I’ve taken a step backwards in the past days in order to take two steps forward.
I’m unhappy with the pursuit of perspective for the sake of itself, hence, I felt like I needed a social/political dimension to question the validity of a certain perspective in a certain situation. However, I proceeded forward by challenging that validity in-itself, the way we, in current architectural debate, favour projects with a social/political agenda. This is present both at the AA, and in architectural culture at large. Even in the boring Swedish magazines, there is constant talk of architecture’s social dimension, ability and responsibility. This veers dangerously close to becoming a fad.
However, I feel that the question of the collective and the movement is central to my project. It was what drove the recon and it is what I want to drive me until the end of the year. I do not want to sink back into formalism, however heroic.
When I wrote my last essay for Mark Cousins, I took a risk: I stated clearly in the beginning that this was not an architectural essay – it was an essay on philosophy, with its departure point in architecture. I do not know how it was received. I don’t care. To me, this is what matters, the possibility of architecture far beyond the profession itself.
I want to take a similar risk during the last two terms of my tenure at the AA. Upon re-examining the past autumn’s blog posts, I’ve honed in on a thesis, most certainly not the final, but one which can let me hit the ground running when I return to London on the 11th.
When I left high school a decade ago, my ambition was to either become an architect, or a theoretical physicist. We know which path I took. Now the latter is returning. While I don’t really consider a career change, I am of the firm belief that we can make our careers whatever we find crucial to ourselves.
So, anyway: my statement from last year concerning the collective remains: a collective movement today must take into consideration the plurality and individualism of the past decades. It has to be more than the movements of the past. What was their fault? Simple. To prescribe ends before beginnings. An architectural movement was one in which the stylistic elements (i.e. form) remained comparable: white walls, big windows, whatever. This is not possible any longer. A new architectural rallying point has to centre on *issues*, not on *solutions.*
What are the issues facing the architectural field today? They are many, unsurveyable even. However, they, for some reason, tend to gravitate towards the socio-political issues facing the profession. It is not my ambition to become political. In fact, I believe I can carve out a position by rejecting politics, the most easy way of claiming such a position. I do not want to talk of post-Fordism, neoliberalism, or social housing. I am not saying that these do not have validity within the field, by all means, if they excite you, pursue them. But it is not my field.
Equally, as I’ve said, I do not intend to reduce architecture to formalism. I am not a parametric animal. I do not speak of a typological grammar, a diagrammatic excursion, or the dogmatism of the square. In a way, the most successful projects (in my opinion, at least) from the past few years at the AA (the one context no-one of us can escape) have been combinations of these two, in short: social awareness through organisation of form. But, I’m not interested in doing a good AA project. I’m interested in doing a project that embodies ideas that have always been and will always be relevant in my own pursuit. While it may border on egotism to claim such an allegiance, it is the one I prefer.
How do we, then, build a collective? What are our choices? If the rallying point – as a problem – is not a question of politics, nor of aesthetics (or art), what remains? This is what has occupied me.
It is physical.
I am not saying that it is the phenomenological origin or end of architecture that ought to be explored, nor that the act of building itself needs to be reclaimed from an often indifferent construction industry. With “physical” I am speaking of physics.
The future European factory already exists. It is being built, everywhere where there is social stability. It is the experimental research facility. Here we produce knowledge rather than products. If China is the material factory of the world, then Europe is its intellectual equivalent. Whole villages have been moved for the purpose of the subatomic accelerator. This is architecture. It is not yet culture, other than in sci-fi flicks.
Fundamental physical problems are the forgotten challenges of this society, which is decidedly not only European, but truly global, supra-national. It is a challenge for architecture. Just like we let the engineers build the LHC, and let the architects design its canteen, we are being left behind one of the greatest pursuits of knowledge currently in motion today.
To paraphrase Tak & Ana: can architecture contribute to this?
Can there be a project which does not have architecture as its central pursuit, but instead centres on a physical question that is then explored *through* architecture, evidently making buildings (its representation techniques as well as its spaces of production) the machines which makes knowledge? Or, in more specific terms: can an architectural project produce physical discourse? I do not know. I am still in the process of choosing a fitting problem. But physics has the merit of being incredibly clear of its problems. It is a society within a society, which is driven by all forms of shared knowledge.
I might be accused of being a technocrat rather than an architect, but it is a risk I’m willing to take. I also realise that I’m walking dangerously close to repeating my workflow of last year (splintering the production of artefacts and positions so much, that they cease to be related). That’s also a risk. I cannot tell what I will end up with, only where I begin.
(Hopefully I’ll be clearer and less verbose soon.)