pragmatists turning political?


Have you guys seen in the last Volume (17) the text on "Politics of the Envelope", by Alejandro Zaera-Polo? I thought that these guys did not give a damn about politics, but here there is something new: the former pragmatists seem to be turning towards politics! Not sure whether he is totally convincing but it is certainly something new going on. My American friends tell me that he is rumored to teach this stuff in Princeton soon.

Has anyone heard about this?

Nov 30, 08 1:01 pm

I think a lot of formerly form-obsessed architects are going to start becoming 'political' because they sense that that is where the zeitgeist is headed and because form for form's sake is not going to sell for a couple of years. They are just chasing trends, there is no real belief or conviction behind it.

And before I get the predictable disses of being a 'hater", let me just say that I truly believe that the Yokohama Ferry Terminal by FOA is one of the exceedingly rare successful and interesting buildings built anywhere in the past god knows how many years.

Nov 30, 08 3:28 pm  · 

"I think a lot of formerly form-obsessed architects are going to start becoming 'political' because they sense that that is where the zeitgeist is headed and because form for form's sake is not going to sell for a couple of years."

@odb - agreed, and I can't decide whether it's a good thing or a bad thing that this shift is taking place. Is it better to admit that things have changed, or to stick with your guns? Either position can come from an authentic place, or a disingenuous one.

What gets me frustrated is the underlying assumption that all this stuff has to be either/or - why can't we talk about Form and Politics at the same time? I would hate to see people all the sudden acting like form doesn't matter or is uninteresting just because the credit markets have tanked.

* cough * Sam Jacobs * cough *

Nov 30, 08 10:14 pm  · 

maybe before they were afraid to talk about it. that says a lot about trend setter types ain't it?

Dec 1, 08 2:10 am  · 

i recently read a berlage institute (rotterdam) newsletter and i can't recall whether "politics of the envelope" was a lecture or a studio being taught there. you may find out more on their website.

Dec 1, 08 4:05 am  · 

and on the same vein as 765, i believe architecture CAN be political, but doesn't necessarily mean it MUST be political.

Dec 1, 08 4:12 am  · 

Zaera-Polo seems to have published it also in Log 13/14, nearly at the same time as Volume 17. Looks as some sort of well planned trend setting strategy. If you look at the Berlage website, there have been already a few events about this subject going on for some time, and apparently there he did a lecture series on the subject as early as April 2006 at Columbia. And now there are the rumours about Princeton. This definitely looks rather like a well-planned trend-setting strategy!
But the stuff is quite interesting. It was about time that someone tried to theorise across the mindless form-makers and the clumsy political correct. Although he does not seem to like the PC that much!

Dec 1, 08 5:21 pm  · 

"Tomorrow's visitors to today's (or yesterday's) iconic buildings will feel the swoosh of volumes, the cranked-out impossibility of structure, the lightheadedness of refraction and translucencies. They will marvel at buildings that hardly touch the ground, which swoop into the air as though drawn up by the jet stream. They will feel stretched by elongated angles that suck into vanishing points and confound perspective, and be seduced by curves of such overblown sensuality. And in this litany of effects, they will find the most permanent record of the heady, liquid state of mind of millennial abstract-boom economics. We might rechristen these freakish sites as museums of late capitalist experience, monuments to our quaint faith in the global markets.[/q]

i thought this paragraph was more apt at describing the current state of our economy?

it's funny to watch movies hitting theaters now, they're so yesterday in terms of current states of affairs, that they render the stories almost quaint by comparison to the today of today.

case in point; the new Fast and Furious - coming out next summer - has its nearly laughable plot - the theft of some "train" of gas tanker truck - the stated value of almost 1.4 million dollars, but is that in early to mid 2008 dollars or late 2008 dollars? i laughed my ass off, it seemed so Dr. Evil. so, how does an industry that prides itself on moving with some speed, move quicker than the economies of scale we are witnessing now?

how does architecture move that quickly or does it need to slow down?

Dec 1, 08 5:39 pm  · 
Cacaphonous Approval Bot

do you really think that zaera-polo's having been thinking and publishing consistently on a topic for a few years is an example of well-timed trendspotting?
really really?
who are "these guys"
mark wigley?
what makes them pragmatists?
a pragmatist is a form-maker? and thus apolitical?
i dunno bout all dis, buddy . . .

