Shane Reiner-Roth


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Simultaneity, Narrative, and Illusion

Though Clement Greenberg defines avant-garde art (or all artistically-gestural media) as “the other side of kitsch,”[1] it might be equally included that kitsch media can be described as work with gestural narrative, while avant-garde work is either non-linear or non-referential to any linear narrative at all. In Grant’s Kestor’s words, “If kitsch’s preferred mode is a viewer-friendly “realism,” then avant-garde art will be abstract, “opaque,” and “unpresentable.”[2] Using both Greenberg’s and Kestor’s words, I will compare Baldassari’s false kitsch, Inception (directed by Chris Nolen) and the false avant-garde, and Day is Done (directed by Mike Kelly) and another false kitsch. By focusing on their individual approaches to simultaneity and use of narrative, as well as their unique illusory inferences from their respective audiences, the goal of this essay will be to complicate the definitions of both avant-garde and kitsch, and either compliment their original implications or find contradictions in them by introducing the concept of illusion.

John Baldessari’s large works of the 80’s and 90’s, such as Five Yellow Divisions or Inventory, contain images on at least six canvases or frames, nearly all of which are either cropped or overlaid, and all of them appear to be from scenes of different movies or television. Again, in Five Yellow Divisions, individual frames are used to establish difference, and the yellow line which vertically connects them (at least on a perceptual level) is choppy to illustrate an artistic orchestration rather than a scene that really took place. The yellow line is used (in order) as a divider, a doorjamb, a subway pole, a threshold, and the side of a wall. These varied roles of the abstract yellow line (which is laid on top of whatever was originally in the scene) illustrate the several film techniques, now appreciably kitsch or antiquated, now being combined into one piece (or five pieces alongside each other) for study. The ten actors, now a part of this art piece, had absolutely no understanding of their subsequent duty as members of an art piece, and for this reason I will call this type of dialogue forced dialogue. The hand gestures and facial expressions that these actors made are now immortalized in this piece, and their new dialogue, as mediated by Baldessari, is set in stone.

Since the dialogical art practice can be described as a work of art which “can be viewed as kind of conversation; a locus of differing meanings, interpretations, and points of view,”[3] it can be said that there is an implied narrative between the various characters displayed in Baldessari’s work. Furthermore, the film stills provoke us, to play a trivia game, since they have all been bastardized from media of which we feel very familiar. In Hope (Blue) Supported by a Bed of Oranges (Life): Amid a Context of Allusions, there are photos which appear to be from either The Three Stooges or Abbott and Costello, a photo seemingly from Wallyworld, and others which we feel we can cite, yet most likely cannot. This is because all of the details which would give us our clear indications have been blotted out by colorful circles, in the center of either a face or any other object in the room which would give us clear information about who these people are and where these photos took place. Hope provokes us in this way, harassing our curiosity and need to nominally recognize what we see, while in itself creating multiple forced plots (the man sprawled in one scene, and punching the Wallyeworld mascot in another, for example). Therefore, while Baldessari’s work at first appears kitsch in its inclusion of film stills, which originally had a truly kitsch narrative, their combinatory aesthetics creates a narrative or dialogue which is in reality “abstract, opaque, and unpresentable,” better known as “avant-garde.” Baldessari’s work gives the illusion of kitsch, but in subjectivity, opaqueness, and obscurity, can only in analysis be considered an avant-garde made up of kitsch items.

While much of his work involves dialogue exchanged between people or objects on separate frames, his work within the series Kissing Series: Simone Palm Trees, for example, creates a forced dialogue between a woman and a palm tree, enacted by a perceptual misconception, entirely with the one frame. Unlike the other in this narrative approach, the woman in the photo is not “forced” into this dialogue; she’s been to be a part of this scene, though the palm tree hasn’t; it is merely a piece of scenery within the environment. While most photographers choreograph their scenes with either every object within the scene accounted for and fabricated by the artist or with the characters and the scenery exchanging as little dialogue as possible, Baldessari has chosen to have half or fewer of the members of his scenes “give consent” in being a member of these works of art. If “the interactions that are central to these [dialogical] projects all require some provisional discursive frame through which the various participants can exchange insights and observations,”[4] then Baldessari’s work can hardly be considered within the dialogical category. Again, there is the illusion of objective narrative, and therefore kitsch, but the reality of it’s being avant-garde makes the art critic curious about the limits of the avant-garde.

