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Criticism and Theory

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Collected Essays on Architecture and the City

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. This collection of essays documents the evolution of architectural modernism and Maki’s own fifty-year intellectual journey during a critical period of architectural and urban history.

Maki’s treatment of his two overarching themes--the contemporary city and modernist architecture--demonstrates strong (and sometimes unexpected) linkages between urban theory and architectural practice. Images and commentary on three of Maki’s own works demonstrate the connection between his writing and his designs. Moving through the successive waves of modernism, postmodernism, neomodernism, and other isms, these essays reflect how several generations of architectural thought and expression have been resolved within one career.

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.

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.

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.

Japanese architect Arata Isozaki sees buildings not as dead objects but as events that encompass the social and historical context—not to be defined forever by their "everlasting materiality" but as texts to be interpreted and reread continually. In Japan-ness in Architecture, he identifies what is essentially Japanese in architecture from the seventh to the twentieth century. In the opening essay, Isozaki analyzes the struggles of modern Japanese architects, including himself, to create something uniquely Japanese out of modernity. He then circles back in history to find what he calls Japan-ness in the seventh-century Ise shrine, reconstruction of the twelfth-century Todai-ji Temple, and the seventeenth-century Katsura Imperial Villa. He finds the periodic ritual relocation of Ise's precincts a counter to the West's concept of architectural permanence, and the repetition of the ritual an alternative to modernity's anxious quest for origins. He traces the "constructive power" of the Todai-ji Temple to the vision of the director of its reconstruction, the monk Chogen, whose imaginative power he sees as corresponding to the revolutionary turmoil of the times. The Katsura Imperial Villa, with its chimerical spaces, achieved its own Japan-ness as it reinvented the traditional shoin style. And yet, writes Isozaki, what others consider to be the Japanese aesthetic is often the opposite of that essential Japan-ness born in moments of historic self-definition; the purified stylization—what Isozaki calls "Japanesquization"—lacks the energy of cultural transformation and reflects an island retrenchment in response to the pressure of other cultures.

Combining historical survey, critical analysis, theoretical reflection, and autobiographical account, these essays, written over a period of twenty years, demonstrate Isozaki's standing as one of the world's leading architects and preeminent architectural thinkers.

Digital technologies have changed architecture—the way it is taught, practiced, managed, and regulated. But if the digital has created a “paradigm shift” for architecture, which paradigm is shifting? In The Alphabet and the Algorithm, Mario Carpo points to one key practice of modernity: the making of identical copies. Carpo highlights two examples of identicality crucial to the shaping of architectural modernity: in the fifteenth century, Leon Battista Alberti’s invention of architectural design, according to which a building is an identical copy of the architect’s design; and, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the mass production of identical copies from mechanical master models, matrixes, imprints, or molds. The modern power of the identical, Carpo argues, came to an end with the rise of digital technologies. Everything digital is variable. In architecture, this means the end of notational limitations, of mechanical standardization, and of the Albertian, authorial way of building by design. Charting the rise and fall of the paradigm of identicality, Carpo compares new forms of postindustrial digital craftsmanship to hand-making and the cultures and technologies of variations that existed before the coming of machine-made, identical copies. Carpo reviews the unfolding of digitally based design and construction from the early 1990s to the present, and suggests a new agenda for architecture in an age of variable objects and of generic and participatory authorship.

Taboo

We are beset by unspoken rules. As a result, we learn to find consensus in nots and to seek refuge in don'ts. A taboo is a restriction invented and agreed upon by a social group that maintains stability (disciplinary order) but also induces transgressions (the possibility of an avant-garde). Taboos structure our thinking and frame our discussions. In architecture, taboos create an operative way of thinking about and making architecture through unspoken agreement. This issue of Perspecta—the oldest and most distinguished student-edited architectural journal in America—tackles architectural unutterables. In articles and projects, historians, theorists, and practitioners investigate contemporary and historical instances of taboo, aiming to uncover its function in the pedagogy and praxis of architecture.

The contributors, asked simply "What is Taboo?", respond with a range of examples. These include an examination of the relatively unknown work of the Italian architect Rinaldo Semino; photographs documenting the unseen, peripheral spaces of American life; a series of marginalia illustrating certain typographic don'ts in all their absurdity; a study of memorials erected to Maoist insurgents killed by police and paramilitary forces in India; and a critique, by redaction and reconstruction, of Rem Koolhaas's essay "Typical Plan."

