Critical Spatial Design,
Architecture, Art & Discourse
Writings / Publications
1.0 Operative Framework
In the past, architectural manifestos tended to agitate for either new aesthetic expressions or different moralistic ideologies. These manifestos largely stayed within a normative language of architecture, stating – as in the case of Le Corbusier for example – that windows must be horizontal and can no longer be vertical.
In an era in which architectural production is increasingly entangled with external issues, such autonomous and self-referential, ideological and inflexible agendas are no longer suitable when formulating new modes of spatial production.
Instead, what is required is a structural conceptualisation of the productive framework for conceiving architecture
beyond architecture. It does not prescribe any aesthetic preferences, contain any ideological concerns and is not necessarily only restricted to the profession of architecture.
What is required is an operative framework.
2.0 Unstable Methods of Production
The economic, social and political conditions in which contemporary architecture operates are becoming increasingly unstable and subject to dramatic and unforeseeable changes.
The shortsightedness of politics and finance generates an unstable climate. As a new political party comes to power, new agendas are put in place, cancelling previous intentions. Long-term approaches are ignored in favour of instant satisfaction to the general public. Similarly, new or different financial models may over-night render a project politically or financially unviable.
Within such unstable climate, indeterminacy needs to be integrated within the very design process. In other words, the production of architecture must be destabilized, too. As such, parameters must be continuously adjustable, pushing the solidification of physical design to the very end of any anticipated process.
3.0 Architecture as Hypothesis
The propulsion of evermore-fantastic forms has reached a dead-end. The future of architecture lies not in more ego-fuelled formalistic endeavours, but rather in how it is conceived. This is not a resort to previous eras – such as 60s and 70s Minimalism and Post-Minimalism – when the notion of process was entirely overshadowing the end-result, nor is it a return to Koolhaas’ idea of a ‘New Sobriety’ with its uncritical revival of an austere and purist Modernism, which was published in 1981 in the midst of Post-Modern excess.
We are propagating an open-ended, process-based design method that does not lose the end-result out of sight. In other words, it is a method that sees no dichotomy between process and form: an operational method not hampered by an internal ideology, but a light and optimistic methodology that is not weighted by external historic and moralistic loads – an equal interest in the content of cultural production and in testing those concerns physically.
Within this framework, concept becomes the generative component rendering traditional formal elaborations largely unnecessary.
4.0 Middle Ground Left Blank
The conceptual approach only determines micro- and macro-relations whilst leaving
the middle ground for the most part omitted as an architectural concern.
The micro-scale constitutes relations in the same way as, for example, Nicolas Bourriaud defines relational art whereas macro relations are the entire urban spectrum. Consequently, the middle ground constituting traditional architectural elaboration and formal concerns fall away, leaving a blank undefined middle ground. Thus, architecture is thought of as a relational praxis both at the social and the urban scales.
All micro- and macro-relations are conceived as small building blocks constituting the larger whole. Each element can be altered or eliminated throughout the design process without compromising the final result.
The Script is a protocol determining the interaction between the various micro and macro relations as well as making relevant past experiences (archaeological knowledge) operative to the project.
The script is akin to the working methods of a playwright or a film director. It can take on several appearances. For example: In a few precise words Harold Pinter creates the frame-work in which the play takes place, whereas Peter Greenaway uses elaborate drawings to describe setting and
relations. As such, the script also begins indirectly to suggest potentially possible atmospheres.
Like the notion of micro- and macro-relations, the script foresees no inherent final form. It is a lightweight methodology easily adjustable in order to respond to changing external conditions. Analogous to flocking behaviour of certain animals, a set of simple parameters determines the interrelations between each animal whilst allowing for an ever-changing outward shape.
As the content of the operative concept, urban conditions and programmatic requirements determined on the macro-scale merge and gel, the ‘gesture’ is shaped.