Dec 2, 08 9:59 am  · 

see the lecture for yourself:


Dec 2, 08 12:17 pm  · 
Carl Douglas (agfa8x)

having watched the lecture at the berlage's website, i'm looking forward to reading the paper in log or volume. i like the micro-political approach zaera-polo is taking.

(and some of you guys are really cynical: occams razor would suggest that this is just what FOA have been thinking about recently, rather than some orchestrated starchitect pr campaign)

Dec 2, 08 1:11 pm  · 

I coudn't think of anyone more different to Zaera-Polo than Mark Wigley. In fact, have you noticed, in the epilogue in the Volume version, that he is having a go at Reinhold Martin, Wigley's protegee? Wigley and Martin are rather within the ranks of the critical, which is the other gang, if anything.
What is interesting is that this is an attempt to take the political ground from the critical, into the field of the pragmatic.

Dec 2, 08 6:43 pm  · 

"and some of you guys are really cynical:"

I think some cynicism or at least some skepticism is warranted and not a bad thing, considering the vapid excess of much of the field in the last decade.

Dec 2, 08 7:13 pm  · 
Carl Douglas (agfa8x)

but the presumption of bad faith goes well past skepticism.

Dec 2, 08 7:39 pm  · 

It's funny that you use the term "bad faith" in your post, it made me think of this this recent post by Lebbeus Woods that I completely f-ing *love*...titled "Bad Faith"! It says a lot of what I am thinking but am unfortunately too inarticulate to express. And I wouldn't say that I assume bad faith on the part of a lot of architects (whether they are big names or not), but I do assume a high level of willful ignorance of anything outside their pet issue of the moment. Especially any acknowledgement of a greater society and its needs and problems, ...because that's not sexy enough to bother thinking about too much. And most of society can't afford to commission architecture so why contemplate those people. Except now, because the credit markets have dried up.

So now "political" looks poised to join "green" as just some more jargon to bat around and suck free of any meaning while we wait for money to start flowing again. And I think some heavy contemplation and exploration of the political impact and possibilities of architecture, some *real* thought, could be genuinely transformative for the profession. And it doesn't have to be some war between so-called PC good-for-you-but-boring work and flashy envelope pushing formal experimentation. The either/or game is self serving, tired and gets nowhere.

I really must read this essay, but I am not getting my hopes up.

Dec 2, 08 8:37 pm  · 

right on odb, the LW piece is great! i was thinking we helped build this Tower of Babel, it's only fair it comes crashing around our feet.

a professor once told me, kill your heroes, only it never occurred to me he might have meant it literally...

Dec 2, 08 9:13 pm  · 
Carl Douglas (agfa8x)

odb, what possible warrant could you have for assuming that ZP is only into politics for expediency's sake, and that his thought about the political implications of his work doesn't qualify as 'real' thought?

Dec 2, 08 9:33 pm  · 

I'm not aiming it at ZP directly, like I said in a previous post, I admire some of his work. I'm just suspicious of what I sense will be a move towards politics in the coming couple of years, and what's really behind it, and what will happen with and within that move. I confess to some cynicism, but again, I don't know if that's such a bad thing or unjustified. And like I said, I have to read the essay and I really want to.

I've just seen some big name architects dismiss green sustainable architecture as a 'phase', up and coming architects that are linked with computation and scripting suddenly anoint themselves as worthy of discussion on 'landscape architecture", and so on. Trend chasing is obviously huge in architecture and the jury is out on whether this is a trend or whether there is some meat behind it.

Also, there have been some architects that have been addressing this issue for much longer than ZP, but their images aren't seductive enough (or even exist) and their academic and media connections aren't strong enough to get a lot of attention.

I actually want to see if ZP's aesthetic and process change at all in face of this new interest-I think that will be telling.

Dec 2, 08 9:52 pm  · 

i haven't watch the whole lecture video. but somewhere in the beginning he says they were not involved in politics and they were not (decidedly) political.
why now? does he explain that later? sorry for trying to cut the corners here, it's the economy my bad.;.)

Dec 3, 08 12:33 am  · 

I listened to most of the lecture while doing other work. Interesting, and likely even fruitful, typological analysis in terms of forms and how they may relate to programs and usage, but there remains the hint of force-fit and an even horizontal shift from 'iconic' analysis/design to 'political' analysis/design. As to this work's place within the continuum, I like how this is now being reenacted.

Dec 3, 08 8:00 am  · 

Thanks dot. Hadn't seen the lecture yet. The text is much more academic and maybe less clear that the discourse in respect to Zaera-Polo's work. I thought the lecture was really good. I have not seen anybody looking at his own work with this level of consistency and theoretical ambition for a long time. Not since Greg Lynn statements on dynamic form.
I thought that what he is now claiming is that he always was political, of a certain sort, and that this sort will form the new forms of politics.

