Archive for the 'editorial' Category

The architecture of destruction

Volume editorial
#11 - 2007

Ever heard of Kevin Sites? He is a reporter who runs a blog, currently under the banner of Yahoo!, to tell us about his experiences in the ‘Hot Zones’ of the world. Dozens of conflict areas, where he, armed with a camcorder and all on his own, tries to cover ‘how conflict feels on the ground’ by letting people tell their own stories. Even under the veil of high professionalism and the gloss of global audience, you can feel how gruesome the circumstances are of so many people.

Whether it is a matter of more extensive coverage or a matter of real quantities, it is clear that we live in an age in which conflict increasingly is considered as inevitable. It is taken for granted. With the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, also a time has begun that we start to realize that violence in the 21st century isn’t necessarily directed to people, but can also, and even more so, be inflicted upon buildings. As symbols of the value system of the enemy (like the mosque of Samarra), they are attacked or blown up to incite outrage, fear and resentment that seems to be stronger than any mass murder could ever achieve. Also it has become a new trend in warfare not only to fight the enemy, but the habitat and the infrastructure of the enemy, and even the habitat of the people who might have harbored the enemy. In sum, while the reasons for terrorist attacks and pre-emptive strikes become more vague, the degree of retaliation becomes higher and the following suffering more widespread than ever. And most importantly, destruction is no longer the outcome of blind rage, but increasingly a matter of meticulous calculation. Destruction as become an alternative architecture.
Underlining this historical reality makes it even more interesting how the people who are the creators of the stuff that’s destroyed, the architects, react. It is quite remarkable that there seems virtually no discourse on it within the global professional communities. While there is a dramatic proliferation of the unbuilding of cities worldwide, most architects remain silent. This is even true when they are directly involved, as citizens of countries in war, as soldiers of modernity who are asked to build on the tabula rasa of city governments, or as professionals affected by massive neglect, mismanagement or developers misconduct. Even if the opportunities are right in front of them: to analyze destruction and enter the public debate, or to act constructively to repair or reconstruct, all architectural engagement with it, if any, has remained on the level of incidental intervention.

Let me probe one reason for this passivity. Architecture has always been identified with construction. It appeals to men’s deepest feelings about fragility of life and how to overcome that. Architecture is there to protect, it offers shelter from the out-side world. Either in literature, in theology, in politics or philosophy, it has been associated with the positive, the will to elevate, with resurrection, with hope. And if people managed to start thinking from scratch, in an utopian gesture towards completely unknown worlds to inspire mankind with a destiny, architecture was the first to help to provide the images of the better world. Architecture was about giving shape to dreams and striving for utilitarian perfection. A better world that needed to be built. Architecture simply has a hard time to address despair.

But even if we accept this historical rationale for perpetuated innocence, it doesn’t mean that it is justified. As said, this notion of architecture as the vehicle of hope and progress is under siege. This is an age of realism. A time of acknowledging the human condition as possibly a dangerous, fanatic, destructive force. At least in the West, today people incline to saving what they have, rather than achieving what they aspire. It is also a time where historical tendencies like globalization are widely accepted as inexorable forces that need to be coped with, not challenged. In sum, metaphorically speaking, it is a time to shelter against fear and to accommodate private interest, not to build new edifices of collective vision or monuments of general optimism. If war is not a fact, in the minds and hearts it has become a projection.
For instance, this is also an era of renewed interest in certain worldviews which for a long time were seen as utterly disgusting and unacceptable. Quite suddenly, violence is back on the agenda; not as an expression of evil, but as a sometimes useful tool to solve problems. Warmongers, social Darwinists and professional Cassandra’s are taking the floor to proclaim the purifying value of taking up arms. Most people, living in their safe havens of affluent societies, take it as a matter of press, covering events too far away to engage with, or feel perhaps somewhat tempted with the new totalitarian seduction. Others, those on the fringes of the global village have to deal with the consequences of these new forms of aggression. But whatever side, violence more and more is becoming a norm, if not a value.

