agostino entitled Homophilia e nuovi blog [homophilia and new blogs], where this newborn place is mentioned, having I been asked to answer to the question of questions in matter of blogs: why?
I invite you to read it not so much for the answer I gave, as for the variety of blogs presented and the equally varied range of reasons given after that question.
Besides the excellent mcluhanian quote, a further question arises that the many comments give response and a number of additional issues of interest.

Have a good reading.

Poor old future

March 19, 2009

Let’s start then with the very first post of my Strategies against architecture, posts that, as written here, want to be devoted to a critical analysis of the deterioration of mass information that generalist media are making in terms of architecture, and a sort of first explanation of some stereotypes that distort the common opinion.

Although the topic is vast alas, we need to start from somewhere and we will commenting on a recent episode of The stories – Italian diary, beautiful cultural program conducted by Corrado Augias, broadcast Monday to Friday from 12:45 pm on Rai3.

Particularly, in the episode of March 6th, the homeowner met Vittorio Gregotti who, not yet satisfied for having been guest in Philippe Daverio’s Passepartout a few weeks earlier, had the opportunity to present his latest Against the end of architecture, indeed, even at Augias’. To understand what we’re going to discuss, I strongly recommend spending about twenty minutes in the vision of the transmission, which Mom Rai makes available here (forgive me for the reference, but unfortunately embedding is not possible from Rai.tv) .

First, I’d say – trying to quell spontaneous motions of irritation that are generated in me when hearing similar comments – starting a popular transmission with an almost indiscriminate attack to the (alleged) sins of an (alleged!) architecture is not exactly reason for pride by qualified people with vast experience in the study of the discipline history. This consideration be read as a something that I think would be appropriate to write before any kind of paternalistic speculation, that is any discussion held in the form of lessons and then directed to an audience of listeners considered mostly ignorant on the scope thereof. The use of such a technique makes it even too easy to play without a contradictory at par (not to say anything to the good Augias, highly educated person but not a scholar of architecture), mostly when the rapporteur is involved in the interest conflict of those who implicitly advertises its job with his mere presence; with the demolition of others’ intentions, the final obstacles to the affirmation of his (still alleged!) intellectual superiority are easily removed.

This is just to speculate on the method, but to get on rather, I consider embarrassing Gregotti’s speech made (by Augias’ mouth) to hit the easy target David Fischer on his famous rotating skyscraper. The arguments are, to say it politely, definitely wit-lacking: the skyscraper is «a nonsense» and «an insulting waste» (why, if it technologically makes sense to the point that it is energetically self-sufficient? why, if it interprets in a such formally simple way the not-new desire of architecture for movement?); the skyscraper is big – and so on with Koolhas’ Bigness, something wrote not less that fifteen years ago with very, very different aims – and big is evil, which is certainly a statement of undoubted freshness; the skyscraper is «bizarre», a word last used maybe in Victorian age, whose opportunity is called into question by the talks of the same Gregotti (concerning the existence of Villa Girasole in Marcellise since 1929) and Augias (which rightly reminds Brunelleschi).

And then, the apotheosis of the critical decay. The roles invert: Gregotti righteously defends the theory of architecture and notices, perhaps appropriately (but we could discuss this very long), the scarce use of the theoretical study as a background for so much contemporary design; at that, Augias takes refuge in the beastly syllogism: Le Corbusier made houses where I would not ever live / Le Corbusier was «one who theorized much»/ theory gives birth to monsters.

Once again, an attempt to the “cultured” debate is reduced to the designer of Palermo’s Zen’s self apology, to the accuses to politics, to the description of the architect as the one that makes beautiful but awkward houses, and essentially to the usual historical, artistic, aesthetic, philosophical, sociological and poetic nothing, that it is the only portrayal that all these Sunday scholars can make about the state of art, summarizing the issues of architecture from Brunelleschi the Milan Expo in fifteen minutes.
No wonder the audience, seeing these aberrations called planning the future, seek peace backwards in a sad eclectic anachronism.

Contemporary architecture told through negations

Today, I’m starting this new series of posts that will be built with the intent to openly denounce the bad habit, alas widespread in Italy, for which the mass information made on some architectural themes of broad interest is generally entrusted to low competent characters, which, moreover, become spokesmen for absolute rearguard positions, almost always unworthy even from a purely historical point of view.