Media on the other side of the spectrum, the commercial motion picture business, must, for box office revenue and mass appeal, illustrate a tight and rigidly structured narrative. Therefore, to follow Greenberg’s definition, virtually all commercial motion pictures, with the sole attempt of achieving mass appeal and revenue, can be considered kitsch. Following this logic, it seems difficult to call Inception, what Mark Fennell calls “the cleverest, most original use of a Blockbuster budget we’ve seen in years,”[5] a work of kitsch. However, when referring to a grand motion picture, while sometimes hard to follow, an entirely simultaneous script still is entirely gestural.

Christopher Hawthorne, LA Times critic, writes about Inception, “If there’s one way in which Nolan is obsessed with breaking new ground, it’s with the film’s dizzying narrative structure. In the second half of the movie, Nolan work feverishly to keep aloft an unbelievably complex story, which ultimately fold four differences scenes into a single breathless sequence.”[6] And since there is no such thing as free will in cinema, there is likewise no such thing as forced dialogue. In Inception, the four scenes occurring simultaneously are weaved together to structurally make sense, and no one can be seen as separate from the rest. Simultaneity, here, is presented strictly as narrative, if only to be immediately intelligible to the viewer. Unlike Baldsassari’s frames, Inception’s several scenes narratively (and occasionally even physically), effect each other, in a way that has to structurally make sense when put together by the viewer. Baldassari’s work, on the other hand, is tied loosely enough together for a viewer to have a continuously fluctuating perception of it. Both Inception and Baldassari’s work have scenes which can be defined in isolation, but only in Baldassari’s work can two or three canvases be considered the piece of study while the others are momentarily cast aside. More importantly, this inability to isolate scenes in Inception reveals a hidden kitsch within a widely agreed upon avant-garde.

To illustrate that the means of a kitsch item being masked as the avant-garde are not merely something which always exists in filmic media, the use of simultaneity in Mike Kelly’s Day is Done will be examined. When hearing that this film is over three hours, a tight and growing narrative seems crucial; and so the viewer attempts, throughout watching the film, to create a larger narrative out of the individual scenes which make enough sense within themselves. In an interview, discussing the inspiration for the work, Kelly remarked, “I [worked] with these particular groups of images and developed a kind of pseudo-narrative flow.”[7] To establish a relationship with narrative (a very disingenuous one) reveals a desire to mask the avant-garde as kitsch. While the avant-garde has typically appeared comfortable within the avant-garde, artists like John Baldassari and Mike Kelly have chosen to mask the avant-garde as kitsch, to criticize those suspecting that what is truly kitsch is also that which deserves little thought.

Simultaneity and narrative, in these three media, typify the use of illusion as a means of transgressing from either kitsch to the avant-garde, or the avant-garde to the kitsch.

[1] Clement Greenberg, ‘Avant-Garde and Kitsch’, Art in Theory (1900-1990)

[2] Grant Kester, Conversation Pieces, Theory and Contemporary Art since 1985

[3] Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogical Imagination, 1975

[4] Grant Kester, Conversation Pieces, Theory and Contemporary Art since 1985


[6] Christopher Hawthorne, Grand Dreams Indeed, LA Times, August 3rd, 2010




Written by differance

September 18, 2010 at 1:10 AM

Posted in art

The World Trade Center Proposals and the Activation of the Event-Site

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A life which does not give the preference to

any other life, of any previous period, which

therefore prefers its own existence, can in

all seriousness be called decadent.”1

–  Jose Ortega y Gasset

Inevitably, most of the buildings that don the skyline are analogous to the life Ortega y Gasset describes for that which is not decadent. Most buildings, through their creator’s indulgent self-interest, negate their site’s history in favor of their own vision of contemporaneity. They in essence smooth out the dirt, start anew, and stand tall as if nothing happened. The consideration and solution to this fact is found in Heidegger’s writing, which soon led to critical regionalism as coined by Alexander Tzonis. Spectacularly, if not unwittingly, the search for a new plan for the World Trade Center site and the competition that followed not only adopted, in part, critical regionalism’s paradigm, but also made the need for critical regionalism shockingly clear to a public audience. The cultural need to recognize the site both anew and awash in history became evident in that instance of extreme historical tension. While in this analysis I am replacing geographical history, traditionally the generator of critical regionalist architecture, with cultural or architectural history, the claim that the World Trade Center Competition phase was a grand and public display of critical regionalism is hard to deny. However, the opposition to this statement would lie in the fact that while most of the proposals were generated by site analysis and data, they all neglected to actually build on the site in question, choosing instead to demarcate it or subtract from it. As Robert A. Ivy wrote, “The erasure of the World Trade center demanded an answer: what should replace it?”2 Since all of the proposals reveal insecurity, and, say, cowardice, by building near or around the site, rather than creating a dialogue between the old and the new, none of them can give a straight response to Ivy’s concern. The subject of this essay, then, will be a select number of proposals that either illustrate this point, appear as the need to build completely anew, and everything in between.

