Skip navigation

Architecture

  • Page 4 of 38
Agency

Architecture has always been intimately intertwined with its social, political, and economic contexts; major events in world history have had correspondingly dramatic effects on the discipline. The Great Depression, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Hurricane Katrina, for example, were all catalysts for architectural response and resulted in a diversification of the architect’s portfolio. Yet far too often, architects simply react to changes in the world, rather than serving as agents of change themselves.

This issue of Perspecta—the oldest and most distinguished student-edited architectural journal in America—takes a broader view, using the concept of agency to explore the future of architecture. The retreat from liability, the barricade of theory, and the silos of specialization have generated a field that is risk-averse and reactive, rather than bold and active. Instead of assuming that architects can only throw up their hands in despair, the editors of this issue of Perspecta invite them to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

In Perspecta 45, prominent architects, scholars, and artists investigate how architects can become agents for change within their own discipline and in the world at large.

Architecture can no longer limit itself to the art of making buildings; it must also invent the politics of taking them apart. This is Jill Stoner’s premise for a minor architecture. Her architect’s eye tracks differently from most, drawn not to the lauded and iconic but to what she calls “the landscape of our constructed mistakes”--metropolitan hinterlands rife with failed and foreclosed developments, undersubscribed office parks, chain hotels, and abandoned malls. These graveyards of capital, Stoner asserts, may be stripped of their excess and become sites of strategic spatial operations. But first we must dissect and dismantle prevalent architectural mythologies that brought them into being--western obsessions with interiority, with the autonomy of the building-object, with the architect’s mantle of celebrity, and with the idea of nature as that which is “other” than the built metropolis. These four myths form the warp of the book.

Drawing on the literary theory of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Stoner suggests that minor architectures, like minor literatures, emerge from the bottoms of power structures and within the language of those structures. Yet they too are the result of powerful and instrumental forces. Provoked by collective desires, directed by the instability of time, and celebrating contingency, minor architectures may be mobilized within buildings that are oversaturated, underutilized, or perceived as obsolete.

Stoner’s provocative challenge to current discourse veers away from design, through a diverse landscape of cultural theory, contemporary fiction, and environmental ethics. Hers is an optimistic and inclusive approach to a more politicized practice of architecture.

Three Centuries of Educating Architects in North America
Edited by Joan Ockman

Rooted in the British apprenticeship system, the French Beaux-Arts, and the German polytechnical schools, architecture education in North America has had a unique history spanning almost three hundred years. Although architects in the United States and Canada began to identify themselves as professionals by the late eighteenth century, it was not until nearly a century later that North American universities began to offer formal architectural training; the first program was established at MIT in 1865. Today most architects receive their training within an academic setting that draws on the humanities, fine arts, applied science, and public service for its philosophy and methodology. This book, published in conjunction with the centennial of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), provides the first comprehensive history of North American architecture education.

Architecture School opens with six chronological essays, each devoted to a major period of development: before 1860; 1860–1920; 1920–1940; 1940–1968; 1968–1990; and 1990 to the present. This overview is followed by a “lexicon” containing shorter articles on more than two dozen topics that have figured centrally in architecture education’s history, from competitions and design pedagogy to research, structures, studio culture, and travel.

The word "architect" is a noun, but Doug Patt uses it as a verb--coining a term and making a point about using parts of speech and parts of buildings in new ways. Changing the function of a word, or a room, can produce surprise and meaning. In How to Architect, Patt--an architect and the creator of a series of wildly popular online videos about architecture--presents the basics of architecture in A-Z form, starting with "A is for Asymmetry" (as seen in Chartres Cathedral and Frank Gehry), detouring through "N is for Narrative," and ending with "Z is for Zeal" (a quality that successful architects tend to have, even in fiction--see The Fountainhead's architect-hero Howard Roark.)

How to Architect is a book to guide you on the road to architecture. If you are just starting on that journey or thinking about becoming an architect, it is a place to begin. If you are already an architect and want to remind yourself of what drew you to the profession, it is a book of affirmation. And if you are just curious about what goes into the design and construction of buildings, this book tells you how architects think. Patt introduces each entry with a hand-drawn letter, and accompanies the text with illustrations that illuminate the concept discussed: a fallen Humpty Dumpty illustrates the perils of fragile egos; photographs of an X-Acto knife and other hand tools remind us of architecture’s nondigital origins.