The problem is particularly virulent, however, because of a contemporary profound crisis of the publishing industry that fails, for some years now, to be a counterpart of sufficient authority and communicativeness to overcome the excessive media power that influence the public opinion through television.
Many have spoken, in recent times, about the cloud that seems to cover, for instance, two historic magazines as Casabella and Domus, in the last editions respectively headed by Francesco from Co and Flavio Albanese. If the former, in fact, has long been rarely able to produce issues consisting in something better than a series of projects of more or less known international studies, the second in general tends to stylish positions closer to applied art; but both suffer from the same inability to implement articles of historical depth, of really current view, of great importance: in a word, actually memorable.

And it is precisely this substantial inability to deeply understand the great changes taking place in society and therefore in urbanism and architecture to give into the hands of persons of dubious aptitude the role of educators of people on the same subjects. Thus, while it is true that we have to be filled with indignation, we cannot be surprised to find Sgarbi or Grillo involved with what, knowingly or not, is a systematic strategy of sabotage of the progress of architectural historical evolution. They have no opponents. [Ahi serva Italia (I can spontaneously occur), how much this situation reminds the democratic disease plaguing my country! The populist Right party is fully comparable with the still ongoing proposition of old models that easily get consensus among the unqualified, while as for the publishing, which party does it take? The one of Left, who loses its place in parliament as a consequence of having been too long far from the real? Or perhaps that of an opposition unqualified itself, scared, silent, vaguely conniving?]

Someone could say that television is not meant to be and actually has never been a source of high-level investigation in any area or topic, and that wishing this happening in architecture just when the crisis is deeper because coming from inside, is foolish if not unlawful. True. But it’s also true that no real information is given if the information, although superficial, isn’t fair at least. For this reason, from the little I can, I will propose these new post as an opposing voice. A reason to think that what was just said in teevee could not be true.

There’s no doubt the Venice Biennale is the trendiest of architectural events in Italy. And there’s no doubt therefore, that anyone belonging to that world, not to feel out of it, must indubitably write something about, taking position.
But the fact of being all, necessarily, forced to give an opinion about the Biennale, constitutes one of the most catastrophic media effects in the architectural field. As a consequence, what can be seen once a biennium, in Italy, is nothing more than a sort of judgments competition, made of opinions given as quickly and shallowly as possible. Feature of this disturbing phenomenon, is its independence from the importance of the author of the criticism. To name one for all: Philippe Daverio. A most interesting personage, with an intrinsic humor and an irresistible taste for the eclectic an provocateur pun, but sometimes prey of a lower tendency to the slogan form and of a general reluctance in accepting some issues of contemporary, mainly in architecture. This is properly the case of last Sunday’s episode of PassepARTout*, that I suggest to see as a counterpoint (better if later) of what you’re about to read, if you’re likely to do it.

Once made this brief recrimination about the communicative urge by the which everybody seem taken when dealing about the Biennale, I admit I’m going to let it take me too, then I’ll face the subject; but my precise intention is to seek inside it traces of the thread I’m following with this blog.

Let’s start, then.

As everybody knows, this year’s exhibition has been organized by Aaron Betsky, already curator of other expositions and architectural criticist, with the title of Out there: architecture beyond building.
Attracted by the theme of the exposition, last spring I had went to Rome, to the Faculty of Architecture of Valle Giulia, to listen to an introductive speech that Betsky himself was making about the Biennale (and, as a matter of fact, also about the student world challenge associated to it as always, in the vain hope to participate it). I can’t state that the lecture (that’s  what it was) was free from a certain rhetoric of advertising and slogans; nevertheless, the impression upon me was globally convincing. A sensed series of considerations had been made about the blurriness  of contemporary city, the regulatory function of the sign beyond the volume, to the asymptotic tension of the architectonic artifact to the natural object, to architecture considered as «a gathering together of what already exists», to the didactic function of art for what concerns new approaches to space, to photography as the real discoverer of architecture and to architecture as an «uncovering, figuring out, revealing» factor of the world, and so on. Shortly, a (well dimensioned) poetical sum of the main question of the contemporary scene.