If you want, a positive side effect of the new realism is clearer view on the agenda or ideologies of the aggressors. Indeed, architecture often reveals itself currently as criminal tool of oppression and destruction. Look at Afghanistan, Iraq or Lebanon: modern violence is pervasive, abstract and dehumanizing. It destroys buildings and communities in a frequency which hasn’t been seen before. As a result, it forces ordinary people to improvise and develop ways of survival. . So, what does it mean to stand up for those who are victimized? Can architecture also be present on that side of the spectrum and if so, how?
Perhaps the most daring and at the same time uncanny position is for architects who device strategies to cope with destruction by finding ways to deceive, it, ridicule it, pervert it, and ultimately, by doing so, may help avoiding it.

When clusterbombs are ready to be dropped, we need to cluster our cleverness to new configurations after conflict. When nature hits our habitats, we need new ways to inhabit this world and cope with nature. When crime and corruption are taking life worlds apart, we need a new sense of public domain. When violence is the norm, we need to violate the status quo in architecture.

This is the aim of this issue of Volume. When the rulers of this planet do no longer come to the public place, the public place will come to them. Our print rate is 8000 copies. If our distribution system does not reach you in Kabul, Kigali, Prishtina, Beirut, Ramallah, … or you know someone there who may need it, call the office for a copy to be sent to you.

We are all rebels!

Volume editorial
2006 - #10

The human organism succumbs quickly to the agitators of disease. Healthy systems infiltrated by the foreign, a battleground of the existing ecology, to create new, sometimes evil ones. They are disturbances that reconfigure reality.
If we continue the analogy of pathology, today’s culture is overpopulated with bacteria, viruses, molds and toxins. In fact, aren’t we all agitators that threaten today in favor of…. of anything, as long as it is not today? Call it tomorrow, if that isn’t too linear.

Little today is held in lower esteem than the status quo. We all rebel against the norm. This is the society of the spectacle, the culture of the kick. These are super-, no, ultra-modern times, in which change is no longer a means to an end, but a goal in itself.

Take venture capital. Capital is no longer satisfied with daring IPOs or creative hotbeds. It now wants to dynamize the very ways in which capital has organized itself. Hedge funds move money faster than the economy can anticipate and react to. To be successful, capital fabricates rumors and relies on expectations. Yield is critically dependent on the inflation of rhetoric.

Take ‘contemporary’ art. The embodiment of ‘perpetual change’. Leaning on 150 years of avant-gardism, it still feeds itself on the language of the new. Beyond shock, repression, inhibition, and taboo, contemporary art has expanded its definition to co-opt any subject it might benefit from. When something has lost its meaning, at least you can call it art.

The story repeats itself in other fields: from advertising to journalism, from architecture to design, from science to religion. Agitation is an attribute. A formula for success. Without it, you simply will not have existed. With it, you can at least postpone your own oblivion.

The last effective means of agitation may be terrorism. Or conservatism. (Fully in the spirit of our age, they make use of the techniques of bacteria, viruses, molds and toxins to an excessive degree. Weapons, stupidity, decay and media, all bound in an unholy pact.) And to maintain the analogy until the very end, the agitation of the global body: the rubor of the permanent red alert, the calor of global warming, the turgor of the cliché and overblown rhetoric and finally… Finally, the dolor of the casualties. Death. Status quo inert. Nothing changes, really.

Unless, we dynamize the dynamite. Perhaps the most effective form of agitation today is not to change the order of things, but to change the order of change. Here we enter other fields of action. The rigor of staying focussed on the ideals behind change. The stupor of defying expectations. The humor of ridiculing yourself and your own identity, specialisms and hobby horses. Don’t change the course of history. Just change the course of change.

