It is often suggested that architecture is more "real" than the other arts, more grounded and definitive. Yet even the most fundamental and concrete elements of architecture are often designed to conceal. This issue of Perspecta—the oldest and most distinguished student-edited architectural journal in America—embraces the paradoxical nature of the real, presenting it as a lens that magnifies the strategies and tactics of architecture, past, present, and future. How does architecture create real effects, change our built environment, and respond to crises?
While it is widely recognized that the advanced architecture of the 1970s left a legacy of experimentation and theoretical speculation as intense as any in architecture's history, there has been no general theory of that ethos. Now, in Architecture's Desire, K. Michael Hays writes an account of the "late avant-garde" as an architecture systematically twisting back on itself, pondering its own historical status, and deliberately exploring architecture's representational possibilities right up to their absolute limits.
The Grand Tour was once the culmination of an architect's education. As a journey to the cultural sites of Europe, the Tour's agenda was clearly defined: to study ancient monuments in order to reproduce them at home. Architects returned from their Grand Tours with rolls of measured drawings and less tangible spoils: patronage, commissions, and cultural cachet. Although no longer carried out under the same name, the practices inscribed by the Grand Tour have continued relevance for contemporary architects.
Born in Tokyo, educated in Japan and the United States, and principal of an internationally acclaimed architectural practice, celebrated architect Fumihiko Maki brings to his writings on architecture a perspective that is both global and uniquely Japanese. Influenced by post-Bauhaus internationalism, sympathetic to the radical urban architectural vision of Team X, and a participant in the avant-garde movement Metabolism, Maki has been at the forefront of his profession for decades.
Learning from Las Vegas, originally published by the MIT Press in 1972, was one of the most influential and controversial architectural books of its era. Thirty-five years later, it remains a perennial bestseller and a definitive theoretical text. Its authors—architects Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour—famously used the Las Vegas Strip to argue the virtues of the "ordinary and ugly" above the "heroic and original" qualities of architectural modernism.
Contemporary architecture is in many ways a monstrous thing. It is bigger, more broadly defined, increasingly complicated, more costly, and stylistically and formally heterogeneous—if not downright unhinged. Not only is the scale of the built environment expanding, but so is the territory of the architectural profession itself. A perfect storm of history, technology, economics, politics, and pedagogy has generated a moment in time in which anything seems possible. The results have been at times strange and even frightening.
Artifacts (including works of architecture) play dual roles; they simultaneously perform functions and carry meaning. Columns support roofs, but while the sturdy Tuscan and Doric types traditionally signify masculinity, the slim and elegant Ionic and Corinthian kinds read as feminine. Words are often inscribed on objects.
Architecture, at least since the beginning of the twentieth century, has suspended historical references in favor of universalized abstraction. In the decades after the Second World War, when architectural historians began to assess the legacy of the avant-gardes in order to construct a coherent narrative of modernism's development, they were inevitably influenced by contemporary concerns.