But how much of these good intentions Betsky has been able to bring to the exposition is what I’m about to discuss, and I guess a good way to do it is to examine the manifestos presented to the Arsenale by a series of international studies of architecture.

In general, this method of communication can be interpreted in many ways. It could be said that its function is to please the nostalgic of the avant-gardes of the first and second part of the XX century but that it is an anachronistic choice for the lack of any real contemporary Movement with a precise direction; but it could also be said that it is for this same reason that the choice is interesting and provocative and that the presentation of a long series of “personal manifestos” of the single groups instead of a collective one is to witness this exact meaning. Anyway, a starting manifesto, more than a collective one, is Betsky’s.
A manifesto that deludes me in many parts, if compared to what I had heard from the mouth of the same author some months before.
Acceptable although trivial is a hint to the fact that, since «the buildings are not, mostly, designed by architects», everything goes wrong in our cities. «Yet the architecture is beautiful». Indispensible information. «Building is building. It is a verb.»
And here I’ll allow myself into a period of absolute linguistic formalism (forgive me, these are fetishes I can’t do without). Exploiting an apparently purely glottological clarification accomplished by Betsky, I lead my short crusade against the deviated use commonly made of the word. In the name of God, please stop using it as a synonym for “work of architecture”! Just like the Divine Comedy is not a poetry by Dante Alighieri and Moby Dick is not a literature of Herman Melville, the Pompidou Center is not an architecture by Rogers and Piano, but one of their works, generally a building, properly a museum, physically a project, actually the realization, and so on.
But do not judge my statement too harsh, because I’m sure that if Betsky himself had spoken the same way, he would have received far less criticism; instead, the use of a distinction between architecture and construction declared in terms that would have been making even Leon Battista Alberti yawn, mixed to a few truly contemporary opinions, inexorably preludes to a disastrous conclusion: «Buildings or architecture. The buildings can be avoided.»

And hence the widespread discontent, which can be summed up in a blind lapidating of the curator for what is not there inside the Arsenale.  Blind and shallow, because it doesn’t consider a basic fact, namely that the architecture is nothing but what is not there (or we would be dealing about sculpture, confusion in which Gehry clumsily falls in his manifesto) and as a consequence it can, must go beyond building when meant in a classical dimension, because this constitutes only a small subset if it (although, obviously, not all the act building belongs to the categories of architecture). I wonder what kind of exposure to the Arsenale would had met the various censors taste: perhaps a succession of models, as in the 2004 show? Nor, for even the practice of exposing what is not strictly made is deprived of its legitimacy. Then, maybe, a more convincing sequence of photographs, perhaps including views of the yard. It is quite weird, if one looks, that the same voices (alas greatly able to influence the public opinion, particularly those of the sector outsiders) exhaustingly accuse architecture of being perennial disrespectful (of what, it seems irrelevant ) with this taken as an incontrovertible law of the universe, and as much as a constitutionally unchallenged dominion of what is made

But going back to the manifestos. Let’s have a quick look to the others to build a first idea. We could say that they can be roughly divided into four categories: the past, the spicy, the fool, the trivial.

Among the authors of the past, some will redeem themselves in their corresponding installation, as Barkow Leibinger Architects, which links a manifesto for a concrete architecture to the realization of an interesting material garden, made of metal pipes, but shapely variable following the viewer’s will and not lacking of aesthetic quality; some instead, like Gehry, is stuck on descriptions of the profession that could easily belong to the past century and are unable to obtain even better results with their installation which seems awkward, redundant and old and is easily overcome in terms of poetry from the carpenters banquet hidden just behind.

Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher belong to the same species, with a manifesto that, not realizing its anachronism, proposes a new “ism” entirely lacking of content, which nobody (never the authors themselves) will remember tomorrow, with a dejà-vu sculpture in a perfect zahahadid-style, completely empty of any meaning.

Among the some way spicy manifestos I feel like including Francesco Delogu’s, culminating with a captivating promise: «One day we will be able to build structures supported by the space they contain. This way, architecture will communicate with the environment, and will not distinguish from it. At the same time it will be closer to humans, being their highest expression». Worthy of note is undoubtedly Droog & Kesselskramer’s writing, associated with one of the most successful performances of the exhibition: “Single Town”. The stand, also attractive for the general public, does not surrender to banality: the manifesto argues the very important concept that the more a city is populated by singles, the more multiple and complex interconnections it requires and the more the architect must «go beyond the building». Really an effective and appropriate interpretation of the theme of this year Biennale.