Ubiquitous China

Volume editorial
#8 - 2006

For some time now this magazine has advocated for a journalism which is no longer ‘the art of being too late as early as possible’, but the heralder of future opportunities. A journalism which detects, anticipates, is proactive and even pre-emptive, if necessary. It uncovers potentialities, rather than covering done deals. Architectural journalism in particular has for too long humiliated itself by retreating into the reactive mindset – waiting until events finished, but arriving before any real life has had a chance to settle into itself.
Our journalistic question is what are the new challenges to architecture, or what are the possible domains for the application of architectural intelligence? The answer to this question lies in the realm of potential, not the chronicling of results. Instead of studying erected buildings whose intellectual inception began five or ten years ago (the average number needed to complete an architectural project) should we not draft the future of architectural intellect?
So, willingly or unwillingly, we turn to China to see if the empire of change can also be the empire of ideas. Can this new economic powerhouse be the catalyst for new and innovative practical reflection and reflective practice? If journalism can project destiny, let’s focus on the destiny of the country that almost seems to monopolize it. Nobody in China asked for it, but we don’t mind. It’s a gift anyway, paid for by our readers and sponsors. Perhaps we should scrutinize the destiny of the West first. There is a widespread and very accepted idea that the West won the Cold War. The Soviet Empire collapsed because it was simply outperformed by the Western World and its system of capitalism. The Soviet Union could no longer compete.
However, what is much less acknowledged, is that since about 1990, the same period since the Soviet collapse, the Western capitalist system has directed hundreds of billions of dollars to the emerging economy of China, enabling a wave of modernization that has now almost outgrown the West’s energies, resources, knowledge bases and ultimately their very own flows of capital. Gorbatchov would have died for such an opportunity.
Put more dramatically: while the West reveled in its triumph in the war against Soviet communism, it handed the Chinese communist system the money necessary to transform China into the West’s most important rival of the 1st century. The capitalist devotion to gaining the highest yield on an investment, bit itself in the tail by strenghtening the Chinese nation for, who knows, maybe another 5000 years.
Thus, if we want to explore Chinese modernity and its reservoir of ideas, it is good to acknowledge how much western capitalism sheepishly contributed to its own future contestation. While the West prided itself on its historical superiority (as voiced by people like Francis Fukuyama) it laid
the foundation of its own long term historical dissolution. And rather than the best minds and talents flocking to the West, now the best minds of the West have become consultants in China. How hilarious foolishness can be! But geopolitical shifts are part of even larger world historical changes. From this perspective there’s little to laugh about. Things just happen beyond any blame or stupidity. So now it may simply be China’s turn to decide over the destiny of mankind, over geography, over value systems, over symbolic orders, over all the key concepts by which we organize our lives.
The interesting thing is that this triumph will not be achieved by military conquest or other forms of agressive domination. It will be the future losers who, whether they like it or not, will keep contributing to China’s position, either by investing money, by accepting its rules of the game, by sharing technology and scientific knowledge, or by exporting their intelligence.
Moreover, China will win this war not with weapons, but with its values that until today seem unaffected by the worldly successes: mental flexibility, perseverance, focus, and loyalty to the state; all values that have been carefully dismantled in western consumer society. It will also win by adopting a lifestyle that does not place people in the straightjackets of collectivism, but in the regime of materialist aspiration that the west knows so well. The Chinese have expanded their political and economic power by relinquishing some of their cultural and ideological hang ups, so to speak. Good trade!
Vice versa, the west wins the culture war, at the price of undermining its own political and economic power. They mutually take each other hostage. Who bothers with terrorists hitting soft targets, when the soft targets are happily and massively surrendering to the other side? Capital will kill capitalism.
Or to be more precise: global capitalism will kill western capitalism. Let’s now focus on the winner who will take all. It is no longer enough to consider China solely with an anthropologic view or via business interests. We need to think by China, through China, with China. And for that we need to think Chinese.
We also can no longer call the advance of China a matter of ‘expansion’, a stage of its diaspora, or even a conquest. No, it’s better to talk about a cultural mutation, a dimension of globalisation, a world-historical fatality. With China, modernity has begun a new phase that the west will not substantiate, but that, at best, it will only serve and witness. Paraphrasing and updating the famous poet of modernity Arthur Rimbaud, ‘Il faut être absolument Chinois’ to be modern. Or in more contemporary words: after the Dotcom Bubble, you better be part of the Comdot Boom.
After considering Chinese output, as so many magazines and cultural institutions in the west do these days, the most obvious way to be Chinese, is to engage ourselves with Chinese worldviews. It is the next step of understanding.
After awe, must come comprehension. But this is not an adequate assessment of impact. We can still manage to feel neutral, beyond, far away. In the past this magazine has offered this perspective several times, chronicling the enormous modernization of the country China. Now we need to go further and probe the intellectual energies within this country, anticipating their future objectives. That’s why we have invited many Chinese voices to talk about a broad range of topics – from city planning to preservation, from utopianism to the Taoist-Confucian nexus, from Beijing to Chinatowns. These authors, whether they like it or not, are going to craft the agenda for a world to come. Listen to Yung Ho Chang, Jiang Jun, Qingyun Ma, Shi Jian, Zhi Wenjun, Wang Jun, and many others, writing about China’s building conditions, interesting locations, revolutionary programs, urban urgencies and social ideas beyond the mantra of Car, Condo and Credit Card. Guest Chinese in this issue is Rem Koolhaas, writing about the public sphere of China. Guest editor is Linda Vlassenrood, curator at the Netherlands Architecture institute, and responsible for the exhibition ‘Contemporary China: Architecture’, and the research which laid the foundation for this issue. Volume thanks the nai for the collaboration and editorial inspiration.