Dec 3, 08 6:00 pm  · 

Across the globe a lot of architects have a micro-political approach, but their clients don't ask them to spend time writing down their insights into the relationship between form and politics. I imagine in the case of ZP the push to get the first buildings built around the world meant this kind of ambitious analysis was bound to be put in second place. Anyone spindoctoring their identity especially in the credit crunch is going to get found out, but the point about ZP is that he's now analysing something he's been immersed in for years and has clearly got to the stage where he's built up a critical mass of thoughts. I recall that he always had this critical ability from his early days interviewing other architects about their motives. Political concerns are in the ascendency and have been for a while - Betsky's Venice this year spotlit some of the best social activists in architecture (in the Italia Padiglione, while Bill Menking devoted the US pavilion to an American selection), while the aimlessness of the art-architecture installations in the Arsenale only served to underline the social focus of these practitioners for whom form for form's sake is not a motivation. The aura of architectural autonomy (if it was ever more than a fantasy) is fading (doesn't mean buildings don't stop being formally innovative), and what's good and timely about ZP's analysis too is his attempt to link architectural technologies and politics and frame it in the context of globalisation's incessant multi-pronged impacts on urbanisation. Earlier critiques of urban development went for theme parks, others more recently denounce malls and gated communities and their swallowing of public space in cities. ZP looks at the political implications of all evolving typologies from a formal point of view. Fertile territory..

Dec 16, 08 4:20 pm  · 

No question that the most interesting stuff in the Biennale was the politically driven, Tony Cruz and all these guys. But that was not very difficult considering that everything else was crap!
The question is whether they are playing the smart politics, whether the micro-political approach is gonna take them somewhere other than to do installations and exhibitions. There is Cruz, Menkins, R. Martin, maybe Easterling in the US, reading Empire like mad. In Europe there is Eyal Weizman and the Goldsmith crowd... Cirujeda in Spain; maybe Aureli in Berlage, but he is hardly micropolitical. Maybe Boeri and Obrist and Bouman/Inaba acting as sort of editors of a new European critical movement... I thought that was where new things were gonna come, and yet, they have not managed to get out of the scholarships, academic debates, magazines and art installations... Perhaps Cruz is the only one who is becoming effective at actually producing some effective change. But I am alredy growing impatient with them.
ZP's bet is intriguing, coming from a practitioner who has often defended complicity with the clients and is involved in the hard core of practice. His return to the politics within a conventional architect's role (the explorations of the other guys are more directly about changing the rol of the architect in respect to the public, the client, the profession, the economy...) where there are still commissions, fees, sales etc, but from a different angle is intriguing, although I still do not see what way is he driving if right or left? Or maybe it does not matter anymore, that is what ZP seems to be saying. But don't we need some political direction, allignment?

Dec 17, 08 6:10 pm  · 

Yes, I meant Teddy Cruz, and all the people Bill Menking selected who are all building new facilities, and furthermore architects taking a micro-political approach like Alejandro Aravena and Urban Think Tank who are also building and whose political direction is driven by their desire to improve social conditions and facilities.

Dec 18, 08 4:21 am  · 
more Olivetti reenacted
Dec 23, 08 2:32 pm  · 

That is what Zaera-Polo would call a mix of flat-horizontal and flat vertical. Funnily enough the H&dM is in Madrid, where ZP just resigned from a sphere-like building, allegedly for lack of adequate funding, in what seems to have turned into a sort of political mess. This is the same city where Mansilla+Tunon are doing a huge coin-like convention centre for the city government. What is the association between the circle and Madrid, and why public buildings are tending towards flat-vertical envelopes?



Dec 23, 08 7:11 pm  · 

Btw Prof. Aplomb, can you expand on the meaning of "re-enactionary" as a political ideology? That's an interesting term in the light of my concern about lack of clear political directions in the discourse of ZP, for better or worse...

Dec 23, 08 7:29 pm  · 

albatrose, I'm using "reenactionary" more in terms of how ZP's designs 'reenact' the mat/slab/blob paradigm of Le Corbusier's Electronic Calculation Center Olivetti at Rho-Milan. Although intrigued by ZP's 'new politics of the envelope' I'm not sure 'politics' is the right word to describe what it's really about, but it might just be right.

