Why are purist architects, fascists?
Coming to our final article of this series, let me start this article with the most loved conversation between Cristopher Alexander and Peter Eisenman.
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Cristopher Alexander: Can we please return to the arcade for a moment? Moneo's arcade sounded scratchy and odd because I construct arcades for a very basic reason. That is, make it as comfortable as possible — physically, emotionally, practically, and absolutely. This is a difficult task. It is far more difficult to achieve than most of today's architects will admit. Let's start with the easy problem of creating an arcade. In my own practical work, I've discovered that in order to determine what's truly comfortable, I need to model out the design at full scale.
Cristopher Alexander: This is what I'm used to doing. So I'll grab some scrap timber and start mocking up something. What size are the columns? What exactly is the distance between them? What is the height of the ceiling above? What is the width of the thing? When you get all of those parts right, you start to feel a sense of harmony.
Cristopher Alexander: Of course, harmony is a result of not just oneself, but also of your environment. In other words, what is harmonious in one location may not be in another. As a result, it is entirely dependent on whatever programme generates harmony in that location. It is a straightforward objective issue. At least, my experience tells me that when a bunch of different people set out to find out what is harmonic, what feels most comfortable in such and such a setting, their opinions tend to converge, if they are mocking up full-scale, actual stuff. Of course, if they're drawing or brainstorming, they won't agree. However, once you start manufacturing the genuine thing, everyone seems to agree. My main concern is to achieve that level of oneness. The things I was talking about last night — I was performing empirical research on them — it turns out that these certain structures are required to generate that harmony.
Cristopher Alexander: If I understand you correctly, the thing that strikes me about your friend's building is that it is not harmonic in some manner. That is, Moneo intends to create a disharmony effect on purpose. Perhaps even of incongruity.
Peter Eisenman: That is correct.
Cristopher Alexander: That is inconceivable to me. It strikes me as extremely irresponsible. It's perplexing to me. I feel bad for the guy. I'm also enraged because he's screwing up the world.
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When one looks at Eisenman’s career, one sees a professional who made the classic mistake of confusing the method of analysis as the means of production in architecture, without putting any thought into understanding the essential differences between the two.
While we can see that his method of reading architecture to comprehend the underlying concepts of complexity is effective, it does not imply that the process of interpreting architecture should begin dictating architectural forms. All in the expectation that the audience will see and experience the discord and realize the essential ideals of harmony, as well as understand the underlying architectural systems in a moment of epiphany.
Eisenman described his system's proponents' case. He believed that by exposing the fundamental act of making architecture and its inherent structures to the user, he was disclosing it to the user. That, too, in a systematic manner, to make the person more aware of the significance of the most regular talks underpinning it. But, amid his arrogance and self-indulgence, he forgets that it is a moot point.
Take, for example, mobile phones. Most people are interested in getting the best mobile phone for their money to have the best user experience. They are not focused on how the mobile is developed from document to production or the underlying technology of design and engineering, but essentially on its features of use.
It would be absurd for a phone company to make phones with essentially bad design qualities and essentially bad features to bring light to the elements of a good phone. That is a waste of time and money for everyone, and no one will buy it.
But, for Eisenman, the desire to be a transformational leader was crucial. Even if it caused inconvenience for the building's users and the rest of the world, he was so engrossed in the abyss of autonomy that the overarching requirement for him was to fulfill his ideal aesthetic sequences. And the inclusion of everyday life in architecture quickly disturbed this sense of autonomy.
This counterintuitive and counterproductive strategy is so easy to identify and refute. Even Christopher Alexander thought it didn't require any work, and he misjudged Eisenman's grip on architecture pedagogy.
Eisenman was victorious, and his description of buildings, like architecture, as autonomous systems of analysis and experimentation in the world was adopted by all schools around the world. Beautiful drawings and alienating abstractions were utilized to deceive students, professors, reviewers, and jurors of architecture equally to market this ideology of architecture.
The drawing became the process, and all other processes were deleted or disputed to give the creator sole primacy. Architecture grew so self-sufficient that it became oblivious to its practice and thus construction. The project evolved into something else, and drawing took on a professional life of its own.
ARCHITECTURE WITHDREW EVEN MORE, AND THE VOID IT CREATED IS NOW KNOWN AS PROJECT MANAGEMENT.
With that, we come to the end of the story of how architecture got more autonomous than ever before, and how this juggernaut resulted in its demise as a profession.
In this pursuit, Eisenman and others persuaded professionals and their practices to remove themselves from the human definition and elements of architecture, as well as its basic social, political, and ethical logic, to see the world as an abstraction of their creation.
Their view of the world is that of an abstraction that is supposed to be ordered, beautified, and refined by the architect's will. It is an enticing concept to students since it harkens back to Will Toledo's song "Times to Die" by actualizing the cycle of desire and misery in young professionals. Whereas the position they seek places them in the hands of dictatorship akin to Eisenman's, subjugating democratic procedures and voices in architecture.
And by the time a student or a young professional realizes the obvious dejection and when this illusion of autonomy comes to a halt, they have become too committed in the existing procedures to ever fight this deception. This is when reality punches you over the face.
“All of my friends are getting married
All of my friends are right with God
All of my friends are making money
But art gets what it wants and art gets what it deserves”
Purity is thus the lie we are told to indoctrinate us in the imperial order of masters' architecture. But by the time we grasp the myth's underpinning fallacy, we are unable to intervene. As a result, it is normal for us to persist in our expectations and ambitions to achieve the myth of purity. And, in the process, obtaining the seat at the top, which is built on the holy soil of the past beneath- The Fascist's throne.
“I think I’m gonna build a giant hotel
Lest we be scattered, I’ll stack it sky-high
It’s not symbolic, it’s just human nature
Under the foundations, there is a graveyard”
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About the Writer
Anchal Srivastava is an architect, urban planner, writer, researcher and scholar. She is a certified GIS specialist from IIRS, ISRO, Dehradun. She is a graduate of the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Delhi and Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Technical University (APJAKTU), Uttar Pradesh. She has experience working at the Town and Country Planning Organisation Delhi, Jabalpur Smart City Limited, Suresh Goel & Associates (SGA), APS Green Architects & Associates, and as the head architect at SSAP and Shantiniketan Buildtech Pvt. Ltd.
About the Editor
Shama Patwardhan is an architect and writer from Mumbai. She is a graduate of the Rachana Sansad's Academy of Architecture (AoA), Mumbai and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Heritage Conservation Society, India. She has experience working with Rethinking The Future (RTF), Abhikalpan Architects and Planners, and Manasaram Architects.
About the Illustrator
Palak Gupta is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. She is also a graphic designer, illustrator and painter. She has experience working on the packaging design and branding for NutriTown Organics.