In the category of spicy, Guallart Architects can also be named, with their precise description of the contemporary situation and their proposal “Hyperabitat. Reprogramming the world”, which sums in the domestic scale the need for a closer information network linking everything in order to schedule, as far as to the limits of programming, changes and improvement;

Coop Himmelb(l)au, which exhume a forty years old work, but a work then so revolutionary that it is only understandable today, Philippe Rahm, with its “Meteorological Architecture”, which is concerned in creating, rather than spaces, temperatures and atmospheres, in an interesting link between the infinitely large, the infinitely small, the infinitely complex and the infinitely impalpable (the installation, however, is disappointingly late-rationalist), and finally M-A-D, which includes, in addition to Chris Salter, even that Erik Aadigard who had written Architecture Must Burn with Betsky in 2000, book that contains many of the theories that are behind the choice of content of the Biennale (Biennale that, it should be noted, therefore suffers the presence of ideas born already 8 years old at least).

Then the award of fool, that is devoid of any meaning, is won by the documents by Massimiliano Fuksas (a plenty of syntactically disconnected nouns perhaps in an attempt to imitate somewhat a grammar after Joyce), Nigel Coates (deliria about the need to introduce eroticism in architectural design), Totan Kuzembaev (a total of six sentences, the most senseful of those sais: «Winter thoughts are far more valuable than summer ones»), An Te Liu (a total of eight verses the most useful of those sais: «I find architecture boring when it is too practical / and not practical when it is too visionary»), but somehow are saved by the installation, and David Rockwell with Jones Kroloff (structured in gaps to be filled by anyone considering this fun for some reason).

As for the trivial, this statement is, in a higher or lesser extent, to all the other maifestos who presented to the Arsenale, that, being them incomplete, self referenced, inconclusive or simply passed, are of little or no interest as for the man in the street as for the theorist. While some installations may be considered some way worthy of attention (such as “Furnivehicles” by Atelier Bow Wow), the other are essentially superfluous, if not harmful (embarrassing the “Hypnerotosfera” by Nigel Coates).

* PassepARTout is a very successful Italian tv transmission, now at its 8° edition, written and conduced by Philippe Daverio, a very capable Italo-French art criticist, also director of  Art e Dossier, an art magazine. PassepARTout is probably the best art tv show we have in Italy. On air every Sunday at 01.30 pm.

As the first official post, I think it would be due to present a review of the book that contributed, even partially, to the inspiration for the title of this blog.
L’architettura difficile – Filosofia del costruire is the last book by Nicola Emery, professor of philosophy and aesthetics at Mendrisio Academy of Architecture, Switzerland.
It is an essay whose mission is yet plain in the back cover, that we’re quoting here to criticize its intents and results:

«Today architecture gains a great success: the more it becomes spectacular, the more it gets spectacularized. But this success itself could be indicative of a crisis of sense. And a crisis of sense starts when a discipline loses the essential causes of its own existing, acting, projecting and building. Looking for a really not minor part of contemporary architecture, the one most frequently shown on every kind of magazine, the impression is that architecture ends in a series of shapes, more and more unusual and almost incomprehensible. But all these shapes, just as in fashion, soon get to a certain tire and, overworked, quickly lose their value. In this situation it seems just right to make a philosophical reflection upon the aims and essence of building. A reflection, like the one made in this book, that faces seriously and rigorously the meanings attributed to architecture by Plato as first and then by many other thinkers – Martin Heidegger, Georges Bataille and Jeremy Rifkin among them -, architects, Bruno Taut, and artists, Mondrian, the Situationists and Josef Beuys in particular. The result is a philosophical map, necessary to understand and criticize contemporary and also to find better answers in projecting, with a not-ephemeral sense and value. An older Plato, for those who lost the aim of preserving the wealth for the territory as a whole and just longed for a private interest, suggested control, censure and even “the beatings”… He probably exaggerated, but today we should start a rediscovery of the virtues of creative self-control, with the aim of a space decolonization.
The free aesthetical research should then proceed at the same rate with a care for a socially and economically sustainable resolution of the organization of space as a fundamental common good