ZP notes how in the past it was in the plan where 'politics' was found, whereas he now see the politics in the envelope, and there seems to be something to that. Just recently I looked closely at the plan of the Palace of Versailles (when I was also reading ZP's essay in Log), and besides the political implication of the King's Bedroom on axis in the center, the similarity in plan of the Chapel and the Opera off to the side respectively got me thinking not just of their relative marginal positions, but how both plans represent 'theaters'. Anyway, if ZP's politics of the envelope can operate/communicate in the same type of way, it seems that would make for a novel/fecund design methodology.

I want to read the essay again because the political content there didn't seem to relate enough to the architectural. I might not be fully understanding it though. Do you have any more specific thoughts?

Dec 23, 08 8:29 pm  · 

make that mat/box/blob paradigm

Dec 23, 08 8:37 pm  · 

"Instead of a revolutionary architecture, an architecture of explicitation would imply more complex political directionalities as it transforms the space and the material organization of the built environment, even if those transformations cannot be inscribed in a holistic political program. For architecture to express the domestication of density and high-rise life through specific massing strategies in tall buildings, to convey that tendencies in the articulation of the building envelope capture the new political affects, to communicate that certain manipulations of the ground and the roof indicate the politicization of nature, or to explain the breakdown of the correlation between interior and exterior and private and public, are legitimate poltical performances."

That is what I assume to be the jist of the so-called general theory of the building envelope as expressed within 'The Political Agency of Dimension' within "The Politics of the Envelope".

Because I see all this relating to Le Corbusier's late Olivetti project first, I looked again at UnStudio's Intermural Centre (project, 1994) as presented within the "Effects" book of MOVE (1999), since this project too reenacts the Le Corbusier paradigm. And then, as I looked through the rest of MOVE, I began to see that the 'envelope' was already often taken into a kind of 4th dimension, a kind of hyper-politicization. Somewhat ironically, UnStudio's proposal for the Yokohama Port Terminal already portends what ZP is now espousing.

Although now going on ten years old, MOVE is still very timely. There are even projects vis-a-vis icons.

[The above is just a broad outline of connected not-so-random thoughts. I hope to pursue a further analysis of the "politics of the envelope" through the inclusion of UnStudio's precursive work.]

Dec 24, 08 10:12 am  · 
chatter of clouds

i'm generalizing here but i've found UNStudio's work to be much more inscribed within a "holistic program" than that of, or professed by, AZP's and therefore more aligned to the traditional "unpolitical" (if AZP's "politics", as shown in the quote above, was a medium of (and created by) subverting polarities (i.e. traditions)) architectural habit of a "holistic" gestalt. actually, their work, UNStudio's, is quite romantic (and this is besides their equally romantic (though in another vein) rhetoric (a hyper-modernist one that leaped from the an obsession with the modernist machine to one with the hyper-modernist language of machine) espousing a de-subjectification that silently rose above a self-martyred/sacrificed subjectivity. and what seems to be this cold stainless-steely rhetoric of objectivity is underlined by the most basic and romantic instinct of religious masochism. isn't this what love is? anyway, the intention of this rash dash here is just to note the two different romantic tides, one implicit and verbalized (AZP's quote) and the other explicit and architectural (UNStudio's architecture).

Dec 25, 08 3:52 am  · 
chatter of clouds

and also to note that even if UNStudio aligns rhetorically itself with AZP, this is not to say that it does so architecturally. there is something crueler and more abrupt, emotionally disconnecting, about AZP's architecture whereas UNStudio graces its architecture with continuity,loopness and self completion...a more traditional architectural habit. but yes, generalizing.

Dec 25, 08 3:58 am  · 

Merry Xsmas...
I think the excerpt you select is pretty synthetic of the approach. I guess you are looking at the Log version... Have you seen the Volume one with the more detailed description of the envelope categories? I also like very much you re-enactionary tag, but I do not know why are you refering to UnStudio as an example of hyper-politicisation. But I am interested in the discussion, because they are also part of the blobby-pragmatic paradigm (like ZP himself) but I have never felt they were politically driven. But maybe that is precisely the point. Now I am interested in finding what is hyper-political in this sort of work. Otherwise is good to say that architecture is political, but, what kind of politics are being played in those projects? Can we still talk about left and right, or conservative and progressive? Or do we need to invent a new frame of reference for the political? How does this position relate to the work of Teddy Cruz, Menkins, R. Martin, Easterling , Weizman, Cirujeda and the more politically explicit crowd... Who is more progressive or more advanced?
Latour and Sloterdijk, the philosophers ZP quotes constantly have been accused often of political ambiguity, by the way...

