Things said and things unsaid, one evening, in Milan

Today it is possible to see the video on domusweb, but I would like to draw a kind of incomplete summary (incomplete for the narrowness of the notes I took and for my impartiality, being one of the participants) of the evening, and then draw some consideration to compare the event with the episode of London and some notes. I think it could be useful to those who were not there and haven’t got an hour to spend seeing the video, as well as in this English version, for those who do not speak Italian. If you don’t mind the guide and want to go directly to the comments, click here.
Let’s start.

[Bizarre place, the Design Library. It starts as (1) a lounge bar, goes on as (2) a library, melts in (3) a study hall and ends as (4) a dark room for conferences, but also works as (2) (3) (4) (3) (1).]

Joseph Grima:
We want to talk about the new “flattened” playing field of the architectural critic at the era of the blog. About how this affects the autonomy of the authors, how the critical turns in the profession through the proliferation of voices, especially in Italy, the home par excellence of the prestigious architectural magazines. Professor de Michelis?

Marco de Michelis: The critic is a figure dramatically relevant and in crisis today, that by now doesn’t know how to respond to the questions of our times, but with hagiography or digressing. By citing Benjamin in The author as producer, we could say that the critic examines the how of the objects to reach their why.
Today the images [as stated in London  citing ArchDaily and the question of “pornography”, Ed.] are everywhere. Consequently, it is no more the duty of the critic to find the news, because the network gives us them.
But the non-specialized press, when dealing with architecture, only public triumphs [he makes the instance of the unconditional adoration for Piano, Ed.]. This is why the world needs critics! It is narrative and autonomy.

J. G.: Rossella, in what the network can then be news in the function of criticism?

Rossella Ferorelli: [not having notes of what I said, I’m going from memory, Ed.] I think it’s right in the overturning of the mechanism mentioned by Professor de Michelis by Benjamin. If the critic can no longer be the seeker of novelty, and while it is true that most of the blogs of architecture are in the hands of the same architects who design, then the use of the network moves the intellectual tasks of architecture from criticism more specifically to theory. That is, from an ex post activitiy, starting after the object being produced, switching to an activity that is ex ante, referring to the project / product. In other words, the work of a blogger is especially valuable if it is the explanation of the processes that led him to conceive the project, answering first the question about why, and only after asking about how. Designing proposing everyone’s theoretical and critical paths to a continuous feedback relationship with those who follow the blog is what will truly innovate the cultural process of architecture in the coming years.

J. G.: A cloud [crowd? Ed.] sourcing way to the project?

R. F: Exactly. It is precisely to facilitate this feedback process that NIBA was born, or to exceed the limit of integrability that afflicts the “locked” blog platforms. The blog is still similar to the paper pages [less than subscribe to RSS feeds, Ed.] in that they are basically to be “searched” on the web. With NIBA we could better find one another, and of course amplify the comparison level.

J. G.: Salvatore, in London we have raised the issue of radical difference in the emoluments of those who write online than those who write for well known magazines. What has changed in this way?

Salvatore D’Agostino: [he rather shows his target for a narration of the real Italian “b-side” condition. Unfortunately, here I have a few notes, Ed.] The spirit of criticism online could be summed up, citing the book of Federico Zanfi Città Latenti [Latent Cities, Ed.], as with that of the presence of “latent critics”.

J. G.: Fabrizio, Abitare has chosen a blog for commercial use. Professor de Michelis said that it is impossible for the critic to make news. How does this problem affect a magazine like yours?

Fabrizio Gallanti: we have actually chosen only a few things from the concept of blogs. Surely we have not embraced the idea of blogs as a public expression of a single voice that  chooses to bypass the thousands of obstacles of traditional publishingto going directly to the public. We instead are interested in exploring the possibility of survival of forms of  criticism regarding a changing audience. We then asked ourselves which audience we wanted to address, and we chose those who are not satisfied with the average architecture writings in newspapers (increasingly losing credibility). We have also retained the ability to comment on every postwith absolutely minimal censorship.
Today, what is lacking are the single-focus blogs, with the author most expert in a subject up to be a “nerd” [I personally do not believe this is true, and the first thing that came to my mind at that moment was to spontaneously think to the hassle of that Emmanuele Pilia,  who’s always been dealing specifically with transarchitecture on his blog!!, Ed.].