The proposal by Michael Arad and Peter Walker, entitled Reflected Absence, is essentially an underground memorial. Accessible via a ramp on the side of the site, the memorial is a large empty space, in which the only light sources derive from the large gaping squares that designate the sites of the two towers. The main elements, which equally appear as two austere canyons without vertical continuity, indicate only a subtraction from the sacred squares, for there is literally no matter which replaces what used to stand in those sites. Certainly, there is a lot of material added along the perimeter of the two squares, yet because there is nothing physical in the sites themselves, the removal of the elements as they existed in their sites deny their general yet significant function of “letting-be.” As Heidegger writes, “Because all modes of human behavior are, each in its own way, overt and always relate to that which they must, it follows that the restraint of “letting things be,” i.e. freedom, must necessarily have given man an inner directive to approximate his ideas to what-is at any moment…”3 In other words, Arad and Walker’s proposal, by neither adding nor letting-be, they did not follow any “inner directive” to create something specific to the site, since their proposal was to leave as little material effacement on the specific sites as possible.

The proposal by United Architects similarly treats the sites of the WTC towers subtractively. The building that constitutes the design strategy keeps a safe distance from the two squares, as the squares themselves are leveled and painted stark white. No doubt, there would be a daily maintenance crew surveying and cleaning these white squares, leaving as much history behind as possible. Interestingly, while the treatment of the sites appears respectful to those sites’ history, the white squares are essentially flat buildings, representing themselves just as much as a new building totally ignoring the sites’ history would. In other words, to reference Heidegger, this proposal appears to activate the “letting-be” of the site, yet falls short in its own self-referential non-history. Just like Arad and Walker’s proposal, United Architects attempt to erase all information from the sacred squares, and while the former proposal suggests creating an implied void, the latter proposes a perceptual void.

This is a curious strategy that both proposals attempt for it can easily imply the terrorists’ success, since it was their aspiration to destroy the image of the WTC towers. These proposals, in analysis, could appear to be sympathetic to their cause, because they equally reduce the towers’ existence to voids. The true implications of these voids, of course, is clearly the respect given to the history of these sites and the refusal to add anything that could hardly appear comparably sacred, yet there should be proposals which dare to add to the revered sites in a grand statement of overcoming. To take a Heideggerian stance, the proposal, as to act either observant or triumphant, should either practice “letting-be” or a dialogue between the old and the new. As Neil Leach writes, “For Heidegger a building should be on an of the soil, of the location on which it is built. He illustrates this with the example of a Greek temple, which sits so naturally within its setting it is as though it has been ‘brought forth’ by its setting.”4 If one were to suggest that Heidegger’s suggested critical regionalism is both respectful and triumphant (or, in other words, reflective of both history or contemporaneity), then the weakness laden in these two proposals, at least, becomes apparent.

Since, as has been said before, the site of the World Trade Center had been flattened for construction long ago, there was no opportunity for any of the architects to take a strictly Heideggerian approach to the competition. As Norberg Schulz writes, “On the urban level we find structures which are mostly determined by man’s activities, that is, by his interaction with a manmade environment. On this level, therefore, the basic form is what could be called ‘our place.’”5 Therefore, rather than base their proposals on the fundamental, timeless nature of the site, a few architects, in the spirit of critical regionalism, chose instead to purely base their designs on the data received from the day of the event, 9/11. Eric Owen Moss, for instance, proposed the “maintenance of a series of four shadows within a sunken stone park. Two shadows represent the impacts of the planes, and two the collapse of the towers.”6 In a similar vain, Raimund Abraham proposed a monument to the times relevant to the event, rather than the actual buildings that occupied the site. In his words, “Central to my proposal are the times of the attacks and the collapse of the towers – 8:46, 9:02, 9:59, and 10:28 A.M. – which are commemorated by three monolithic concrete slabs. They offer no habitable space, but are bisected at angles that are oriented to the morning sun as a natural memorial to the events of September 11, 2001.”7