How to Architect offers encouragement to aspiring architects but also mounts a defense of architecture as a profession--by calling out a defiant verb: architect!

On Learning from Las Vegas

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. Learning from Las Vegas not only moved architecture to the center of cultural debates, it changed our ideas about what architecture was and could be.

In this provocative rereading of an iconic text, Aron Vinegar argues that Learning from Las Vegas is not only of historical interest but of absolute relevance to current critical debates in architectural and visual culture. Vinegar argues that to read Learning from Las Vegas only as an exemplary postmodernist text—to understand it, for example, as a call for pastiche or as ironic provocation—is to underestimate its deeper critical and ethical meaning, and to miss the underlying dialectic between skepticism and the ordinary, expression and the deadpan, that runs through the text.

Vinegar's close attention to the graphic design of Learning from Las Vegas, and his fresh interpretations of now canonical images from the book such as the Duck, the Decorated Shed, and the "recommendation for a monument," make his book unique. Perhaps most revealing is his close analysis of the differences between the first 1972 edition, designed for the MIT Press by Muriel Cooper, and the "revised" edition of 1977, which was radically stripped down and largely redesigned by Denise Scott Brown. The dialogue between the two editions continues with this book, where for the first time the two versions of Learning from Las Vegas are read comparatively.

Dirt presents a selection of works that share dirty attitudes: essays, interviews, excavations, and projects that view dirt not as filth but as a medium, a metaphor, a material, a process, a design tool, a narrative, a system. Rooted in the landscape architect’s perspective, Dirt views dirt not as repulsive but endlessly giving, fertile, adaptive, and able to accommodate difference while maintaining cohesion. This dirty perspective sheds light on social connections, working processes, imaginative ideas, physical substrates, and urban networks. Dirt is a matrix; as a book, it organizes contributions from architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning and design, historic preservation, fine arts, and art history.

The chapters predict and report on city waterfronts revamped by climate change, the reinvention of suburbia, and cityscapes of ruins; dish the dirt with yet-to-be proven facts; make such unexpected linkages as ornament to weed growth and cell networks to zip-ties; examine the work of innovative thinkers who have imagined or created, among other things, a replica of Robert Smithson’s famous earthwork Spiral Jetty in “table-top scale,” live models of the Arctic ice caps, and an inhabitable “green roof”; and describe an ecological landscape urbanism that incorporates the natural sciences in its processes.

Domain

Architecture exists in the public sphere and is the product of collective work and knowledge. Yet the defining boundaries of the discipline are often contested. Architects can and often must embody a spectrum of characters in their practice: politician, artist, physicist, entrepreneur. Likewise, a building is the nexus of multifaceted economies, legislations, and information systems. Since "architecture" has become a metonym for increasingly distributed persons and practices, how--and for whom--do we establish its domain?

To trace the evolving meanings of the term “domain” is to trace the changing ways that space has been defined, accessed, and constructed: from domain as a territory of private ownership or legal control; to the egalitarian promise of public domain; to an Internet site situated within an infinitely dispersed global network. Each of these shifts poses dramatic changes to how we conceive of boundaries, physically and conceptually. But as we insist on staking boundaries, we are impelled to search for their limits--however remote or nebulous.

This issue of Perspecta--the oldest and most distinguished student-edited architectural journal in America--offers an initial expedition into the contested spaces of architecture’s domains. Perspecta 44’s multidisciplinary scope, with contributors ranging from legal scholars to software engineers, asserts a new set of coordinates for mapping the terms of architectural production. By embracing the inherent complexities of Domain, Perspecta 44 seeks to overcome the architect’s conventional repertoire--Site, Program, and Client--and propose instead Field, Protocol, and User as an expanded vocabulary for spatial practice, not without boundaries but rather abiding by the shifting logics and contours of public space.

contributors:
BêkaFilms, R. Howard Bloch, Craig Buckley, Mario Carpo, common room, Peggy Deamer, Neil Denari, Forum for Urban Design, Sophie Houdart, Sam Jacob, Office Kersten Geers David Van Severen, Bruno Latour, Lawrence Lessig, Richard Meier, Ralitza Petit, Nasser Rabbat, Casey Reas and Ben Fry et al. Michael Rock, C. Dana Tomlin, Stuart Wrede.