There’s no doubt this is an ambitious project, but it’s even more fascinating since quite close to our inquiry field.
Nevertheless, reading this essay left me with a series of uncertainties.
In my modest opinion, the worst fault of the book is to be found in the highly fragmented structure of the argumentation. The book, indeed, is divided in four sections that are apparently and actually mutually disconnected.
In the first one, with the title of The law architecture: Plato, a path of urbanism and architecture is reconstructed inside the books of Laws by the Athenian philosopher; a very interesting path, not lacking about hints of modernity despite its historical location, that the reader expects to end in an organic analysis of some possible conclusions in line with the general plan of the book.
Just read these partial conclusions to the first part, one immediately plunges into the second, looking for new, stimulating shades of the same dissertation, maybe as seen in a different historical context. And then one has to face the Abstraction and Metropolis: Mondrian section, with its lapidary incipit: «Mondrian’s identity is in the itinerary.». Lapidary and quite enigmatic for the disoriented reader who has just left Plato on his back and doesn’t know that he (she)’ll have to do with a dissertation – even by itself thrilling – about the Dutch painter that will be long more than one third of the whole book. If the artist’s personality is absolutely magnetic and the study about his Calvinist obsession for the research of ways to express the “real” leaves no room for bore, there are really a few references to architecture (some hints to De Stijl and to Le Corbusier’s shortsighted opinion about it) and the reasons that led the author to insert this section in this book are definitely obscure.
Then it is the turn of the third part, entitled Space decolonization. Finally, Emery hits the mark, and the essay is actually useful. Wheting the first chapter, that criticizes Popper’s “piecemeal tinkering” when applied to urbanism. The need for overall urban visions clashes with the effectiveness of complex urban evolutions. Are we still allowed to think a townplan as a whole project, or is it a preindustrial anachronism? The rest of the section is full of remarkable points of view too. The questions of sustainable development as seen by Heidegger, Rifkin, Bataille, Beuys, Debord, just as the back cover announced and the hungry reader expected. It’s really a pity that just sixty pages have been dedicated to this issue, which could (should?) have well been the core of the entire work.
In the end, the last short section reprises some platonic positions, but much more shallow, and concludes the essay with a fascinating “gloss” with Bruno Taut adding something visionary, but nothing new to the central meaning.
In conclusion, as I said, the work is interesting even just for the ambitious aspire initially proposed; but as it often happens, it is probably a later collage of professor Emery’s personal studies, and he indubitably owns a rich and complete vision of the matters presented, but maybe this time lacks in the will of making clearer those relations (obvious for him) that link the interesting investigations made in so many distant fields of knowledge.
This slightly sour review be not an offense for the professor, whose effort, as said, truly inspired me in opening this blog and, more, who is obviously invited here to sincerely discuss on what has been written. It would be a greatly appreciated debate: I really hope this happening. No malice!

A nest of knots

August 26, 2008

Welcome.

Both if you happened to come here intentionally or casually, this is a new website built with the aim to create a network of knowledge and debate about architecture, whose “knots” we’ll try to untie and whose various destinies we’ll try to prefigure on the basis of inquiries about modernity and much more. To learn more about the intentions of this venture, take a look to the It’s all about section: although confused enough to be contemporary, it will give you an idea of what you can expect from this web journal.

Now, some little explanations about the structure. As you can see, despite this introductive post, some previous articles have already been written: actually they’ve been transferred here from my personal blog, which I’ve been writing about many subjects, among whom architecture (even if in general), until this moment. Then, it can be said that the real activity of The nest and the spider web starts today.

More: I have to previously apologize for my bold attempt to manage such a blog despite my awareness of writing an uncertain English. I am Italian indeed, and English is of course a second language for me. For this reason, please feel free to correct (both publicly or privately) all the mistakes I’m inexorably going to make: any suggestions will be very appreciated.

Of course, you can also read this website in the original language.

I hope that you’ll be interested in the subjects we’ll deal with and that this causes stimulating debates and an exchange of contributes. Building a spider web is not simple, but I trust in the help of many.

Have a good trip and keep in touch!

