Message - Re: Longer Critique

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Posted by  Paul Malo on October 09, 2002 at 11:24:31:

In Reply to:  Re: Longer Critique posted by Jacques Pochoy on October 09, 2002 at 04:16:41:

I feel somewhat derelict in offering a rather cavalier view of the position presented. This response has been conditioned by a tendency in the academy to view theory not as general principles about how to design and build buildings, but rather as a matter of how to discuss them. Much "theoretical" discussion in the architectural academy today is about theories, not about buildings.

When I referred to "Pragmatism" in contrast to trends in "Continental" philosophy today, I was not using the term in the more common meaning of "practicality" in a utilitarian sense, which is to value "what works." This is, of course, a modern and certainly a common American stance. I was rather referring to the particular Anglo-American school of philosophy that seems dominant here today.

As I understand it (not being an accredited philosopher) the attitude here has adjusted more to science and technology as objective pursuits, whereas Continental philosophy has continued its more "anthropocentric" or humanistic views of philosophy itself. Put another way, many (probably most) specialist philsophers here view their function as critical--not so much of general human conditions--but of the process of learning about reality. Bertrand Russell seems to typify the sort of concern for logical analysis and, of course, Wittgenstein. Those in this school are skeptical about fuzzy good intentions of Continental thinkers, who weave abstract theories about the human condition.

Tafuri provides a case of the application of more general theories about architecture and society. Persuaded that Communism was historically destined, his views were slanted to conform to that ideology. It's this sort of trait that the Anglo-American philosophers find disagreeable.

Attempts to make architecture more "relevant" to current theoretical concerns makes architectural principles as ephemeral as those chic fads of the cognoscenti.

There is an interesting paradox here, of course, first of all that the author chose to discuss the non-anthropocentric or objective ("scientific") approach of Le Ricolais, but in a mode that seemed not Pragmatic, but more in line with Continental humanism--at least alluding to that stance. A phrase like "the death of the author" is a red flag to those of us who have listened to neo-Continental critics in American univeristies--or to the posturing of Eisenman, trying to identify himself with Derida.

More specifically, focussing on the extract you've quoted here and my use of the term "autonomy," what I hear the author saying is that these objective investigators of structural form proceeded without a-priori notions of architectural form, derived from historic culture. They explored the direction that the structural determinants themselves would take, regardless of human preconceptions about architectural form. That's "autonomous architecture"--form determined by purely formal considerations. This hardly seems consistent with the prevailing humanistic views, as I understand them, of post-Nietzschian savants on the Continent.

Here's the paradox again: you say,

"By using the word of "pragmatism" you deny (technically..:-)) the capacity of architecture to give "sens" (Brutus and d posts) and refer to a engineering view of space ( the "scientific" process, called also the "modern" view of the world), while the "sens" trend (mystical?) or called also the "re-enchanting" of the world is called "post-modern" (in philosophy)!"

Yes, philsophical Pragmatists are unconcerned with "re-enchanting" the world--only with knowing what is knowable. They leave enchantment to artists and religious gurus. But what I said was NOT that architecture should be exclusively pragmatic (objective or "scientific")--I merely observed that the major trend in philosophy in America and Britain is unconcerned with enchantment, or with architecture. Architectural theory becomes a no-man's-land between the objective logicians of philosophy and the subjective artists of architecture.

The "death of representation?" We can look back at previous moments in art history when deaths were declared. Probably the best rejoinder is to recall that exchange:

"Nature abhors a straight line."
"Yes, but man doesn't it."

We seem to be going through another Art Nouveau phase now, a century later. Because Per and others have new tools to envision new forms doesn't mean that they are predestined by history. The computer might say that they are possible, but "man" may decide otherwise. We don't build what is possible; we build for people.

So here's the paradox again: the ulitmate criterion of architectural value will always be appropriateness to human use, which is essentially the humanist stance. Pragmatists may consider appropriateness to be too subjective a value to be logically useful ("pragmatic")--but architects have never been merely pragmatic.

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