Aug 21, 2016

Excerpts | In search of missing pieces

An excerpt on Architecture, Gender, Philosophy by Ann Bergren:

Meanwhile, back in Chicago (to imitate the constructive practice of the Timaeus), of Derrida's reaction to the architectural process, Eisenman claimed:
He wants architecture to stand still and be what he assumes it appropriately should be in order that philosophy can be free to move and speculate. In other words, that architecture is real, is grounded, is solid, doesn't move around - is precisely what Jacques wants. And so when I made the first crack at a project we were doing together - which was a public garden in Paris - he said things to me that filled me with horror like, 'How can it be a garden without plants? or 'Where are the trees? or 'Where are the benches for people to sit on?' This is what you philosophers want, you want to know where the benches are... [T]he minute architecture begins to move away from its traditional role as the symbolization of use, is where philosophy starts to shake. Because it starts to question its philosophical underpinnings and starts to move it around and suggest that what is under philosophy may be architecture and something that isn't so nice. In other words, it's not so solid, it's not so firm, it's not so constructed.
According to Eisenman, philosophy needs for its own stability and freedom to move, an architecture that does not move, an architecture that stays put and symbolizes nothing other than its use. 
 At the same conference, Catherine Ingraham presented a paper exploring the 'rage' of architecture at the prospect of domination by language. She concluded:
It seems to me that the plan of domination supposedly exercised by language over architecture is actually resonating architecture's own plan of domination. I have no proposals for the horror of architecture for philosophy. [But] it could be that philosophy recognizes in architecture its own most frightening realization, which is that in some way architecture is the aestheticization of the pornography of power.
These two remarks, Eisenman's and Ingraham's, seemed to me to be related in reflecting a 'female' status of architecture vis-a-vis philosophy. I commented:
Apropos 'architecture as aestheticization of the pornography of power' I asked myself whether power is or could be a pornê (probably you all know that a pornê is a prostitute). And that reminded me of a thought I had in the morning when Peter was talking about the resistance of Derrida to the fact that your architecture won't stay put, once it is placed - that you want to move the idea of a garden. It reminds me of the whole problem of the female in general - that she must be mobile, she must be exchangeable in order for family and children and homes to take place. But the problem about her is that she is not a 'proper' wife for sure. Because by virtue of her movability, she also could move herself and she could be like a pornê. A pornê is the opposite of the proper wife - a pornê wouldn't stay put, once exchanged - this is Greek thinking about females. So the ambiguity with which architecture is treated is perhaps an essential and necessary one. Because you must be movable. Yet that is just what nobody can allow you - once you're placed, you have to stay put. I think it's the deconstructive activity that permits this kind of perception. So in a way deconstruction has made a contribution to you and you're perhaps the best example of it in that you show that architecture is a writing of power as a pornê - as a necessary, productive medium that must be mobile. And yet once put in place, the other can't allow the mobility. Plus, then, it also goes in the other direction. You seemed slightly angry at deconstruction for not providing a model and a foundation for you. So that there was a way in which you needed deconstruction and language to be a woman for you also.
After this comment in which I had, I thought, said something positive about Eisenman's dislocating architecture and about architecture as a graphê - which means both 'writing' and 'drawing' in Greek - a graphê of the power of the pornê, I was later complimented by an eminent architect present on having 'wiped up the floor' with Eisenman. This interpretation of the female as a category of blame coheres with a second impulse toward exploring the relation between architecture and gender and philosophy.
 There has been relatively little treatment of gender in the theoretical discourse - the 'philosophy' - of architecture. In architecture, gender has been studies mainly in the domains of history and form: what women have designed and built, and what formal characteristics may be designated as intrinsically female. But architectural theory does not appear conscious of this issue as essential to its self-understanding - and thus germane to male or female, practitioner or theorist as well. This relative absence of theoretical reflection finds a practical counterpart in the male dominance - both ethical and statistical - among the stars of the profession. This practical presence and theoretical ignorance of the power of gender in architecture, together with the implication of gender in the remarks of Eisenman and Ingraham about architecture and philosophy, incite the present investigation. I begin by looking at gender in the mode of the symbolic, where it is constructed.
 Psychoanalysis and anthropology have analyzed gender as the constellation of characteristics and values, the powers and the powerlessness, attached by a given social group to sexual difference. As the sexes are different, the meaning of gender is differential. Gender is thus a machine for thinking the meaning of sexual difference. And, as if sexual difference were the very meaning of difference itself, gender functions universally as a machine for differentiation as such - the totem par excellence.
 Equally universal (so far) is the fact that gender difference is subjective in both senses of the terms, and thereby rhetorical and political. The difference gender makes may be seen in a linguistic phenomenon of which gender is a chief example, if not the primary model and motivation. This is the phenomenon of marked versus unmarked categories.

-- Ann Bergren, Architecture Gender Philosophy, Strategies in Architectural Thinking, p. 11-12.


Aug 5, 2016

False Gods | In search of missing pieces

Reading Aaron Betsky's Violated Perfection: Architecture and the Fragmentation of the Modern, especially The Project of the Modern essay, I find many similarities to the Project of Rilindje in Albania. There are many fundamental differences of course, but it seems like their architectural model of control - concealed in the image and ‘perpetuated in physical form’ is shaped along same lines of reconstruction and reform. But, what is the order of the Albanian project, I wonder. The methodology of its operations, its logic of abstraction through reduction, the incomprehensible (some might say promiscuous) measure of judgment, the false public scale, its imprisonment (through manipulation) of values, meanings, consequences, and humanism. What is the point to all this?

