Another Architecture

by Mitch McEwen

  • Interviewing a French Literature Scholar about Style, Sexiness, Politeness, and Power

    Mahalia C. Gayle is from Seattle, WA. She completed her undergraduate studies at Princeton University and her graduate work at Harvard University, both in Romance Languages and Literatures with a specialization in French. She has taught at Harvard University, Boston University, Emmanuel College and Princeton University.

    Mitch McEwen: Your new book project is concerned with politeness and its relationship to aristocracy or republican identity.  As I mentioned, this may be a pertinent lens for architecture, as well.

    Mahalia Gayle: Politeness regulates proximity to the powerful body or proximity between bodies of unequal power. I thought you might mention segregation or service entrances in this connection, as they are one way in which politeness can be expressed in architecture, but I will try to answer as best I can…

    [Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye, ground flr and second flr plans, servants quarters on ground flr with garage and laundry]

    MM:  Let's talk about your work on Pierre Drieu La Rochelle.  Architecture continues to struggle with its relation to fascism.  There is a certain rejection of monumentality that happened in avant garde circles in the 1960s and 1970s that relates to this. Super Studio in Florence or Bernard Tschumi in NYC were key examples of this critique of monumentality. As far as the history of Fascism in built architecture, Albert Speer remains a complicated figure.

    [Bernard Tschumi's Advertisements for Architecture, 1976-1977]

    I am very interested in your analysis of Drieu for this reason. You write: "Drieu’s fascination with style and hatred of the democratic elite of money and university diplomas lead him to imagine a fascist elite which, through biological racism imitates the cultural racism of aristocrats."

    Can you talk more about how politeness plays into this imagination of a fascist elite?   

    MG: Yes. My work explores themes specific to France, though there are connections to fascism in other countries because some French fascists were also internationalists. When I say “republican”, I am contrasting it with “monarchic” and “aristocratic”.  


    Drieu la Rochelle hates democracy because it is not organic as the traditional elite claimed to be; they were the natural leaders of France, they owned the land, they were France. He liked the fact that they were haughty and that their status was a gift of high birth. He also dislikes democracy for aesthetic reasons. He can accept admiring a well-dressed, well-spoken, good-looking or distinguished, suave, lofty French gentleman with an evocative history of chivalrous military heroism... He doesn’t want to be equal to average people, but to extraordinary, stylish people.  The sartorial distinction of the nobles made other people look unfashionable, if not shabby. The linguistic distinction and conversational style of the noble make other men sound dull. When, in his writings, he criticizes some men of his acquaintance, it’s because they have bad style. They cannot live up to the stylishness of the traditional elite which is on its way to being replaced by businessmen who have no romantic history, no ideal higher than making money.

    MM: Also very pertinent for architecture is your distinction between style and sexiness. You write of  "The rise of the importance of sexiness..."  Say more about the distinction between style and sexiness. Where do we track it in literature? How do social mores and the performance of the polite transform from style to sexiness? Can one paradigm subsume the other - i.e. is sexiness just one mode of style?

    MG: It seems to me that with style, more than with sexiness, there is more mystery, mastery and… distance, more space for negotiation with physical realities. In France there is a move from a society in which, the exemplary, elite person takes up a lot of “space” and commands deference because of their power to a situation in which individual bodies become powerful because of how they look. In literature, you can see the change by the way that people are described in different eras, by the aspects emphasized by the describer.

    To me, style is less obscene, less aggressive than sexiness, it is more discreet. Style may be more alluring, beguiling while sexiness might be more overt. Being a good conversationalist or being well dressed is not the same as looking great while undressed, although the two can be related. What is conversation? Why do we like certain people more than others?

    Having good taste is an expression of the personality, whereas being naked or being dressed in clothes that evoke nudity focuses on the dominance a person can have because of the gifts that youth (or athleticism) gives. You can be stylish despite ageing, for example. Style is more witty, more human/voluntary than sexiness, which is more animal and more fleeting... If we take up architectural terms, sexiness might be a building with all the ornamentation on the outside.

