Seismic Shift: The Anonymous Architect.

In an economy of personalities (ego exchange) pertinent architecture (architecture which is relevant to actual social needs) must give ground (take second place) to an endless repetition of the same (the same old same old). Biomimetics, no less than Non-linearity –Chaos theory- or Emergence, offer themselves from a position significantly removed from the centre of architectural pertinence (are not architectural). For a long time the formalist approaches to architectural production (playing with form for no reason) have fixed on metaphorical points of departure (cooking as architecture, gardening as architecture, dance as architecture, nature as architecture, science as architecture etc.), extraneous  to (outside of) the core terms of the subject (but never architecture as architecture). Currently natural metaphors predominate, (nature as architecture) but they have succeeded abstract metaphors such as fragmentation, dynamic equilibrium (fine art as architecture) and deconstruction (philosophy as architecture). Indeed a syncopation (one thing alternating with another) of ‘opposing styles’ (not really styles at all, more like mating displays) seems to dominate the shop of architectural design like so much prêt-à-porter (off the peg junk) straining for difference, at all costs, in order to animate (beat into life) the empty summer shelves (press column inches) of so many fashion outlets (self image of the architect).

The question of what is properly architectural, (actual architecture and not some metaphor) brutally invades this fog of misapprehension (causes a bit of a problem). To all contemporary effort (stuff we are doing today), which sees itself as legitimate (takes itself seriously), that which is recognized as properly architectural (actual architecture and not some metaphor) must surely keep the history of architecture in mind (use the lessons of architecture). And more than this (in addition); such an effort, in order to maintain some points of contact with (be relevant to) its diachronic context (stuff that goes back in time, i.e. the history of architecture), not to say social veracity (appropriateness to human social need), must keep life (that which we all do every day) in mind. Keeping life in mind (everyday life), however, may well find the history of architecture, interpreted through dissimulating metaphors (cooking as architecture, gardening as architecture, dance as architecture, nature as architecture, science as architecture etc.), quite uninteresting (hey, turn on the t.v.) to a point of irrelevance (self indulgent crap).

Antoine-Chrysostome Quatremère de Quincy (1755 – 1849) (a very famous foreigner and historical figure, with a funny name, who said something fundamental about architecture) in the “The Historical Dictionary of Architecture”, published in Paris in 1832, makes the following assertions;

“In every country, the orderly art of building was born from a pre-existing seed (the way architecture is done came from some origin in every country on earth). Everything must have an antecedent (for things to be around they must have come from something); nothing whatsoever comes from nothing, and this cannot but (this must) apply to all human inventions (everything you want to do including architecture). We observe also how all inventions (stuff you create), in spite of subsequent changes (things changing in time), have conserved their elementary principle (kept a resemblance of their origin in form) in a manner that is always visible (you can see where they came from), and always evident to feeling and reason (to human consciousness). This elementary principle is like a sort of nucleus (a memory) around which are assembled, and with which are consequently coordinated (written about by historians), all the developments  and the variations of form to which the object was susceptible (the changes which the object could go though in order to reflect the social demands upon it). Thus did a thousand things of all sorts reach us (lots of stuff, including architecture, is like this); and in order to understand their reasons (why they are like they are), one of the principal occupations of science and philosophy (different aspects of thinking about the world) is to search for their origin (where and when they came from) and primitive cause (what brought them into being). This is what ought to be called type (things that can be ranked and collected into categories) in architecture as in every other area of human invention and institution.”  