Dec 25, 08 4:07 am  · 

noctilucent, our posts nearly crossed paths. I think the point you are making is really interesting, and the kind of discussion I was hoping we can get in. What AZP seems to be pointing at is that there is a political charge embedded in architectural decisions, and the building envelope is a concrete example of convergence between multiple faces of politics that can act as a field of experimentation with a sort of architectural politics that are not simply representing power. From this perspective the sometimes simplistic retrieval of Utopia, community based, socially conscious, activist architecture that some of the openly political architects I refered to earlier is only reproducing a certain form of status quo. So far so good. The question is whether what AZP is proposing may be challenging anything either.
That is where I believe the comparison between AZP's work and UnStudio is very relevant to the discussion, as it points at how specific traits of the work may or not problematise politics. In this sense, I would think that UnStudio's smoothness is less conducive to an an architecture of explicitation, as it tends to erase frictions, which AZP's less holistic, less gestalt driven, process-based, "abrupt and emotionally disconnecting" work tends to intensify. Remember Brecht's "estrangement effect", the movilisation of certain techniques to avoid a cathartic experience. While alienated emotionally from the action and the characters, the audience would be empowered on an intellectual level both to analyze and perhaps to try to change the world, which was Brecht's social and political goal as a playwright and the driving force behind his dramaturgy.
In this sense, I do not see the romanticism in AZP's own work, nor a particularly strong level of explicitation in UnStudio's. It would be interesting to extend this discussion to the work of other people from their generation: what about Greg Lynn's introduction of the coarseness of the CNC drilling head in the aesthetics of the smooth? And what about MVRDV's extrapolation of normative protocols revealing contradictions in the regulatory framework of contemporary architecture?
I think there is an incredibly rich debate to have here which may actually lay down an alternative political discussion which seem to be pointed at in AZP's text on the envelope.

Dec 25, 08 6:54 am  · 

I think you all (and FOA, etc.) are still playing the form game of reading objects, but just reading them politically instead of formally. If you're depending on reading then it's all up for grabs and still subject to the same old manipulation and misdirection.

This strikes me as a red herring and a dead end. The key to any explicitly political architecture is to evaluate how it operates, not what it looks like. The distraction here is in the two ways that architects use the word 'process'. We've got to distinguish between formal operations and operational form: the one process unfolds in the imaginary zero time of the designers composition, the other unfolds in real time and changes conditions in the world.

Dec 25, 08 11:34 am  · 
chatter of clouds

I did not posit a formal vs a programmatic.form is operative. And my view on UNstudio work derives from the seamless continuity and intended tautology between form and effect. I also think u completely missed the points being made in favour of a ready made formally suspicious stance that actually encourages the very rift between form and effect that ur rhetoric is suspicious of . I do agree however that politics discussed
here is a sensorial politics, a politics,of aesthetics, a negotiation of form rather than people and hence my noting of "politics" in its AZP take.
Which shortcircuits back to my point about the romantic foundation of the obsession with the desubjectifying hyper modern language. As u see, u choose to read less than that which is available and ur generalizing blanket criticism does no justice to the variety of voices.

Dec 25, 08 4:37 pm  · 
chatter of clouds

The above is in response to sevensixfive.

Dec 25, 08 4:45 pm  · 
"UNstudio work derives from the seamless continuity and intended tautology between form and effect"

What does this mean? Without a lot more explanation and footnotes, I am lost.

Dec 25, 08 5:22 pm  · 
chatter of clouds

Furthermore, the above noted rift between form and effect underlying sevensixfive's rationale exorcises architecture off itself, one asks it to outdo itself. Is craftsmanship a political effect, the domino column order, symmetry? Their significance, or lack thereof as 765 would have us believe is on par with that of the envelope. Deriving from 765 reasoning, no. But this viewpoint dismisses the uses of such techniques to both symbolically reflect a society's omnipresence within itself and actively, effectively, create itself. Both an iteration and a reiteration, presentation and representation. Aesthetics is indeed political. And how appropriate that art and architecture movements are supremely political lobbying bodies. Politics squared.

Dec 25, 08 5:45 pm  · 

instead of:
And then, as I looked through the rest of MOVE, I began to see that the 'envelope' was already often taken into a kind of 4th dimension, a kind of hyper-politicization.