Do these proposals acknowledge the genius loci of the site? Since this would evidently be the aspiration of these proposals, in their respect of the site and its tragic event, it would be beneficial to compare their attempt to appeal to genius loci with the writer most affiliated with the term, Christian Norberg-Schulz. Norberg Schulz writes that a building which demonstrates genius loci is one which “demonstrates human understanding of nature and self by translating that understanding onto built form.”8 These two proposals utilize the data of the event symbolically, yet they also make physical what could never have been seen, and therefore not acknowledged: Moss’ proposal highlights the arbitrary positions of the shadows of the two towers at the time of both their impacts and their collapses, and Abraham’s proposal captures the sunlight accompanying the times of the event. While it is arguable that these proposals reflect a desire to bridge a gap between the proposal, the sun, the spectators, and the revered, or, as Heidegger put it, “The Fourfold,”9 these figures cannot both be physically actualized and perceptually impactful, for they are in actuality arbitrary times only made significant by the event made sacred. Further still, the shadows of the buildings and the specific time of day went largely ignored when the actual event took place. These proposals, close to a Heideggerian approach to the site, fall short of critical regionalism. While they perform a similar function to the bridge in Heidegger’s example by “gather[ing] to itself in its own way earth and sky, divinities and mortals,”10 they intrude on the site’s presence, and therefore, unlike Heidegger’s bridge, which “lets the stream run its course and at the same time grants their way to mortals so that they may come and go from shore to shore,”11 these proposals do not rest comfortably on their site, nor do they allow for perceptual or physical opposition if one so chooses to entertain an opposition. What’s more, they stand in objectivity, and therefore are not successful in “protecting and conserving the genius loci, which means interpreting [the site] in ever new ways.”12

We have thus far examined proposals that lie in an imperfect relation with either Heidegger’s philosophy of “letting-be,” his equally respectful yet opposite philosophy of “the Greek temple in the soil,” and the “fourfold.” In the myriad of proposals, there are few that come close to executing a Heideggerian stance to the site. There is one in recollection, however, which appears to demonstrate several Heideggerian concepts without contradiction: Freedom Tower. Its conception, as orchestrated by Daniel Libeskind, was at first derived from a rational understanding: “Their destruction, along with the ruin and damage to surrounding buildings and the transportation infrastructure, has been crippling to New York’s economy, not to mention the basic comfort of those working, living, and visiting downtown. But in urbanistic terms, the superblock on which the Twin Towers sat had done much to damage the interconnection between the various streets around the towers, isolating the area from the smaller-grained texture of lower Manhattan. Now that reconstruction was needed, the opportunity presented itself to correct urbanistic problems.”13 This approach to the site can be compared to another one addressed in a separate press review: “The great slurry wall is the most dramatic element which survived the attack, an engineering wonder constructed on bedrock foundations and designed to hold back the Hudson River. The foundations withstood the unimaginable trauma of the destruction and stand as eloquent as the Constitution itself asserting the durability of Democracy and the value of individual life.”14 Along with this statement, Libeskind proposed that the sites of the Twin Towers be minimally cleaned and exhibited as they are. This respect for the site can be used to exemplify another one of Heidegger’s view towards “letting-be.” Heidegger writes, “We usually talk of “letting be” when, for instance, we stand off from some undertaking we have planned. “We let it be” means: not touching it again, not having anything more to do with it. “Letting be” here has the negative sense of disregarding something, renouncing something, of indifference and even neglect. “letting-be,” does not, however, refer to indifference and neglect, but to the very opposite of them. To let something be is in fact to have something to do with it. To let what-is be what it is means participating in something overt and its overtness, in which everything that “is” takes up its position and which entails such overtness.”15 In other words, Libeskind’s decision to keep the slurry walls intact is unlike all other proposals in that it genuinely does not add or subtract to the site, and for this reason it is letting the site be, without any contemporary architectural imposition or self-indulgent design. By letting the slurry walls be, Libeskind’s proposal is participating in the “overtness” of the site, and the approach is arguably more dramatic than any other proposal, in its sheer and brutal honesty. In one of his proposals, the tip of Freedom tower beams a light upward at 8:46, 9:02, 9:59, and 10:28 A.M. every day, and in so doing recollect Heidegger’s fourfold, in the symbolic dialogue exchanged between the Earth and the Sky. In another proposal, as he writes, 
”Those who were lost have become heroes. To commemorate those lost lives, I created two large public places, the Park of Heroes and the Wedge of Light. Each year on September 11th between the hours of 8:46 a.m., when the first airplane hit, and 10:28 a.m., when the second tower collapsed, the sun will shine without shadow, in perpetual tribute to altruism and courage.”16 These two appropriations of the significant times of the event are dissimilar to that of most of the others, since their activations are both alarming and noticeably significant, unlike the static monuments Moss and Abraham proposed. However, Libeskind’s design falls short of being critically regionalist by making several vague references to elements that represent Americanism (For example, “the glass-clad tower’s asymmetrical form would have alluded structurally to the nearby Statue of Liberty. In particular, the offset spire rising 400ft above the tower would have mirrored the statue’s raised Torch of Freedom.”17 More famously, freedom tower was designed to be 1,776 feet tall, which is, in my opinion, a childish tribute to Americanism).

