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 bad schooltenant

December 31, 2010

Each urban reality has what it deserves, is whato one could say, when an article like this pops up on Il Giornale dell’Architettura (look for yourself: on page 21 of issue 90, December 2010-January 2011). And if the amazing ambition of Bari can reach the absurd to apply for candidacy as European Capital of Culture for 2019 (for the skeptics: here, with lots of glossy pictures) with, at the moment, not a museum of international level, then we can not even be surprised that Nicola Signorile – known (and only as well) architectural journalist (sic) of the city -, or whoever, has had a brillant idea of letting this precious gem appear on the national magazine.
Now: that the intent of the article is sarcastic, it is obvioulsly clear. What leaves me seriously puzzled, however, is the fact that such an article actually exists.
In other words, what happened to the new Faculty of Architecture is a self-evident scandal. Not only the oxymoron between the massive prefabrication and the absolutely unacceptable building time (equal for the construction of the Maxxi) is absolutely glaring, but there is more than some questioning about the project as a whole, where the neo-classical-nauseating forms are just the tip of an iceberg of embarrassing lack of quality. The two elephantine carcasses, each hovering around 50×50 m in plan for an area that, in a rough calculation, will exceed 15,000 square meters, do not contain more than cstunted lassrooms, while the exhibition halls are derived from residual disjointed spaces, devoid of any identity. All for a sensational architectural shallowness, just where the artistic education and perception of students starts (should start). Students who, of course, can only welcome the novelty with bland satisfaction, used to the only possible alternative to this mess: nothing. And this is even when, from the first step, it is clear that the structure is finished, so to say, modestly – naturally: any available funding would be dematerialized after a decade of building site! – and lacks even the most obvious equipment to make it usable by the students, from electrical outlets for laptops.
For these reasons, Signorile’s irony, in this case, is not worth that much more than a complete submission to the regime of Claudio D’Amato, whose name should never appear on anything entitled “Profession & Training”, since he actually has little to do with one thing and the other, being basically unable to draft a plan that does not exceed 5 times the available budget, or just one that respects the cultural-aesthetic canons with which he constantly insists on limiting the imagination of his unfortunate pupils.
Then, when the reportage of the situation of Bari, depicts with delicate colors a tragedy shown gently – and with a certain satisfaction with his own sharp wit – in front of the nation as if it were the angle of the self-styled cynical “expert” in the neighborhood magazine, we have the duty to scandalize and not to accept any position other than a cry of anger or, if nothing else, the dignity of a more intelligent silence.

In memory of

June 15, 2008


«If I should turn to the new generations, I’d say the following things:
1. Avoid to attend university, by now institutionalized and bureaucratized. Architecture cannot but be outside the academies.
2. Suspect anyone talking about “project culture”. It’s an evasive alibi. The only valid culture is architectonics.
3. Distrust not only dogmas and idols, but also pseudo-super-structural philosophizings, that characterize most of the time wasting chattering made in the project courses.
4. Aim to the language, high, low and middle. For clarity: high, Frank Lloyd Wright; low, Frank O. Gehry; middle, Günther Behnish. Poetic communication, slang communication and modern literary communication.
5. Trust the new, the risky modernity, modernity that “makes value out of crisis”. Then stop underlining how much old there is in new, and recognize how much there is of authentically new instead. Our culture is full of “suspended” values, virtual, not yet developed, to be affirmed and to let live.
6. Try to draw as few as possible. Space cannot be drawn, and that’s the only important thing in architecture.
7. Reject any deductive method, which university research is based on. Einstein and Popper taught: without deducing, inventing and verifying. Maybe to falsify.
8. Reference points: William Morris and the theory of the contents and functions list; Art Nouveau and Bauhaus for asymmetry and dissonance; Expressionism (from Häring to Scharoun) for the anti-perspective three-dimensionality; Theo van Doesburg and De Stijl, the quadric-dimensional scomposition (today reprised by decostructivists); Fuller, Morandi, Musmeci for the structural involvement in architecture; Wright for the flowing space; the most advanced landscape studies for the continuum between building, city and territory. Seven invariants, or principles, or features not only in the language of modern architecture, but in the modern language of architecture.
9. Banish every talk about “autonomy of architecture”. Architecture is splendidly free because structurally involved.

That’s all. I hope my absence makes you happy.

With every cordiality,

Bruno Zevi»

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