    MM: We have been talking about social class and style.  Coming back to politeness, is there no performatively democratic role for politeness? Does politeness only operate stylistically and, in this sense, remain specifically aristocratic?

    MG: I am glad you asked. Because politeness is related to influence, feelings and preferences there is a way in which it is highly political and related to radically inegalitarian worldviews and passions. People don’t automatically change the way they actually act just because all men have been declared equal. This explains my interest in people who reject egalitarianism outright: aristocrats, fascists, and segregationists. However, inequality does not have to be vertical, it can be horizontal. In a sense, the democratic ethos aims to replace a hierarchical estimation of people with something more horizontal. As 20th century horrors have made clear, such a replacement can be hotly contested. If there is a real acceptance of the fact that people are different—and this is a big “if”-- there is definitely a democratic role for politeness.

    [Untranslatable Words in Languages other than English, v.s. Parrott's Classification by Pei-Ying Lin

    One description of politeness characterizes it as the performed love of equality in the absence of equality. It is a creative act in the face of ever-changing social realities, and we need such creativity today. In terms of style and self-fashioning, politeness is democratic because, though not everyone will fashion themselves in the same way, each person is free to perform a work on the self.

    [All images selected by Another Architecture blog]

  • Her analogous city

    In honor of Her winning best original screenplay in the Oscars last weekend, I am going to finally post this.Spike Jonze's Her is a masterpiece of a movie that lends itself to comparison to Brazil.  At least, architecturally and urbanistically, it does. One could also develop a comparison in...

  • How do architects fail?

    What is it about failure that is so seductive in art and such anathema in architecture?  Perhaps there is something about the relationship between client and architect that makes failure so…. taboo, so unthinkable, and un-seductive.For the past few months I have been part of an...

  • Detroit House Opera

    Inspired by the flexibility of uses for houses in Detroit, in proximity to the major cultural institutions for opera and diverse forms of performance, this project stages an opera as a house, the house and its dramas of occupancy and vacancy, demolition, and re-purposing, as an...

  • Mumbai Anthropocene

    This "Another Architecture" blog started as an intermittent chronicle of my architecture fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude.  I was back in New York for the summer, preparing for the next phase of my fellowship in Zagreb Croatia, when I got a call from U. of Michigan to teach the Fall...

  • Columbia GSAPP Shocker

    I can't believe Wigley is stepping down from the Dean position at Columbia GSAPP.  The Studio X infrastructure seemed to be still ramping up and ready to take over another continent.  Like Antarctica, for example. This makes me feel like I must have reached mid-career already, since I...

  • James Turrell and Robert Irwin

    This summer in New York we are having a rare dose of major works from the West coast's "Light and Space" movement.  That phrase Light and Space always makes me think first of Light and Air, that penultimate duo of Depression-era tenement reform and the 1916 New York City zoning.  The...

  • Primate is doubly digital

    This is a brief summary of Primate, the plugin that I created to integrate Leap Motion with parametric design in Grasshopper.    For me there are 3) big break-throughs that Leap enables.  1) bringing to digital processes an intuitive access to 3 dimensions.  That is very...

    Primate demo

  • Mobile office

    My residency at Akademie Schloss Solitude has ended for the moment.  I am back in New York for the summer, will be in Europe again in the fall. Here in NY my office is mobile.  I am mostly at either the main library at Bryant Park in Manhattan or at one of the Goethe Institute...

  • Istanbul, the Bosphorous, Corbusier's sketches, Rex

    How much of the history of urban design as a discipline can be traced back to Corbusier's reading of foreground and background in Istanbul? He took his first research trip abroad to Istanbul in 1911 and wrote of the relationship between the massive forms of the mosques and the repeated typology...