It is admittedly difficult to choose a Heideggerian approach to such a significant site, yet it is equally appropriate to look to him for guidance in such a cautious situation. But the most difficult task, in actuality, is to demonstrate an architectural proposal for the World Trade Center site that would thoroughly satisfy and be in accord with all of Heidegger’s writing. Therefore, all one can do is consider which of all of the proposals comes closest, yet inevitably so far, to proposing not just a critically regionalist skyscraper, but one which can be acclaimed as ‘Heideggerian.’ The research of this analysis indicates that Libeskind’s proposal is the closest, though there are several concepts which could have either been initiated or appropriated differently. One square could have been used for “letting-be,” while the other one could have taken cues from Heidegger’s “Greek temple in the soil.” It could have been this duality which reflected the complexity of not only Heidegger’s writings, but the complexity of the response and physical manifestation of sensitivity necessary for such a significant event.


1 Jose Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses 1936, p. 35

2 Robert A. Ivy, Imagining Ground Zero 2004, p. 10

3 Martin Heidegger, Existence and Being 1949, p. 306

4 Neil Leach, What is Architecture 2002, p. 88

5 Christian Norberg-Schulz, Existence, Space and Architecture 1971, p. 29

6 Eric Owen Moss, Imagining Ground Zero 2004, p. 151

7 Raimund Abraham, ibid, p. 155

8 Christian Norberg Schulz, Genius Loci 1980, p. 17

9 Martin Heidegger, Building Dwelling Thinking 1971, p. 3

10 Ibid, p. 5

11 Ibid.

12 Christian Norberg-Schulz, Genius Loci 1980, p. 18

13 Daniel Libeskind, Imagining Ground Zero 2004, p. 26


15 Martin Heidegger, Existence and Being 1949, p. 306


17 Ibid.

Written by differance

August 17, 2010 at 6:57 AM

Application, representation, and speculation

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For this is the age of experimentation, and

we have not yet learned to read its protocols.

–Avital Ronell

The integrity of ‘the architect’ – artistic, but not decorative; intense, but not in control of another source – has led to the skepticism laden in this question regarding the control and series of decisions the architect either chooses to make or is forced to accept in reference to his product: architecture. In order to approach this question, that being whether architecture can ever be or has ever been appreciated as science, it is important to distinguish between three contemporary practices which dominate not only our skylines, but our journals of architectural theory as well: applicative architecture, representative architecture, and speculative architecture. Through this discernment, it is the aim of this analysis to describe the contrasting educations, strategies, inspirations, desires, and research methods of the practitioners of these two occupations.

The former approach, applicative architecture, takes as its source a selected and exclusive number of fields outside that of architecture. The most common examples of this selective process include engineering, geometry, art, and, most recently, ecological biology. Applicative architecture directly applies information from its inspirations, and in the case of sustainable architecture, is adapted as thoroughly from ecology biology (and the related sciences) as the budget and constraints see fit. Ecological biologists directly inform the work of famous sustainable architects such as Glenn Murcott and Norman Foster, and it is important to note that over half of the features that are informed by the ecological biologist are not even visually present in the finished architecture.

Granted, over time, there has developed a sustainable vernacular (generally involving sheet metal, bamboo, corrugated edifices, singularly angled roofs, etc.), yet there has never yet been a visual demonstration of a grey water cooling system, and perhaps there never will be. This feature, among many others, is hidden, and its concealment reveals a unique and contemporary characteristic of the architect’s; this is the work of a new type of architect, one that does not mind focusing on the designs that will never be seen nor appreciated. Sometime in the future, a building can be sustainable, and no one will be the wiser. Applicative architecture is generally the work of those who are coincidentally well trained in other fields, so that their architectural product is the unmediated manifestation of their understanding in their separate field of knowledge. Much like a traditional science experiment, sustainable architecture acts as the product and elaboration of a thoroughly researched study based on preexistent facts and observations.