J. G.: Luca Molinari, Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi in its latest newsletter talks about the economic unsustainability of the critic role today. What do you think?

Luca Molinari: it is necessary to redefine the politic instruments of criticism. Among the highest values of online critical there is not having deadlines. It is a very important value of responsibility, that makes a blog something different from a magazine, on which there are obligations, but also from the diary, on which we just write occasionally. On the contrary, it is a real public service.

J. G: It can be argued that for the marginalization of the criticism there’s also to blame the critics? We might even venture that it derives from the excess of theorizing of postmodernism and deconstructionism years?

L. M: Maybe, but it is also a matter of cultural space granted. The architecture has become a mass phenomenon, which includes interest. It is fashionable. So why in the major newspapers there is never a critic of reference? In Italy in recent years there has been great professional effort in the offices, to achieve international standards. But the road to the theory is totally lost!

S. D’A. Do not forget, however, that the story of Italian online criticism is not so young. Marco Brizzi was the first “hacker”, creating Arch’it. It is twenty years of history that nobody is considering, and this is mainly the purpose of Wilfing Architettura.

J. G.: Elisa, then what is the specifically of Italy, now that more and more Italians speak English and are open to international cultures?

Elisa Poli: [sensible and interesting intervention, unfortunately I also have a few notes here. I’ll probably look for the registration to add some more, Ed.] What’s changed is basically the absence of the overhead perspective and authorship of the magazine, in which another level of authorship, that of critic, in turn, faded. Even for images it is so, we’ve run out of the time in which the magazines were to dictate the rules of expresson of the projects and the photographs.

J. G.: Let’s close with Luca Diffuse: what you think is the difference between the relevance of a harsh critisism made online and one made on a magazine?

Luca Diffuse: the web is a more “intimate” place. Ironically, if I get a fierce criticism on the web, I feel touched deeper, closer to me [He adds some issues about how boring the ground of architecture is, unless it is open to the contemporary cultural scene as a whole: music, cinema , visual arts, etc.., Ed.]. It would be an act of great ethical significance if the magazines would accepts the request of aperiodicity of the blog, or for example do not always come out in a similar number of pages, because this means that the quality of the articles can not be homogeneous: the journals are not sincere!

M. d. M: Basically, now the critic has to reinvent his own business.

____________________________________________________________

So much for the historical memory of the event.
Now, some observations.

In NIBA, some pretty important questions about the nature of this debate have already emerged. In essence, the experiment was judged interesting and necessary in the Italian context. Just a few years ago this would have been inconceivable. However, the q&a technique of moderating has clearly limited the debate and opened a bit too much to the personal and autobiographical issues here and there, so there have also been some attempts to avoid the theme of the critics (especially by Salvatore D ‘Agostino and Luca Diffuse).  However, I must personally point out that the character of the argument in London was not very different. Or rather, as we said with Elisa Poli later in the evening, the discussion in London was perhaps more than in Milan, the tendency to orient on “aficionados” anecdotes. This is of course a clear sign of the different maturity of the Anglo-Saxon blogosphere, that is almost a new cultural establishment, a literature which has already been widely shared, which makes a solid history in itself. In Italy, the delay of the debate, paradoxically, produces a more interesting situation, because “young” users of an already “mature” tool may perhaps produce more original content, or at least little less obvious questions, with some unfinished aspects on which it is still interesting to speculate.
For example, I’d notice that we have never explicitly talked about university. Certainly the audience was not neutral, but the fact that we have identified the world of criticism with the world of magazines is not something to pass on superficially. A university reform is long overdue, we all know. So in effect I would have expected some proposal.
A fortiori, this is an issue that can be placed inside the NIBA circuit and generally to anyone who feels a web reader of architecture: have the Italian bloggers of architecture got any suggestions to make, about the state university? Why not create a network of networks with the most authoritative voices in the Italian blogosphere from all sectors, to create a big debate about this topic?