In Casabella 754, Souto de Moura elaborates an interesting analysis of the completion of the Madrid Banco de España isle, by Rafael Moneo.
The analysis is interesting non merely for the theme of restoration/renewal, which, as the same Souto de Moura states, has never gone much farer than what Ruskin and Viollet-Le Duc had been debating about; it is rather the hint – so faintly dared to seem possibly unconscious – to the conceptual size of the workas an inquity about the postmodern question.
What Moneo does, shortly, is someway the overtaking and the synthesis of the sterility of both the extreme positions: neither a fake-antique remake of the artisanal splendour of plasters and molded stone of the late 800’s, nor the violence of a renounce, publicly defended in the name of futures, no matter they being next, or far.
I confess that giving a judgment to this work costed me hours of mental elaboration. Much of the trouble was caused by the comparison that Souto de Moura made between the new facade decoration of the building and Duchamp’s Nude going downstairs: if in those sculpture he (maybe) found the same dignity of the avant-gardist signs of the cubist allusion, I saw (almost) only a step backwards from detailed to rough, probably inspired more by money saving than by declarative intentions, or at least some sort of banal rasterizing, an out-of-scale low resolution rendering of antiquity; in other words something to easily get out of the muddle. Somewhat I still believe it, but I admit that the work is not lacking on the conceptual side; Souto de Moura itself, indeed, can’t bypass Aldo Rossi’s contribute (particularly, Schützenstrasse isle), that, maybe reasonably but mostly for an acquired consuetude, seems to be biuniquely linked with all that Italy produced postmodern in architecture.
But, at this point, the difference: «a completely different position from the one took in Berlin by Rossi, for whom the meaning came from the simulation of historicized architectonic elements, out of scale, reproduced in plastics – but, actually, we were at the top of post-modern…», says Souto de Moura about Moneo, someway unequivocally declaring that the postmodern era has ended and that another one has started, the postcontemporary one, as somebody calls it. Then, how about the theory of the end of theories? The postmodern should have been the last of all the ages, we could say, and last infinitely; it is clear that something happened and destroyed the exactness of this auto-postulation that, even if apparently plausible (and, after all, reassuring in its lapidary will of destabilization), reveals itself as inesorably false, just as in Anselmo d’Aosta’s demonstration. So, Moneo can get through that bit of so 90’s bad taste that – let’s admit it – Rossi and someone of his contemporaries suffered after, and synthesize antiquity and this future-longing present with a certain grace and no more reverential fear.
Did the multimedia panacea rebuild the meta-language that the wall fall had destroyed? Or did it maybe accelerate its ruin, giving man such an immense power that it changed reality and art into ineffability? Can the post-modernity overcoming (considering that era as ended) ever be a step towards, existentialistically speaking?

Enamel above nothing

June 18, 2008

Gehry - Hotel de Riscal

A short reflection after reading Casabella 752.
I was very interested in Dal Co’s article, with the title of Lo smalto sul nulla [“Enamel above nothing”], about the controversial (just to be clement) Hotel Marqués de Riscal, by Gehry, and the nihilism which can be said to philosophically found deconstructivism – or any other architectonic theory characterizing the work of the Canadian architect who wisely rejects to declare himself for anyone of them.
Reading Benevolo, I was once stroke by the simple but sensible observation that architecture is the most slowly evolving art; for obvious technical and institutional reasons, it definitely carries a delay. Nothing wiser, in my modest opinion. It is true indeed that every age corresponds to its architecture, but the fundamental evolutions however come with the delay of almost a century; particularly from the 700’s, when the world started to accelerate all its vital cycles. It is not a case that Lightening produces definitely ancient régime architectures, Decadence takes to romantic buildings, Pirandello’s ‘900 loiters upon safe positivistic positions: maybe it is just now that Heisemberg starts to move the architect’s hand towards complete indetermination.
But nothing can justify Gehry for the de Riscal eyesore. A metallic-plate-shaped auto-quotationism covers, maybe for lightening shyness, a whole architectonic nothing. Is this the state of art?
Luckily, there are Isozaki and a newly discovered Carlo Scarpa giving a hope to this issue. Jean Nouvel makes his part too, while this time Mrs. Hadid seems to have not much to say.

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