The second type of approach, representative architecture, like applicative architecture, articulates concepts and information from other subjects or fields, yet its appraisal of the information from these other subjects is entirely different. The fields from which these concepts grasp are varied and, at times, nonsensical. These include philosophy, literature, astronomy, NASA, indigenous tribes, and, for the purpose of the question posed for this essay, science. Where applicative architects use the most miniscule information science has to offer, representative architects are much more interested in the aspects of science which are grand, controversial, and the fodder of epic science fiction: evolution, bifurcation, DNA, organic structures, etc. From these striking scientific discoveries, representative architects become indirectly informed, allowing for an artistic and unbounded creativity. They might use these concepts as metaphors, allusions, aesthetics, programmatic diagramming, and any other sort of product in respect to their inspiration.

There is no particular type of science of scientist that informs a representative architect, nor is there dialogue shared between the scientist and architect within this forum. Science is appreciated on a grand and general scale for representative architects, such as Greg Lynn and Francois Roche. Within this exchange of dialogue, scientists work independently from architects, as architects take information from scientists, along with any other field with information that proves potentially stirring.

Because the concepts from which these representative architects manipulate are organically or microscopically based, the only way to represent these concepts as physical entities is through the illusion of organicism. Because aesthetics and programmatic irregularities are prized in representative architecture, this approach to architecture mirrors not the traditional scientific experiment, but rather the work of a plastic surgeon, for instance, whose occupation is to artificially and inorganically recreate or mimic body parts, with the aspiration of immediate response or presentation of these phenomena. Therefore, representative architecture is vastly different from applicative architecture, for while the latter has no need to visually present the information granted from science, the former cannot stand without it.

The third approach to architecture, speculative architecture, is much like the first approach, in that it attempts to elaborate upon a formal experiment or hypothesis, yet it is more like the latter, in that it does not require nor appreciate the complexity of scientific knowledge nor the exchange of information among other speculative architects or scientists. Speculative architects are not informed by scientists or scientific research, but rather they create their own hypotheses and articulate them either through aesthetical or programmatic criteria. In other words, they are one part applicative, and one part representative. This type of architecture is generally based on perceptual hypotheses (usually focused on parallax, kinesthetic differences, chaos, etc.) and the practitioners are almost always self-informed.

The practitioners of this type of architecture, notably including Peter Eisenman and Jean Nouvel, for example, generally go on to write about the conceptual strategies and hypotheses of these words after they are built. Though it has not famously been practiced, scientists could technically research the effects or accuracy of these architectural hypotheses, since the overreaching concepts these speculative architects elaborate upon have not themselves been researched extensively or publicly within the field of science. Therefore, unlike the other two, speculative architecture can directly inform the work of scientists, though the reciprocal is not possible.

It is significant to note that it is only in the first approach that the architect encourages other architects to apply the same information or research to their buildings that they themselves discovered or initiated: applicative architecture is all inclusive. It is for this reason why I would include applicable architecture as a science, according to Thagard’s description. Thagard distinguishes between sciences and ‘Cargo Cult Sciences,’ and in this discernment it becomes clear that applicative architecture would be considered a science, while representative architecture and speculative science would be considered cargo cult sciences. To clarify, Thagard defines a Cargo Cult Science as a practice that refuses “to report everything that one would think might make it invalid – not only what one would think is right about it.” In other words, the pseudo-scientist, through making broad-sweeping statements, is able to create ‘personal’ data without the need for scientific communal dialogue. Therefore, the conceited nature of the latter two approaches to architecture would clearly get considered as Cargo Cult Sciences to Thagard. Meanwhile, applicative architecture, according to Thagard’s model (which mirrors Kuhn’s as well) would be considered a science, if only because they are more interested in accurate and beneficial results than in conveniency, and because they exchange constant dialogue with people within the ecological and architectural fields to back up their work, unlike representative and speculative architectural discourse, in which the practitioners are not interested in their work being tested out by other architects.