I should have written:
And then, as I looked through the rest of MOVE, I began to see that the 'envelope' was already often taken into a kind of 4th dimension, a kind of hyper-envelope.

Yet, when AZP writes "or to explain the breakdown of the correlation between interior and exterior and private and public, are legitimate poltical performances," it only seems fair to include UnStudio's work.

I mentioned UnStudio's Yokohama terminal project because "the organizing principle of the terminal is the structural association of architecture to infrastructure and landscape; garden-like voids are absorbed into the architecture and then proceed to transform it" and one of the section drawings calls out a 'climatic facade system'. Further reading reveals some strangeness, however. "This design-by-section represents one of our first, incomplete, experiments with 4-D architecture. The building itself was never designed, but 30 sections were worked out, after which 3-D Studio was used to fill in what was left." "Finally a photo-shopped skin was wrapped around the resulting composition in order to simulate the appearance of a building." Politics of the envelope indeed?

from Webster's Third International Dictionary:
politics 1 a : the art or science of government : a science dealing with the regulation and control of men living in society (as nations or states) in both internal and external affairs : the art of adjusting and ordering relationships between individuals and groups in a political community

Electronic Calculation Center Olivetti at Rho-Milan
The huge development is divided into three construction stages:
First stage: main entrance with restaurants, library and other social facilities, then the first sguare workshop block measuring 350 ft. x 350 ft. Above this block are ten storeys of research laboratories.
The assembly shops are at ground level. The entrances, however, are located at roof level. By means of an entrance ramp the employees reach the connecting corridors which lead to the three [amoebae]-shaped locker and washroom blocks. One enters the various shops at ground level by means of stairways.
The workrooms receive well-distributed daylight from above; there is also a plantation on the roof and a sprinkler system which provides cooling during hot weather.

Again AZP: "...certain manipulations of the ground and the roof indicate the politicization of nature."

[I'm still just collecting...]

Dec 25, 08 6:05 pm  · 

@noctilucent - Form and aesthetics and effect (yes, I'm deliberately linking them here, whether that's valid or not is maybe another discussion), these do not have deterministic relationships with politics. They may have a political origin, and they certainly have political uses, but only when they're put inside larger stories. These stories are fluid, changeable, and rarely determined by the architect, except to get the job and finish it.

Architects get played to the extent that they try to have a political conversation using aesthetics, we're no good at it. Think of Gaudi and all of the Catalan/Catholic rhetoric behind his imagery, he never realized that he was getting the job for the novelty of his effects, not for their political origins. Whenever he proposed something like a 40 ft. tall statue of the virgin on top of Casa Mila, he was humored and politely told to go away.

Another, maybe too easy, example is Zaha's original interest in radical soviet aesthetics, and years down the line socialist art becomes culture for sale in the Gulf and China.

Another: Lebbeus' Free Zones get picked up by Terry Gilliam and remade as a space for mind control in 12 monkeys. The same instrument that Lebbeus described as a tool for looking outward and studying the world gets turned inward on the subject as a torture instrument.

Which is all not to argue for a disengagement with politics, art that comes from a position of autonomy seems to get readapted faster than anything. This is just to say that form for the sake of a political effect is a red herring. And I'm not arguing for 'programmatic' form here either, that's just another dead end, setting up that tired old form vs. function straw man argument.

Dec 26, 08 9:56 am  · 

Totally noctilucent.
I think that the blanket criticism of 765 is of the same kind that divides between "politically conscious" work and "formal experimentation", and flattens out the differences between, for example, UnStudio, GLform, RUR, MVRDV and FOA in terms of political attitude and performance. We owe to Aplomb the introduction of this discussion, and I think to find political differences between work that has been close enough for them to work together as United Architects, would be an important discussion to have now that there is a new "politically conscious" generation which is discarding that kind of work as formalist and politically incorrect.
Moreover, if we limit our performance to a matter of evaluation, we will turn the practice into an utterly conservative activity, as we will have to elliminate experimentation from the menu. The interest about AZP's text is precisely that it proposes a hypothesis of experimentation. We do not know yet whether it will fly or not, and, frankly, I have my doubts about some of the proposals, which may also be a result of a high dose of cynicism, a la Sloterdijk. But on the whole I find the idea very compelling: a truly ambitious research program.
And talking about program, I do not think we should confuse here the program/form debate. This is not about operativity, but specifically about a political operativity, about identifying political potentials within a concrete building area: the envelope. It is about form, program, property, security, sustainability, energy, iconography, construction... Program can be also organised in a conservative or progressive mode, just like an envelope may be designed with a certain political bias. And unless we become capable to identify these political performances in our designs, we will be condemned to irrelevance. Unless political activists are correct and the only way to practice politically progressive architecture is to work for NGOs, charities, social services, leftist governments, self-organised communities etc... Which is fair enough, but it represents a marginal amount of the stuff that gets build. That's where AZP's question becomes crucial: do we want to have an input into the real? And, if so, how can we start performing politics through design?