The directions of history

January 13, 2011

Or: using blogs as a pretext to investigate the vanguard

I invite you to read this post on De Architectura after which a little discussion has generated to which I have participated.
Essentially, the post comments on a Christmas operation for which the windows of the Duomo in Milan have been lit from within. In this way, an unusual effect for the city has been created, since the rule says that the light passes through those glasses from outside to inside, and that only those who are inside can perceive the effect. Here you can see photos of the intervention.
In the named blog, particularly through the comments, various opinions come – it is to say – to the light, but the total judjement is negative for three orders of reasons, which can be summarized thus:
Economic and trade: the intervention is funded / sponsored by the local light enterprise (AEM), so there is a reason of interest;
Lay-consumerism: the curia indulges in marketing strategies, which have little to do with spiritual affairs, «Does artificial light, shining in the night inside the Milanese cathedral, making it seem as a great Christmas light visible only by those staying out in the secular space, allow the spiritual experience of elevation of the mind to God?» (commentary by Paul Gobbini);
Philological: the windows are made to be viewed from within and from below, while the outside is a mirror image; it generates «the forcing of the will to “read” a work of art in different conditions than those for which was conceived and created» (commentary by Enrico Delfini).

Accepting as a plausible reason to dissent only the first of three lines of argument, I intend to refute the other two and propose a different interpretation of the operation.
For brevity, I’m reporting the central part of my commentary to the question:

Personally, in fact, I believe that the reinterpretation (if not invasive, and this certainly is not) of objects of even ancient architecture by contemporaries is not only a right of theirs, but even a duty. If architecture is, in fact, civil – and thus social – art par excellence, it was designed to be used and to evolve along with the same uses that are not fixed in time.
Then, a “delicate” (in terms of reversibility) operation like this, should not be condemned just because philologically incorrect, because philology, on closer inspection, has little to do with art.
And to be honest, I like the intervention. I have a less philological spirituality too, probably, but if I was more convincedly Catholic, I’d say that looking at the lighted windows of the square, it would come to my mind, first, that there is no need to enter a church to be in a church.

Which is the maximum goal of a work of architecture, isn’t it?

Now, we expand the subject a little and try to understand why it may be interesting for us.

So, studying Zevi or Benevolo acquiring their method means, first, giving the history of architecture (and especially that of modern architecture) an oriented reading, which is a kind of teleology, or rather more properly of hermeneutic phenomenology. It means, in other words, to interpret it as an attempt by man to emancipate himself in one direction. For the two giants of history, is to be freed from the yokes of historicism and what comes next is history – one could say with a pun on words.
In my view, this approach can still be used, if we consider that the continuous changes of our understanding of space should reflect changes in the way we design, occupy and manipulate it.
As I had occasion to rule on several occasions even within this blog, is my opinion that the role of theoretical reason for architecture is inseparable from that of the designer and the objective of this Janus-faced figure is precisely to indicate how and why we must plan. So now the direction that history is following is towards the clearance of a number of spatial concepts which are characterized by logic and geometric hierarchies that have been overcome long ago.

Among these, it seems clear that it is also the contradiction in / out. Concavity and convexity concepts are now quite ambiguous due to the emergence of topology and types of “zero volume” planning that transcend the traditional architectural dimension.
Then, an intervention such as the Milan one, which – perhaps unwillingly – allows the reflection on the potential by the out to possess some of the characteristics of the inside, can only generate great interest, prompting even the passer with a critical question: what actually separates the aisles of the Duomo from the churchyard, the square?
Just shallow, instead, are the old criticisms about the consistency with some initial conditions that are generally only roughly suppositories.
And all this apart, of course, an idea of church community that is more frankly indefensible as it perches on geometrical considerations, choosing his allies among the rear guard of each sector. But that is another matter.