Contributors: Pier Vittorio Aureli, Glen Cummings, Thomas de Monchaux, Arindam Dutta, Edward Eigen, Mario Gooden, Alicia Imperiale, Pamela Karimi, Keith Krumwiede, Erika Naginski, NaJa & DeOstos, Jorge Otero-Pailos, Neri Oxman, Michelangelo Sabatino, Taryn Simon, Marcel Vellinga, Loïc Wacquant

Interviews: Sunil Bald, Thomas Beeby, Peggy Deamer, Peter Eisenman, Greg Lynn, and Robert A. M. Stern

Architecture in the Experience Economy

In the twenty-first century, we must learn to look at cities not as skylines but as brandscapes, and at buildings not as objects but as advertisements and destinations. In the experience economy, experience itself has become the product: we're no longer consuming objects but sensations, even lifestyles. In the new environment of brandscapes, buildings are not about where we work and live but who we imagine ourselves to be. In Brandscapes, Anna Klingmann looks critically at the controversial practice of branding by examining its benefits, and considering the damage it may do.

Klingmann argues that architecture can use the concepts and methods of branding—not as a quick-and-easy selling tool for architects but as a strategic tool for economic and cultural transformation. Branding in architecture means the expression of identity, whether of an enterprise or a city; New York, Bilbao, and Shanghai have used architecture to enhance their images, generate economic growth, and elevate their positions in the global village. Klingmann looks at different kinds of brandscaping today, from Disneyland, Las Vegas, and Times Square—prototypes and case studies in branding—to Prada's superstar-architect-designed shopping epicenters and the banalities of Niketown.

But beyond outlining the status quo, Klingmann also alerts us to the dangers of brandscapes. By favoring the creation of signature buildings over more comprehensive urban interventions and by severing their identity from the complexity of the social fabric, Klingmann argues, today's brandscapes have, in many cases, resulted in a culture of the copy. As experiences become more and more commodified, and the global landscape progressively more homogenized, it falls to architects to infuse an ever more aseptic landscape with meaningful transformations.

How can architects use branding as a means to differentiate places from the inside out—and not, as current development practices seem to dictate, from the outside in? When architecture brings together ecology, economics, and social well-being to help people and places regain self-sufficiency, writes Klingmann, it can be a catalyst for cultural and economic transformation.

Combining formal argument with informal conversations and design proposals, Architecture at the Edge of Everything Else offers creative ideas for "thinking and acting architecture differently." What makes the book unique (apart from its lively graphic format) is the freshness of its voices—young architects and emerging practitioners who for the most part have not published before. Interwoven with their proposals are conversations among these new voices and more established authors and practitioners, including Sanford Kwinter, Sylvia Lavin, K. Michael Hays, Philippe Rahm, Liam Gillick, Teddy Cruz, and Michael Meredith. Architecture at the Edge of Everything Else investigates the inner contradictions tangling and obscuring architectural discourse. It locates architecture in a cultural, social, political, and situational landscape—the space it actually occupies in the contemporary world. Examining architecture as it comes into contact with other disciplines—including art, art history, cultural studies, curating, landscape architecture, neuroaesthetics, pedagogy, philosophy, political science, and urbanism—the book considers architecture's precarious position at the edge: at the edge of its own dilemmas and at the edge of "everything else."

In different ways, all the contributors suggest how to understand the innovative possibilities and pitfalls of spatial practices—teasing, analyzing, and celebrating architecture's disciplinary ambiguity—with proposals that range from a "lo-res" architecture to one controlled by the curatorial impulse, from customizable "skins" on residential buildings to the collection of residual space for new uses. Their investigations encompass how to interpret, how to intervene, and how to imagine. Breaking out of institutional molds and reaching across generational divides, Architecture at the Edge of Everything Else marks the beginning of a new conversation about architecture and its expanded landscape.

Contributors: Brett Albert, Matthew Allen, Esther Choi, Teddy Cruz, Suzanne Ernst, Liam Gillick, K. Michael Hays, Sanford Kwinter, Sylvia Lavin, Michael Meredith, Yu Morishita, Trevor Patt,Philippe Rahm, Joe Ringenberg, Jonathan Tate, Marrikka Trotter, Douglas Wu

Copublished with Work Books

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