The tendency in architecture to formally shape a physical structure in order to address certain urban conditions has run its course. Such methodology is usually the result of a myriad of piecemeal design adjustments, which are informed by subjective preconceived ideas. Instead, a polyrhythmic operative framework determined by micro and macro relations and governed by scripts offers an economy of means in which the gesture in itself needs to do more with less. Let the gesture multi-task.
The resulting gesture must simultaneously possess straightforwardness in terms of its
physical characteristics as well as generate an operative framework accommodating oftentimes contradicting and changing urban conditions. The gesture then becomes a communicative device beyond form allowing the outsider to understand architecture.
7.0 Archive as Evolution
Typically, architectural and urban history is a succession of reactions and counter-reactions where each generation is re-enacting their infantile Oedipal complexes by negating the knowledge accumulated by the previous generation. Instead of this unproductive situation, history must be regarded as an archive of past knowledge and experiences.
Past, current internal and external knowledge forms the archive. Externally, the entire history of architecture is open to be critically and opportunistically recycled. Likewise, previously accumulated knowledge of micro- and macro-relations form an internal memory whereby each project is part of a genealogy, forming – like DNA – parallel, continuous and intertwining strands of operative knowledge. Thus, each project becomes part of an archive of different species. This operationally self-reflexive praxis is organised and categorised by the meta-scripts.
The obsession of reinventing the wheel should finally come to an end. Yet, every project is unique and cannot simply be reproduced or recycled.
8.0 The Violence of Participation
On a micro-scale – through various home improvement programmes on TV – lay people now believe themselves to be architects, generating a populist default consensus taste alien to most architects. On a macro-scale, consensus has eaten up the core of the State, meaning that everything will be dealt with in terms of pragmatics while participation (the buzzword of the 90s) has become a rogue tool for political legitimisation.
The post-political society that Chantal Mouffe refers to is one, in which we are constantly being told that the partisan model of politics has been overcome. There is no more Left and Right – there is a consensus at the centre, in which there is no possibility for an alternative.
This is precisely why there is a serious need for the creation of agonistic publics as well as its urban counterpart, that of public space. When we say public space, we do not refer to landscape architecture, but to the becoming spatial of political forms of exchange: an agonistic forum.
A reverse reading of New Labour’s social romanticism is urgently needed, one which
in: Conditions Magazine #1
starts from the hypothesis that not everything can be decided by everyone. Such reading instead assumes responsibility of the individual in participatory practices rather than giving up responsibility through democratic shareholding. Someone needs to be in charge, albeit it without mandate.
9.0 Polymathic Dilettantes post-financial-crisis
The most defining feature of architectural praxis is not the finished building, but rather the ability to simultaneously juggle micro and macro scales in an unstable climate. Thus, in an era where the Renaissance notion of the architect as a polymath has become obsolete, the operative manifesto paradoxically reinstates the architect as practitioner beyond what is typically understood to be the field of architectural praxis.
Through cyclical specialisation, the future spatial practitioner will be an outsider who, instead of trying to set up or sustain denominators of consensus, enters alien fields of knowledge by deliberately instigating conflicts as a micro-political form of engagement: a crossbench-practitioner independent of pre-requisites and existing protocols.
Even if the notion of the Renaissance man has been rendered passé, the varied nature of projects, opportunities and
collaborations that arise through Edward Said's notion of ‘the ideal intellectual who works from the margin’ allows for an architecture understood as a space that is constructed between political realities, social networks and physical structures.
The demand to go beyond a certain field of knowledge inevitably makes the architectural practitioner a polymath by necessity – not of learned knowledge, but trained and nebulous instinct.
As much as we favour the position of the ‘surgeon’ in Walter Benjamin’s famous duality, we do not think that the role of the ‘magician’ can entirely be neglected. Thus, we like to think that a healthy naivety and a fascination with the world can produce curious subjects – a paradoxical escapism of the real.
nOffice (Miessen Pflugfelder Nilsson)