Designing power

Volume editorial
2006 #7

Not in May but in April ’68, out of a frivolous Zeitgeist, architect Hans Hollein proclaimed that ‘everything is architecture’. It was a announcement of historical importance. Not only did he reveal an adolescent confidence that the world was at his feet, but also did his words mark the beginning of an architectural adventure beyond personal audacity: if the world was going to mess up with with architecture, in return architecture will start to mess up with everything with everything.  Against the waning modernist belief that architecture could understand, synthesize, translate and ultimately resolve the greatest issues of our time and its steadily withdrewal from the centre of the creation of our life world by becoming ‘just another party’ in the building process, Hollein claimed architecture could play an universal role in envisioning a new hybrid world.
Although the idea ever since found its most resilient adversaries among - exactly! - architects, who always are quick in stating that some issues are not ‘architectural’, and therefore no-go area for the architect, it is never too late to remain stubborn if only by jumping from the frivolous imagination of the sixties to the bloody serious matters of now.
Now. There is not so much to be cheerful about. Just read your newspaper. Wars waged on this or that. Fear of any risks that come with life. You know all that.
So, we reassert: ‘alles ist Architektur’ and architecture is everywhere, and we are going to prove that’s even more true when reality plays hardball with us.

Two issues long this magazine has taken you along the representations of power. First, by showing how power is in the details (#5) and then, by showing power buildings (#6). By doing so we focussed on the way power takes shape and gets form. How it can be recognized. This time however, we do one step further in the Volume research campaign on an the architecture of (a counterveiling) power. This time we show how power is using architecture not to express itself, but to organise itself. For power structures and power relations the key to success is to think and act architecturally. And to challenge  those structures and relations, you might better do the same. A true Macchiavelli is always an architect. (And, a succesful architect should better be a Macchiavelli too, but that’s another story.)
This is how we put the dictum of Hollein into practice. If architecture is released from its materialism and starts to engage with everything, it will become clear how everything is already dealing with architecture. Empires need architects, not as the servants of bricks and mortar, but as builders of the cause. You may think this is an architecture only on the level of the metaphor. But there is more at stake. Architects who socially and historically will make the difference, are the ones for whom building objects is no longer their destiny. They may be the ones who create the edifices of power that will leave a true mark on human history.

Reader, please find enclosed in this issue your itinerary through the landscape of power today. See how this landscape is fully designed, following a hidden logic, and revealing intrinsic systems or patterns. See how ultimately it is less important what power looks like, as it is essential to understand how it is organized by a groundplan. Contentwise, we are presenting these orders in diverse fields ranging from language to celebrity culture, from art to money, from terrorism to demographics. We even show how it can be found in counter power.
Architects! Please reboot your thinking and take a look at your new portfolio…

The Architecture of Power, part 2

Volume editorial
#6 - 2005

The previous issue of this magazine examined how “Power is in the Details”. This issue we widen the perspective and focus on buildings and building schemes.
Meanwhile people keep asking us questions…
Frequentty asked A few examples of the questions we receive Why has this magazine become unreadable, with either
too much or too little text? Why does this magazine change so often? Why isn’t this magazine about true architecture anymore? Why is this magazine not updating me with the necessary information? Why isn’t this magazine not available in my local bookstore? Why is this magazine only in English?
Answer Because this magazine deals with power, and power is changing architecture as we know it, as well as its media and distribution channels.
Rarely asked questions Why do you always connect architecture to larger social and cultural issues? Why do you print subjective photography that goes beyond the objective registration of facts? Why are your texts always so suggestive and discursive? Why do you carry on with this if the professionals have started to hate you? Why do you believe in humor as a means to understand the world? Why do creatives from Iran or Mexico subscribe to your magazine while you lose subscriptions in your home markets? Why do you progressively use Internet to pursue your research?
Answer Because we deal with power, and power can only be addressed and challenged by transgressing set scripts.
Very very rarely asked questions You have been propagating to go beyond architecture for a full year now: to do almost nothing; to start broadcasting rather than building architecture; to socialize and share; to address power directly. But are we soon going to see some practical results of that propaganda? Can architecture become a true cultural force capable of breaking through the status quo? Are architects responsible for the enslavement of their discipline? Should an architect be asked to play any other role in society than that of designer? Is this magazine an advocate of this belief? Will
your magazine ever be viable if you attempt to change your subject matter all the time? Is this magazine sold at undescript newsstands at train stations in the German hinterland? Can we get a group discount? Can I put this magazine in my final testament?
Answer Certainly!