However, to reiterate, while we cannot consider speculate architecture a science, it is interesting to note that the work of the speculative architect is technically beneficial for the scientist to research and perfect. But in this analysis, it has become the case that representative architecture, unlike the other two, is left out of the scientific conversation, for it is neither directly informed by scientists, nor is it informative to scientists. This neglect might lead to representative architecture’s gradual demise, and the future of architecture might glorify applicative architecture and speculative architecture.


Written by differance

August 6, 2010 at 7:29 AM

Posted in science

Aside #3

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Excerpt from the book ((P(ass)ive)(ociations)) :

All of contemporary life’s efforts seem to dwindle down to what it alone finds essential: the pragmatic, or practical. Beauty appears as a valid practice if it has, at some point, a commodifiable purpose. Apparently, beauty today needs a purpose, let alone a profitable one. Beauty, the purest of acts, the most natural of instances, suddenly needs a purpose.

Theory, much like beauty, does not have a ‘reason’ for being. But while a true beauty is finalized and perfected, a true theory is never completed. As it ages, it is continuously speculated: soon to be hampered by synthesis and other aggregates. Throughout the process of theoretical discourse, there is no such thing as being satisfied (If you are an architect that has never built anything due to a refusal to compromise your theory, then congratulations. If you are an architect that has somehow been able to build without compromising, then I suggest you constantly question the outcome). There is only, as a technicality, a last page to a book on theory.

Pragmatism, as the economy’s sole stimulator, imposes itself forcefully on the other two societal forces: beauty and theory. While the two were hanging out in their mom’s basement, both doing their jobs just fine, pragmatism swiftly put hardhats on the two, and they were each told to make a living: Beauty was told to be attractive, and theory was told to be practical. It is this new, falsely assigned occupation of theory that might arguably define the ‘post-critical’ era in which we currently live.

This book aims to be neither practical nor attractive.

When mapped out, this book is amorphous. When drawn out, it is speculative.

Critical theory (that is, pre-post-critical theory) had all of its breakthroughs hermetically sealed in its own practice and cultural sphere. Outside of this sphere, it is callously mocked and misunderstood.

“We need two cultural theorists, quick!” – a joke made by such a person outside of the critical theory sphere. The joke suggests that a cultural theorist, when he is not putting out fires or fixing a toilet, is simply of no use. He is, as Mel Brooks might suggest, a ‘bullshit artist.’

A contemporary artist’s work is not considered worthwhile unless it does something for the viewer; architecture isn’t considered valuable unless it is built and used occasionally.

What must get across is that while the theorists’ art is of no immediate purpose, it is very valuable to the sphere of critical theory, and no other. While its study might appear as useless as that of a disappearing Hopi tribes’, it must be understood that its sphere is an evidently impenetrable bubble.

As many fields as this book may cover, this book will not be brought down like a wandering balloon to cure autism. This book contains no information on how to deal with your teenage daughter. It will not be useful to read this if you are a politician looking for answers. This book is, for better or worse, only of interest (not of use) to those within the aforementioned sphere. Sorry to not burst your bubble.


Written by differance

July 24, 2010 at 7:55 AM

Posted in critical theory

Compulsions: Philosophical Inclusion versus Architectural Autonomy in the Aspiration of Utopia

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While the true definition of a Utopia is much stricter than the way I have personally identified it for the purposes of this essay, I view that this misnomer is necessary to discern a fundamental difference between the discourse of philosophy and that of a closely trailing architecture. For while it appears as though both philosophical and architectural discourses are similar in their most radical states as idealistic, they contrast greatly in their treatment towards their respective “readers” or followers. The discernment lies primarily in their contrasting faiths in their readers’ ability to discover their environments ‘anew,’ either after reading the philosopher’s text, or after experiencing the architect’s building or urban plan. The former has a faith in the citizen as a social agent, while the latter only has a faith in their building as the construct of a social agenda. Guy Debord’s most architectural statement, Naked City, will be discussed in contrast to Constant Nieuwenhuys’ New Babylon and Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin.