de Quincy makes a structural point (something vital to  holding up the argument like a column or a foundation would hold up a building) concerning the grammar of architectural formalism (key relationships in the composition of forms). Today any history of types (types of architectural composition of plans or elevations or urban massing etc.) no longer restrains the adventures of contemporary architectural formalism (architects today don’t give a damn about a history of types, just play with their metaphors), hence the extension of a structural link to the nature of transforming types has been broken (stuff which was well formed in the past has no link to the practice of architecture today) and with it, all links to an architecture of life (architecture becomes increasingly remote from everyday life). Nothing whatsoever comes from nothing, (nothing comes from nothing) but neither by extension (implied by the last statement) can nuance (stuff that is new) be squeezed from vague formal associations (from metaphors that don’t relate directly to the stuff of architecture). Architecture is replete with (full of) an intrinsic history, sui generis(of its own kind) which is served badly(screwed around) by those who would have it be (some metaphor which has nothing to do with the stuff of architecture itself such as) biology no less than astrophysics, mathematics, climatology, geology, ecology or psychology. What is at stake of course, (what matters here) is the serial re-presentations of the self through architectural means (the public presentation of architecture is about personality). This pays little heed to (doesn’t give a toss about) the generic performance of the discipline as a whole (how architecture does its job for society), as an effort in totality (thinking about everything as a whole), in the service of feeling and reason (for the good of humanity), hence the city as an inclusive concept, (as an idea which includes social and cultural differences) aligned to notions of social oeuvre (a history of the city which is meaningful to its current inhabitants), is in disarray (is nonsense).

Architecture has all but forgotten the city (architects can’t design cities anymore); all but forgotten the prescient (already known about) necessity of a transformation of historical types (the stuff which allows a reading of the city to establish a continuity of social identity through time), replacing both with a conglomeration of moments (unrelated and often contradictory works of architecture conceived in isolation), forged extraneously (in an irrelevant context) though tribal references (with reference to the obsessions of other architects and not to architecture as an historical discipline) and irrelevant metaphors (my architecture is a myxomycetic fungus).

A seismic shift may well beckon. The fissures (cracks) of disruption (stuff that disrupts things) are all too clear to see (obvious). Should such a shift emerge, (suddenly happen) perhaps from sheer nostalgia (dreaming of cool stuff that happened in the past) for an architecture of life rather than of self (an architecture dedicated to real social outcomes rather than furthering a career or making money), then its theatre of engagement (where it has do its stuff) must surely be academic (happen in universities and in books). From this position (consequently) academics (teachers and writers) would do well to remember (read up on)  de Quincy’s determinations (important stuff that he said about architecture and type) and re-establish an intrinsic discipline (the principles of architecture) based on learning (stuff you read about) and critical enquiry (having your own say) concerning the city as master narrative (the storey of the city in history). This would require a plan (a means of organization), the generator (ironic play on a well known remark by Le Corbusier), in which the propositions of architecture (proposals for the way architecture ought to be) as a human achievement (really good stuff we do), as oeuvre (a total history of stuff achieved), as totality (understood from the point of view of everyone not just those in power), could be kept in play (be available to architects who are trying to design parts of cities), rather than dismissed by every ludic (playing, non-serious) generation who find themselves, as they do now (today), within a lexicon (an extended list) of random tales (arbitrary ideas)….

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, (arbitrary drivel)

Signifying nothing. (full of crap)


And if the self styled hero architect of the moment (guy dressed in black talking about the S.I. whilst working for the corporation) would object to a demand for his anonymity (stop running after recognition and do something real) and in the face of the social city (people who really do need a better environment), he should appraise (have a look at) these few fetid (smelly) lines from Shelly and remember history whilst holding his nose.

I met a traveler from an antique land

(I met a bloke who travelled a lot)

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

(told me a storey about these legs of a giant statue)

Stand in the desert.

(in a desert somewhere)

Near them, on the sand,

(next to them in the sand)

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown

(a half buried frowning face)

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command

(which looked a bit miserable and threatening)

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

(but really well done)

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

(and in pretty good nic.)

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.

(but powerful)

And on the pedestal these words appear:

(there was some writing on its base)

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

(the name of some big king)

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair! “

(and some guff about him being the greatest)

Nothing beside remains.

(But there’s nothing there. Its all gone)

Round the decay

(only a pile of old stones)

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

(scattered in a desert)

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

(what a waste of time)


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