Doing nothing is almost all right

Volume editorial
#2 - 2005

Few things are as driven by maximalism as architecture. The craft stands out for its almost boundless urge to prove itself.
Success depends on the fullness of the portfolio, on the size of the projects, on prestigious clients, on a deluge of publicity, and, last but not least, on narcissistic, compulsive and histrionic personalities for whom enough is never enough. Unbridled ambition is the hallmark of the famous architecture firms and schools, where ‘going home’ is considered tantamount to giving up. For anyone hoping to escape the drudgery of just meeting the client’s programmatic demands, sleeping under the desk is perfectly normal. If you want to become a thinking, creative architect, not only must you be capable of doing anything, you also have to do it. Work, work, work: that’s the motto.

But architecture is maximalist not only in this quantitative sense. It also has a penchant for maximalist designs - not lots, but huge. Perhaps the world’s two most discussed architecture projects of the moment are Daniel Libeskind’s design for Ground Zero and Peter Eisenman’s Holocaust Monument in Berlin. Both these projects revolve around filling a traumatic absence, both physically and morally. They both involve building in a place touched by evil, and in both cases the solution is a gesture of maximal dimensions: the biggest monument and the tallest tower in the world. Proposals also existed for both these sites which aimed at the exact opposite. They were small, subtle suggestions that did not aim so much to negate the emptiness as to mark it. These designs have remained practically unknown, even among architects, and of course they did not stand a chance of ever being built.

There are few practitioners of merely marking an idea. What counts is positing a maximal universe. It must be completely worked out, leaving neither questions open nor the least gap unfilled. Architecture is fond of the complete makeover, of retouching reality rather than adding a subtle touch. Architecture always wants to strategize, even if tactics are obviously a better option.

‘Architecture must go beyond itself’ was the motto of Volume’s first issue. We illustrated some new areas of application for architectural intelligence, beyond building. In Amsterdam that issue was literally launched by Wubbo Ockels, Holland’s pride of space, the first Dutch astronaut, who travelled on the Challenger space shuttle in 1985. He said afterwards that Going Into Orbit]is a great enterprise and an incredible experience, but that to appreciate and comprehend the ultimate freedom and infinity of space requires at least a point of reference somewhere. Math, medicine, literature, visual arts, satellite technology… these areas also present a choice between doing a huge amount or a very tiny amount. There, too, we see the differences between the will to power, the will to understanding, the will to beauty, the will to serve society and even the will to destruction. Doing things is a question of degrees. That is what this issue is about: an analysis of the architectural Will and how to decide on the right dose.


Volume editorial (collective)
#1 - 2005

cover Volume #1

A New VOLUME for Architecture One issue ago this magazine appeared under another name. But it already announced a new project: VOLUME. A title as an object, as energy, and as a container full of reflexive content, representing the expansion of architectural territories and the new mandate for design.
It is becoming irrevocably clear that architecture today has a growing potential to be more than shelter, enclosure, occupation, and spatial accommodation. Beyond all that, there is a growing awareness of a potential that may ultimately challenge the very character of architecture as we know it. For some this means anxiety and perhaps despair about a profession in distress. Others face this challenge with full confidence and intellectual curiosity about the implications for architectural intelligence. Let’s resume what was said: Architecture has reached three of its most respected limits:

-its definition as the art of making buildings

-its discourse through scripted printed media and static exhibitions

-its training as a matter of master and apprentice

The pushing of these limits challenges the mandate and self -conception of architecture. Architecture needs new modes of operation, converging the creation, the mediation, and the appreciation of space.

That’s why we launch VOLUME, a global idea platform to voice architecture, anyway, anywhere, anytime. An instrument of cultural invention, and re-invention. It will be dedicated to experimentation and the production of new forms of architectural discourse.

