Invented scenarios in studio


Patrik Schumacher, in The Architectural Review, objects to the recent flourishing of “improbable narratives”, allegories, and dystopias in British schools of architecture:

The (best?) students of the current generation as well as their teachers seem to think that the ordinary life processes of contemporary society are too boring to merit the avant-garde’s attention. Instead we witness the invention of scenarios that are supposedly more interesting than the challenges actually posed by contemporary reality.

He lists examples including an acoustic lyrical mechanism in a Bangalore quarry, a retreat for Echo from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and a sci-fi movie about rebellious worker robots in Brixton; constrasting these with “systematic research and serious design experiments”. He could have a point—some of these projects might be better if they were confronted with a few more design restrictions. And I have only slight reservations in agreeing with him when he writes:

‘Critical architecture’ commits the fallacy of trying to substitute itself for the political process proper. The result might be a provocation at best, but often ends up as nothing but naive (if not pompous) posturing.

But he goes on to say:

Architects are called upon to develop urban and architectural forms that are congenial to contemporary economic and political life. They are neither legitimised, nor competent to argue for a different politics or to ‘disagree with the consensus of global politics’.

I don’t get this. I think he’s saying that, because architects serve the existing economic and political context, they’re not capable of arguing for a different political situation. But this doesn’t follow at all: a person working within a system may be in the best possible position to criticise or modify it. (The phrase “consensus of global politics” sticks in my throat: no matter how dominant western-style consumer capitalism is, neither it nor any other system deserves the name “global politics”).

Léopold Lambert responds with an open letter:

By affirming that architects are not legitimized, nor competent to argue for a different politics, you are, in fact, calling yourself for a different regime, an aristocratic one, in which experts owning a sacred knowledge have the exclusive legitimacy to debate and rule cities and nations. Architects, to the very same extent of bakers, workers, bankers (sic), waiters, lawyers, unemployed people etc. are absolutely competent and legitimized to  argue for a different politics for the good reason that they are concerned by it as citizens and share with other the res-publica (the public thing).

In the ensuing discussion at The Funambulist, everybody’s pet hates get aired: algae farms, CG animations, parametricism, impracticality, big firms, students who become teachers without working in the industry, topicality, atopicality. See if your favourite makes an appearance.

What interests me most, however, is a particular axis around which the discussion turns: the opposition between the realistic and the fantastic. Neither the idea that bland or offensive reality needs to be made more fantastic, nor that fantastic speculations should be eschewed in favour of concrete reality, give enough credit to the strangeness and complexity of reality.





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