Latest activities

October 19, 2010

Here’s a recap of the previous episodes. It was quite an eventful summer.
First, the text Le parole e le cose (words and houses), which can be found in the post below, participated at the third edition of Young Critics Competition, organized by presS/Tfactory_Associazione Italiana di Architettura e Critica [Italian Association of Architecture and Criticism], and on August 27th won the second prize in Venice (some details here) in a side event of the XII Architecture Biennale.

At the award ceremony, under request by the jury, it was also brought a short video that, for the considerable efforts it caused me (voice, text and drawings) and the most patient Massimo Lastrucci (photography) and Daniel Mantellato (videoediting and concept support), I decided to publish here as a witness.
Please forgive in advance the indefensible unpleasentness of my tone of voice, but I did not have anything better then! For the rest, of course it is nothing more than an attempt to lighten a theoretically heavy text – starting with a title made out of a foucaultian pun, which Professor Prestinenza Puglisi liked very much – which otherwise would have been difficult to summarize in a video that is just two minutes long.
Sorry, but I haven’t any English version of it.

Then, we must mention two more episodes of collaboration with Salvatore D’Agostino (Wilfing Architecture).
In the first, I had occasion to put a question to Luca Molinari, curator of the Italian Pavilion at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. Here are the question and answer:

Rossella Ferorelli: During a visit to the Polytechnic University of Bari by Boris Podrecca some time ago, I remembered I an interview the architect gave to Repubblica in May 2006 whose epilogue had frozen me: “Compared to young Italians who are in my atelier, Dutch or Swiss peers have more verve, humor and imagination. Among you there are many little professors, with a few projects but a lot of talk and attendance at exhibitions; they live architecture through magazines, and are not familiar with its issues.” This was the Austrian architect’s opinion, who identified the source of the problem “in the fact of having lost two generations after ’68. You have written books, and you know all about Palladio or Giulio Romano, but not how to put a window.”
I would therefore propose a theoretical reflection on the scope of architecture in general, and particularly in Italy. How is it possible, in fact, that the problem of the general depression of the sector is the one developed by Podrecca, if nor in the field of theoretical research (clearly distinguishing it from the historical one) anything memorable has actually been produced in our country for years?
Personally, I therefore propose you to discuss an interpretation of the problem that sees a resoluting glow in a real hang-up between theory (the theory of “hardware” foundations of philosophy, science and policy that are behind the social function of the architect), and design, and I would like to ask you about which function may still an institution like the Venice Biennale have in the push to solve the architectural of Italy. In particular, as a student, I ask you also to overreach in an academic reflection and to think to the actual and possible relations between universities and the Biennale with the aim of a more continuous and constant striving for future research, not only chasing the lustrous showcases of the various festivals that are in a worrisome trend of multiplication.

Luca Molinari: The problem of the theoretical work in contemporary architecture is serious but perhaps we should change our perspective. Perhaps it is no longer a time of great theoretical narratives, decisive volumes moving thematic centers of gravity, perhaps the karst and fragmented system of contemporary bloggers are changing the way we produce and exchange theory in architecture. Together I believe that the architectural culture should make a different effort and seek, in a world that is radically and dramatically changing words, the incentives and resources for redefining disciplinary boundaries and evidence for theoretical reworking. As for the university I have no problem to say that most of the Italian university system is inadequate to address the current situation and especially to bring within it those vital, viral and critic elements that there is much need for, to a fight cultural stiffening and the syndrome of encirclement that the university must leave behind to survive.

To read all the questions addressed to Molinari on Salvatore’s Blog, click here.

The second collaboration was established by a brief introductory of the [BEYOND THE SENSE OF PLACE] investigation I attended in August 2009. You can find the text here.

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.

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