100 Lessons for Understanding the City

Cities speak, and this little book helps us understand their language. Considering the urban landscape not from the abstract perspective of an urban planner but from the viewpoint of an attentive observer, Urban Code offers 100 "lessons”--maxims, observations, and bite-size truths, followed by short essays--that teach us how to read the city. This is a user’s guide to the city, a primer of urban literacy, at the pedestrian level. The reader (like the observant city stroller) can move from “People walk in the sunshine” (lesson 1) to “Street vendors are positioned according to the path of the sun” (lesson 2); consider possible connections between the fact that "Locals and tourists use the streets at different times" (lesson 41) and "Tourists stand still when they’re looking at something” (lesson 68); and weigh the apparent contradiction of lesson 73, "Nightlife hotspots increase pedestrian traffic" and lesson 74, "People are afraid of the dark."

A lesson may seem self-evident (“Grocery stores are important local destinations”--of course they are!) but considered in the context of other lessons, it becomes part of a natural logic. With Urban Code, we learn what to notice if we want to understand the city. We learn to detect patterns in the relationships between people and the urban environment. Each lesson is accompanied by an icon-like image; in addition to these 100 drawings, thirty photographs of street scenes illustrate the text. The photographs are stills from films shot in the Manhattan neighborhood of SoHo; the lessons are inspired by the authors’ observations of SoHo, but hold true for any cityscape.

Texts and Projects, 1967–1978

The short-lived grouping of architects, sociologists, and urbanists known as Utopie, active in Paris from 1967 to 1978, was the product of several factors: the student protests for the reform of architectural education, the unprecedented expansion and replanning of the Parisian urban fabric carried out by the government of Charles de Gaulle, and the domestication of military and industrial technologies by an emerging consumer society. The group’s collaborative publications included the work of Jean Aubert, Isabelle Auricoste, Jean Baudrillard, Catherine Cot, Charles Goldblum, Jean-Paul Jungmann, Henri Lefebvre, Rene Lourau, Antoine Stinco, and Hubert Tonka. Offering a militant alternative to professional urban planning journals, these writers not only formulated a critique of the technocratic and administrative rule over a disabled and alienated urban society but also projected an ephemeral urban poetics.

With ties to the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (ENSBA) in central Paris and to the sociology department established by Henri Lefebvre at the suburban campus of Nanterre, the group challenged postwar modernization and urban planning and questioned the roles into which architects, sociologists, and urban planners had been cast. Utopie makes the group’s diverse body of theoretical work accessible in English for the first time, offering translations of more than twenty key texts. Designed in a facsimile format that follows the innovative graphic layouts of the journals, pamphlets, posters, and articles produced by Utopie, the volume not only provides the first thorough overview of the group’s activities but also seeks to capture Utopie’s linkage of architectural and urban theory to radical publication strategies.

Conical Intersect

Gordon Matta-Clark's Conical Intersect (1975) was a torqued, spiraling "cut" into two derelict seventeenth-century Paris buildings adjacent to the construction site of the controversial Centre Pompidou. With this landmark work of "anarchtecture," Matta-Clark not only opened up these venerable residences to light and air, he also began a dialogue about the nature of urban development and the public role of art. Considered three and a half decades later, Conical Intersect reveals the multivalent nature of the artist’s practice and his prescient focus on sustainability and creative reuse of the built environment.

Conical Intersect and the two buildings were demolished as part of a large-scale urban renovation of the historic market district of Les Halles; today we can know the work only from drawings, photographs, and a short Super 8 film. In this illustrated study, Bruce Jenkins examines Matta-Clark's "non-u-ment," looking closely at the artist’s proposals, working process, various forms of documentation, and the dialogue begun by Matta-Clark's decision to transform two abandoned buildings "into an act of communication."

  • Page 4 of 38