4 + 5 = Editorial

We named the protagonists in this project:

1) ARCHIS- pushing beyond the magazine an independent and experimental think tank devoted to the process of real-time cultural reflexivity through timely and provocative special issues, ARCHIS is evolving from a bimonthly bilingual magazine monitoring and extending the latest trends to a multi-media platform.


2) AMO - pushing beyond the office a research and design studio that applies architectural thinking to disciplines beyond the borders of architecture and urbanism - including sociology, technology, and politics. -AMO operates in tandem with its companion company the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, an internationally renowned firm, based in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.


3) C-lab - pushing beyond the school an experimental research unit devoted to the development of new forms of communication in architecture,- the Columbia Laboratory for Architectural Broadcasting -has been set up as a semi-autonomous think and action tank at GSAPP. CLAB maintains a portfolio of creative partnerships to broaden the range and increase the intensity of architectural discourse, acting as a kind of training camp and energy source for incubating new channels for debate about architecture.

A promise for future collaborations. We have also already listed in a non-hierarchical order some imaginable modalities for this project: magazine; objects; space; event; debate; webcast; consultancy; talk show; travel; and other surprises.

And here is VOLUME#1, a first tour d’horizon of the new possibilities of architecture beyond itself. It might give you some directions. But it is also an invitation to see yourself differently. You may think of yourself as a customer of this magazine, having purchased an information product. You are correct, because we need your faith to make sure this intellectual endeavor lasts. But hopefully you want to see yourself as something else as well. Perhaps you may be interested in becoming a member of a global intelligence community to help us find the places, the moments, and the reasons for architecture to surface, to intervene, to make a difference. For architectural opportunities to sound, to resonate, to echo. If it is true that architecture can shift its focus from a reactive mindset, waiting for sites, clients, and budgets to decide to get together in an architectural brief, towards a proactive, pre-emptive attitude to speak up and step forward and propose architecture before it has been considered an option, then we need you to substantiate the claim.

Therefore, let us know your ideas. Get yourself a stake in this ARCHIS + AMO + C-lab + _ _ _ project and make yourself known through pointed and decisive argument. We are grateful if you want to support this project, we will be delighted if you could share it with us.