Dec 26, 08 10:53 am  · 

Should this thread be moved to the Politics section? I considered it when I started but I thought the discussion there was too much about hard core politics, and I was originally interested in somebody being able to confirm if this will happen in Princeton or not.
With hindsight perhaps I should have posted it in Politics...

Dec 26, 08 10:59 am  · 
chatter of clouds

all this discloses is the outcome of different political contestations; no one is arguing that any one creative political worldview will prevail or that it will be able to carry itself through unperverted and intact across a field of complex interplay between other worldviews. furthermore, each of those transformations, perversions, record reactions to contextual impingements and mutations. it would be silly to assume that a manifesto exists in an absolute space of its own conviction. however, the created object is entangled in politics: intended and enforced. in discussing the architecture's politics (and not necessarily the architect's politics), i don't think any of the posts here, so far, have claimed that the architect architecturalizes the future. as i said, you are asking so much of architecture that you render it into what it is not. your point merely exists in another discussion thread. and anyway, i can also cite, contra your examples, the more likes of ruskin and lethaby who greatly contributed to the british aversion to architectural modernism in its infancy affected the british built environment and its attitudes to come. it all depends on the context and the manner by which the architect explicitly and implicitly maneuvers within it....and so:

there is , in my opinion, the implicit politics (of the work and the aesthetic..and there might be a plurality of such politics) and the explicit as voiced by the artist. this distinction i have also made mention of in my previous reply (and again, i think you have only read what you wanted to read). the explicit and the implicit might not coincide. for example, it is my opinion that although UNStudio aligned itself with Lynn - which was an explicit political move par excellence- their work however discloses moves away from Lynn gratuitous formal tentativity (a fetishized geometric hesitancy). i can even read an implicit explicit move against Lynn: if Lynn were not Lynn, i'm sure Ben van Berkal's statement on the Staedelschule website could easily name Lynn's work as an instance of work BVB this case of Lynn, the implicit fails the explicit. another case: Beethoven intended for his symphony to be titled Bonaparte but then removed the title in disdain once bonaparte made himself an emperor. this is an explicit move, but the unorthodox working and of the symphony in its display of musical range (epically correlating the heroic with the suffering) helped signal the beginnings of a new musical, cultural, mental and political age of romanticism. in this case it is the explicit (napoleon) that failed the implicit.

this explains, i hope, why i see you as having missed points made in the AZP-related tangent. perhaps i have not taken enough care to make this clear enough, but i am, for the moment, a scatter-brain.

Dec 26, 08 11:45 am  · 

It could've been in politics, I doubt many people pay attention to the topic categories here anyway.

albatross - Yeah, I admit I'm more about the harder core disciplinary autonomy end of form-making, and I also admit to being pretty skeptical about postcriticality in general. So maybe conflating it all is a bit too easy, but that's where I'm coming from.

I'm not assuming that anybody's acting in bad faith here - see the first comment I left in this thread. In the lecture, AZP does come across as someone who's genuinely interested in a lot of different things at once. He explicitly says at the start that it's an expansion for him, and that this is research in progress. The worst thing anybody could say is that, given the way he's using the word 'envelope', he's just rediscovering typology.

What I'm trying to point out is that the most political act here is this reframing of past work, and the retuning of a discourse to address a new audience. That's politics, that's more political than anything that Turkish shopping is doing, and that's the sort of politics that architects could get involved with more, because like I said, we're in general pretty lousy at it.

Dec 26, 08 11:46 am  · 

BTW - speaking of FOA and politics: does anybody remember when their website said something like this:

"If you are seeking an internship, please address all correspondence to 'My Beloved Masters, Foreign Office Architects, London, etc.'"

Since taken down.

Dec 26, 08 11:51 am  · 
chatter of clouds

again, my previous post in response to 765

i'm not ignoring your posts for i read them. however, i can't seem to tackle them at the moment (the scatter brain thing). i find adversarially addressing a post easier ( i follow a more defined route) on my scatter-brain. shall try to interact later. in the meantime, an indian grey skinned santa in an airconditioned mall in a an x-desert terrain must insist to the 70% -or so -arab moslems of the mall's visitors that it is a merry christmas. he probably is being payed some amount of dirhams per ho-ho-ho.