Guy Debord created a map for Parisians to carry with them, called ‘The Naked City.’ To describe its intent, Alison Sant writes:

“In reaction to the rational city models embraced by Parisian postwar planners in the 1950s, he [Debord] and his colleagues co-opted the map of Paris, reconfiguring the experience of the city through its authority. [25] By manipulating the map itself, they intervened in the logic of the city, constructing an alternative geography that favored the marginalized, and often threatened, spaces of the urban grid. Torn from their geographical context, these areas were woven together by arrows inspired by the itineraries of the drift or “dérive.” These “psychogeographic” maps proposed a fragmented, subjective, and temporal experience of the city as opposed to the seemingly omnipotent perspective of the planimetric map. As mapping is used as a tactic to bring together personal narratives about urban space, the Situationist maps provide a useful example of visualizing a subjective view of the city.”[i]

It is important to note that the directions given on the map, described as dérives (derivatives), were abstracted to the point at which they could not be accurately or objectively followed. General maps, even those without directional arrows, illustrate the single most efficient route between any two locations through unbiased cartography, and in so doing represent authority, clarity, and singularity of method. Debord’s map, on the other hand, is authoritative only to the point of proposing the plurality of perception. The big red arrows suggest bold movements within the city, but it is clear that the specific dérives one might take should be purely intuitive and not informed by Debord. Essentially, Debord believed that Utopia could exist within the formerly existing city, while the perception of that city must change.

Le Corbusier, thirty years prior, proposed to bulldoze most of central Paris north of the Seine, and replace it with sixty-story cruciform towers, placed in an orthogonal street grid and park-like green space. The ability to perform dérives within the Plan Voisin would be impossible. And while this ability was viewed as needless for Corbusier, his contemporaries scorned the prospect of a proposal with so much architectural authority. So while Debord proposed to keep the city intact but not its general perception, Corbusier proposed to construct a new city entirely, and once built and inhabited, its general perception would go unchanged.

Constant Nieuwenhuys’ New Babylon is the synthesis of Debord’s Situationist philosophy and Le Corbusier’s architectural tendency to build anew. In reviewing the contemporary state of Metropolitan cities, Constant believed that

“The layout of neighborhoods, old and new, conflicts with established patterns of behavior and even more with the new ways of life that we are seeking. The result is a dismal and sterile ambience in our surroundings.”[ii]

In response to his understanding of the contemporary city, Constant envisioned a new city on land never before built upon: New Babylon. As Mark Wigley writes,

“New Babylon envisages a society of total automation in which the need to work is replaced with a nomadic life of creative play, in which traditional architecture has disintegrated along with the social institutions that it propped up. A vast network of enormous multilevel interior spaces propagates to eventually cover the planet. These interconnected “sectors” float above the ground on tall columns. While vehicular traffic rushes underneath and air traffic lands on the roof, the inhabitants drift by foot through the huge labyrinthine interiors, endlessly reconstructing the atmospheres of the spaces.”[iii]

The inhabitants of New Babylon would be the transplanted youth of Paris, willing to endure the shock of a radical new urban layout.

But while the appearance of New Babylon is not one of architectural authority, its physical presence, if it were built, would be treated, with time, with the same level of oppression that any intent-driven design would. No matter how many alternative routes the design of New Babylon would have offered its citizens, the number of these routes would be operationally and programmatically finite. In other words, New Babylon maps out the advisable dérives for the citizen, rather than letting him decide it for himself. New Babylon is different than the Plan Voisin in its intent of construction in opposition of reconstruction, yet it is unfortunately also different than the Naked City in its objectivity; an admittedly inevitable product of an architectural proposal, rather than an ideological one.

Though these radical proposals are only three examples of many, they exemplify the grave difference between the inclusive proposals of the philosopher and the autonomous projects of the architect.

Most visions of Utopia have at their heart intent to leave the city and start a new one in formally uninhabited terrain, most commonly a desert. This indicates a loss of faith in popular society, so that while the new autonomous Utopia can have its own unique history, the rest of general society will grow and advance without it. But while most philosophers believe that their writing can make a change in general society if read widely enough, architects tend to side with the Utopians formally mentioned, and therefore favor autonomy; or, in other words, their buildings against the world.

It seems impossible to find the solution to this problem, yet it is most logically in recognition of context and the attitude of inclusion. For while most conceptually built architecture appears hermetically sealed, where the inside is presented as perfectly executed while the outside is viewed as bleak and ignorant, this philosophical faith in the citizen as a social agent, rather than the customer (or victim) of a social agenda, in the guise of an architect might be the way to include the participant in the discussion of a perfect metropolitan society.


[i] Intelligent agent vol. 6 no. 2 interactive city. Redefining the Basemap.

[ii] Internationale Situationniste #3. Another City for Another Life.

[iii] Wigley, Mark. 1998. New Babylon. The Hyper-architecture of Desire. 010 Uitgeverij.

Written by differance

July 18, 2010 at 4:37 AM