    Crossing Bosphorous by taxi

  • Peter Zumthor's Kunsthaus Bregenz

    It's sort of 2 and a half buildings in one.  A functional envelope that might remind one of the Eames' house, if the Eame's house were 4 stories and all glazed.  Outside of that are the overlapped panels of glass that come all the way down to the sidewalk. Inside is concrete - interior...

  • Messe Basel - when big architecture knows its neighborhood

    There is not much I could add to Herzog + de Meuron's own description of their Messeplatz Basel project, which is quoted in length here on Dezeen, along with photos.  Often in our field a project description can sound a bit like an artist statement, heavy on intent and concept, but maybe...

  • [Not Luxury] concept furniture

    [Not Luxury] concept furniture line, on view with exhibition design for chessmaster Vera Nebolsina's performance next Saturday for Lange Nacht der Museen 2013 (Long Night of the Museums) at Römerstasse 2 gallery space, Stuttgart.  The furniture is based not only on affordable recyclable...

  • Chess master visits architecture workshop

    A month ago already in this blog I mentioned a collaboration I had started with a chessmaster.  Here's a video of her visit to the workshop I led at Stuttgart's Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste.  Presented in the context of a workshop that I directed at ABK Stuttgart...

  • Write your manifesto in 60 - 80 words

    A friend of mine, a colleague who also manages a practice in Brooklyn, asked me to contribute to his collection of manifestos and influences for a presentation.  Here are the instructions, followed by my own manifesto below.  What would yours be?     (1) Write a theory...

  • Parameters of chess

    Tagged chess, grasshopper

    Photo by Vera Nebolsina, Grandmaster As I've alluded to before (Brunelleschi = BIM), I tend not to see digital design methods - such as Building Information Modeling or parametric design - as paradigmatic ruptures within architecture and its history.  The capacity of parametric modeling as a...

  • Sweating Tanks at Tate

    The Tanks at Tate Modern opened this past summer.  They are spaces dedicated to performance that also launch the next phase of the Herzog & de Meuron expansion.  As Herzog & de Meuron explain one aspect of this connection to the expansion " A row of new and inclined...

  • Ceci n'est pas un BMW

    Am I the only person who mistakenly thought Coop Himmelb(l)au had designed both the BMW Museum and the Porsche Museum?  I saw Wolf Prix present the BMW Museum project 7 or 8 years ago.  Maybe it's because some of the structural feats are similar that I got them mixed up.  (UN...

  • Brunelleschi = BIM

    Last week I had the great fortune to go to Pisa, Italy, for the first time and Florence for the second time.  I am struck by many parallels between the era of the early 14th century and our own time, more than I can go into in this brief post. I am not talking about the...

  • GIS across borders

    Is there any more concise record of globalization and its various militaristic and managerial operations than the Coordinate Reference System options in your standard GIS software?  For a project sited in Detroit, I have started building a Geographical Information Systems (GIS) map focused...

  • Learning from stinkbugs

    On November 23rd, a biologist, an economist, a media theorist, a composer and a few other academics came here to Akademie Schloss Solitude to make a symposium on RhythmAnalysis.  The title references Henri Lefebvre's Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life, but the presenters talked...

  • How to Live

    Before coming to Stuttgart I didn't know anything about the Weißenhofsiedlung (residential development curated by Mies van der Rohe in a collaboration between Deutscher Werkbund and the state).   It's a fascinating predecessor to the Case Study Houses, as well...

  • Le Corbusier or Hans Scharoun?

    1927 in Stuttgart, Germany.  I'll give the answer in my next real post.

  • Modernity and ideology

    For the past few weeks I have been thinking mostly about modernity and ideology.  We talk often in architecture about the relationship between theory and practice.  Like the opposition of public/private or political/autonomous, the duality of theory and practice feels both important and...

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About this Blog

Ongoing theory, travels, exhibitions, research, software. This blog started with research, theory topics, travel and architecture discoveries during my fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany.

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