Dec 26, 08 11:57 am  · 

[more collecting...]

AZP from the berlage lecture
top: flat horizontal, permeable, social mobility, handling flows, movement

UnStudio, Yokohama Port Terminal, 1994

I'm wondering whether a hyper-envelope can deliver a hyper-politicization.

some coincidental reading from earlier this morning...
"Vico's own approach to this new science was by way of a new theory of knowledge. The first clear trace of this appears in his inaugural oration of 1708 comparing ancient and modern methods of study. The moderns have instituted great improvements in the physical sciences, but have unduly depreciated those studies whose matter depends on the human will and therefore involves vicissitude and probability--languages, poetry, eloquence, history, jurisprudence, politics."

AZP's language does slide easily (to other projects), and that is because much of it is at base a typological analysis.

albatross, I am reading from AZP's Log essay and have to review the Berlage lecture more thoroughly. I'll look at Volume after the New Year.

AZP's language also slides easily from (historical) formal analysis to prescriptive methodology.

Dec 26, 08 12:37 pm  · 

funny you mention the thing of the masters and the slaves in the previous FOA website. This is the kind of thing that I see as deeply political in AZP's work. The recognition and publication that in a certain sector of this business there is slave work and submission to the clients is a statement that is "kynic" in the best Sloterdijk's tradition. You will never see that level of irony in Foster's or OMA's or Zaha's or Holl's website, while their offices are probably better examples of these practices than FOA's. This is precisely the sort of coarseness, nastiness and ironic estrangement that makes me believe that AZP interest in politics is genuine. There is nothing smooth about this and in fact, it worries me that once they started growing, the irony dissappeared. That is bowing to the pressures of the market, not the announcement of the master/slave dynamic.
I agree with you that the reframing of the past work is very interesting. I am surprised they did not publish their work under this scope yet, as I believe this would become a very interesting reading.
Anyway I am trying to stir some controversy here about the subject, as, like noctilucent, I also find easier to adversarially answer posts. I wish we could try to set up a more polemical debate by taking positions about AZP's statement, about the post-criticals vs. neo-criticals, about post-criticals vs postcriticals, like Aplomb and noctilucent have done, and try to come up with some conclusions on the proposals. One of the interesting things about AZP's text is that it outlines a field that bridges across them and therefore makes possible a rational confrontation rather than a radical negation of each other.
noctilucent, from your post I gather you accepted the job in the middle east... I admire your courage and appreciate your posts enormously despite your alleged scatterbrain. Let me try to prod you on something: I believe that Lynn's work is actually much more rigorous and therefore "ugly", that BvB's smooth convergence of form and effect, and therefore potentially much closer to the model of explicitation that AZP is putting forward. By no means "a gratuitous formal tentativity and a fetishized geometric hesitancy"

Dec 26, 08 12:51 pm  · 
what do the architects think of this?

i think it is a massacre.

Dec 28, 08 11:07 pm  · 

It is certainly a massacre. The question is, beyond condemning it or voting against it, or perhaps volunteering to work there, what can we do about these issues as architects? The Israel-Palestine conflict is very much a matter of borders, of envelopes. There are people out there who believe the construction of the wall was necessary to avoid worsening of the problems; there are people who think the wall construction was a disaster. Is there a different geometry of the wall which could have been more capable to incorporate flow across both parts of the territory? Is there a different type of wall that could actually become eventually permeable, enabling the osmosis between both sides? That is what an architect could do to resolve these problems which are ultimately problems of the envelope, as AZP mentioned in the lecture at the BI.
Look at the work that Eyal Weizman did on the construction of the wall between both countries. Sandy Hilal, Alessandro Petti and Lieven De Cauter have been working on this again at the Berlage Institute recently and I think Eyal was also involved. Now this is certaily an interesting type of work, openly political. But, unfortunately, beyond making people conscious, it remains confined to the academia, or the arts and culture funding, with little real impact on the ground.
The point is, do we committ ourselves to simply create a critical discourse, politically engaged, or can we actually incorporate those questions in the practice itself, on a more integral level. The relationship between architecture and politics is not dissimilar to the continuities that Clausewitz described between war and diplomacy.
You can not be only a warrior or a diplomat only!

Dec 29, 08 4:48 am  · 

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