I am trying to understand such project - its form, the promise of its trans-formation as a mere re-form, not even a formation. If Rilindje means re-birth, then I question not its new life, but its departure from the previous one. Its displacement. Its difference. The rejection of its form-er self. What does its resurrection means to its (new and old, continuous and fragmented) existence? What does it mean to (for) us?

What has architecture done these past three years that it didn't do in the previous twenty, and vice-versa?

This is my question. I understand that starting anew, in terms of transformation not rebirth, one goes through a puberty of sorts, questioning one's existence, lack of faith, drowning in self-loathing and pity, but at the same time there is a surge of fearlessness, stupidity yes, but learning as well, especially if one has been sheltered for so long. There's a bolder way of being, seeing the world and a curious courage of acting upon it, of living. A way of life that is quickly outed, denounced when there is a self-proclamation of being re-born. As if this rebirth or another chance of living comes automatically with a maturity entitlement. As if being considered mature (at this point only in image) validates actions, abstractions, distractions and redactions; as if it makes for a better and worthy life.

Alas, I digress. But the question remains: what has this (self-entitled) new era of architecture done that the previous one, or the one before that have accomplished or not?- other than a negation of prior self(s) of course, and nihilism of context (the contextual everyday life), cowardly branded as 'rebirth' - a market-loving, tax-evading, bureaucratic boilerplate. It is not a movement, a call to action, not even a haphazard ideology - it is a brand, not an identity.

What then becomes the critical investigation of such Project?

The architecture(s) of Albania is not an Exquisite Corpse but a Corpse of Excess. Think about it. It continuously imposes death on itself (in order to be reborn), it hoards or accumulates so much excess to cover and extend its missing body / identity, and ultimately it has been dehumanized thus it wants to dehumanize its public of people and environment alike. Maybe to start unpacking the architecture of Rilindje and its rebirth(ed) castration, we need to first read Reza Negarestani's The Corpse Bride, The Labor of the Inhuman, Frontiers of Manipulation, and some of his other texts on chimerization.

Then, and I really hope to do so in the future (if I'm able to of course), the critical investigation of Rilindje, becomes not one of rebirth but of the living dead.

This is an unexplored abyss for now, and it will remain as such for a while longer I suspect, or at least until we've learned to ask the right questions or think about the futurity we can expect, at least hope from its current existence and maturity. And, in case such obscure thoughts (of the living dead) persist and we're caught reading Brassier's Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction or other such confusing texts, then we might feel ready to dive in to the abyss. For now though, let's make sense of the Architectural Project of Rilindje through the clear words of Aaron Betsky and the Modern Project.

The Soundtrack of Our Lives - Second Life Replay

** These are only a few excerpts from his aforementioned book - what actually started my spiral undigested thoughts and provocations that it might be time to look at Rilindje not as a rebirth but as a forced death, as sparked by the text below when questioning the relevance of architecture as a profession. Also, what I mean to include in the Project is the strange dichotomy of the Albanian architecture: historical preservation and new construction, - both with devastating consequences of enlightenment and extinction (to borrow from Brassier). Both, with an unbearable nihilistic sensibility of being. As always, this is my reading of the Project and the text below has been taken out of its original context. To draw your own conclusions, I encourage you to read the book.
In economic terms, as Manfredo Tafuri has pointed out, architecture is losing its relevance as a profession. From client's perspective, the sole aim of architecture is to further the efficiency of industrial processes and their derivatives. For this architecture is no longer necessary; space planning, engineering and codification will do. Subsequently the whole profession is run by these considerations. The traditional role of architecture as an integrated and condensed representation of society, or a single human being, has similarly been taken over by mass media. 
What we are increasingly left with is an anti-monumental architecture, an architecture that diffuses into space planning, flexible arrangements (which can this not be easily composed), and facades that reflect this central instability. 
It is architects who "push" architecture's disappearance into mass production and engineering that manage to recreate an architecture out of the representation of its own absence. The unrealizable architecture of utopia is the last refuge of the representational and significant composition of physical resources. 
Architecture realizes itself in its own death. 
Over the last twenty-five years, numerous solutions to this problem have been proposed, countered by Tafuri's dictum that “No 'salvation' is any longer to be found within [modern architecture]: neither wandering restlessly in labyrinths of images so multivalent they end in muteness, nor enclosed in the stubborn silence of geometry content with its own perfection.” Neither the image-laden pastiches of the post-modernists, nor the self-consciously monumental reductions of the modernists can avoid the fact that their devices produce unnecessary artifacts and meaningless pieces of escapism, with one important exception: they sell the buildings. 
Its stylistic manipulations resurrect another world, removed in time and place from that of our modernized one. It creates a theatrical scene in which we can play roles more attractive than those to which we have been assigned. Architecture, in other words, sells our world to us. Architecture is an extension of advertising, but then every aspect of culture as industry has, in the end, no other function except to sell, whether specific products or their generalized context, "a way of life," a "lifestyle." 
We then find ourselves in cities where moments of order or reference are pasted onto otherwise non-significant interiors. Each of these gestures is of necessity incomplete. None of them really tells you about the building inside, or about the context: they do not condense and make visible what they are, how they are made, or what our relationship might be to them. 
At this point architecture is in retreat. Despite nostalgic attempts to reintroduce a former era in which human activity, the imposition of outside order, and built forms had a three-way relationship, we do not have an architecture in our urban environments (nor, increasingly outside of the urban/suburban configuration, either). Nostalgic objects or urban experiences only reinforce the sense of architecture as a mask, a piece of physical advertising to be used to sell a particular set of services such as food or souvenirs.