From the State as Client to the Client State

Volumed editorial
#5 - 2005

There are few cultural concepts that call forth feelings of loyalty and connectedness more strongly than the nation. Perhaps only the family as a social model has more gravity than the nation, organized as a state.
The form of government that rules that state is hardly important. Whether an oligarchy as in Russia, a one-party system as in China, a two-party system as in the United States, a constitutional monarchy as in the Netherlands or a theocracy as in Iran, when the chips are down all disputes within the system are set aside and everyone lines up behind the nation. Global events such as sports competitions and cultural gatherings channel and cultivate these feelings. Then we have the United Nations where debates take place via state intervention accompanied by the inevitable little flags and banners. Annual OESO reports analyze the economic status of every nation. Without exception states with a strong sense of coherence rely upon a rich past, a legacy that largely consists of monuments, historical cityscapes, temples of public affairs, squares for the people to congregate and celebrate that they are one people. Architecture is the state’s means of expression par excellence. Architecture is acknowledgement and mutual recognition. Architecture forms the background against which we share our lives with our compatriots. One might say: where there are states, architects are requisite. Or the other way around: nation-building can take place only where there are good architects. Their power to organize the space in which we live and to give expression to our values is an engine of national identity. For this reason states love architects; they nourish and endow the best of them with the weighty task of defining each generation.
But how tenable is this system?
Perhaps asking about the tenability of the model described above is itself totally out of date. It sounds as if we now only have to deal with an erosion, with a premonition that everything could all be over in the not too distant future. But wasn¹t it over a long time ago? Hasn’t the state-architecture relationship mediated as it is by widely-held notions of construction’s goals become akin to the lame working with the blind? The state, blind because it has no clear ideas about where it wants to go, and the architect, lame without a clear mandate to further a public cause, continue to speak to each other. Does this conversation, however, still yield anything to serve as an example, to enrich our spirits and nourish our optimism? Can architecture bestow self-confidence upon the state again?
This periodical has been a forum for debates on the crisis of architecture as an expression of collective and public values and ideas for a great many years. Architecture has fallen prey to the privatization of public patronage. It has been reduced on one side to the work of about 25 famous architects, who care only for their personal style, and on the other to anonymous construction, in which only serviceability and production count. It is either art or property and nothing in between. In that debate one might indeed ask what kind of national consciousness must also be present in architecture and how it can cultivate social loyalty.
Yet one might just as well speak of the disintegration of the state. How it resolves into greater geopolitical constellations; how it manages without leadership; how it is led by single-issue politicians whose main aim is to win; how it is eroded by institutional corruption and incompetence; how it has lost contact with the common man; how it continually finds itself making wrong decisions, living by luck, suffering from a compulsion to fix problems with new policies and, somehow, just keeps going.
Both sides are concerned with the crumbling of legitimacy. If we observe the enfeeblement of the state’s legitimacy then the question is immediately raised how architecture can embody something more than itself or the client¹s current fancy. If we ascertain that architecture has lost its ability to reach the citizen (rather than the consumer), we must then wonder how such a culture would build a nation.
Yet the idea that there must be a pact between design and institution, between architecture and state has not been entirely abandoned. Many still harbor the hope that governments, seeing their collective mission, will also be able to contribute to a collective meaning of what is to be built. Yet simultaneously there is an increasing sense that hope alone is not enough; deeds are also required.
In this supplement we deal with the fate of three states, France, Great Britain and The Netherlands, and their architecture. All three states boast a rich architectural inheritance with cities drenched in historical value and architectonic refinement. No future architect will ever be able to escape their influence. Yet these three states struggle with their imperial legacies as former representatives of the mightiest nations on the planet who once ruled over colonies and oceans. People nowadays continue to profit from that rich legacy. Yet at the same time these populations are growing older and increasingly scared and irresolute regarding their place in the great historical developments which continue unremittingly: globalization, digitalization, mobilization, migration. While the architectonic assignment is to be found everywhere, namely to find micro answers to these macro-developments, we are still missing essential vigor and enthusiasm to strike out on a clear path. Thus it increasingly appears as if progress is no longer conceivable and that the present, or even worse, the past is most easily imagined. If it comes to that, what shall become of architecture?

Public relations

Archis editorial
2002 #1

Six months ago, I hazarded an opinion in these pages that architecture was going to turn political again.
This view was illustrated by a picture of the new development around Canary Wharf, Cesar Pelli’s controversial office skyscraper in the London Docklands. The conclusion was that architecture would be inseparably linked in future discussions with the struggle for power. At the time it was speculation, but it turned out to be true - and how. Several months later, architecture found itself on the front line of global conflicts.
Osama Bin Laden chose the World Trade Center as the target for his attack on the West. The leader of the operation was Mohammed Atta, a fanatical student of the history of urban planning from Hamburg, with a specialization in the historic transformations of Aleppo and Cairo. The counter-attack was launched by George W. Bush, who justified his war targets with arguments to do with shelter. Although the victims of his precision bombing were not necessarily themselves terrorists, they had ‘harboured’ the terrorists to some extent.

The operation finally homed in on the fairytale landscape of Tora Bora, a complex of caves which was smoked out using intelligent explosives and, in the deeper recesses, with the aid of suborned local warriors. The architect of the WTC, Minoru Yamasaki, meanwhile proved to be the same as that of the ill-famed Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex in St. Louis, whose demolition was designated as the official death-knell of modernism by the world-famous architecture critic Charles Jencks - the same Charles Jencks who, in the last issue of Archis, laid the collapse of the twin towers at the door of the guild of architects, whose professional responsibility was above all to build safe buildings.

But then it transpires that Mr. Yamasaki is a good acquaintance of the Bin Laden family, a fabulously wealthy dynasty of developers and builders. They have worked with Yamasaki repeatedly since the 1950s on accursed modern projects on the Arabian peninsula, thus surrendering the holy land of the Prophet to the worldly ambitions of the Saudi royal family, who have been content with vague suggestions of the Islamic visual tradition. Examples are the King Fahd Dhahran Air Terminal in Dhahran, which is even depicted on a Saudi banknote, and the King Fahd Royal Reception Pavilion at Jeddah Airport.

And, as though the ironic nerve had not yet been sufficiently gratified, Yamasaki went to town with his use of Islamic design elements in the World Trade Center itself: the dense filigree of the facade, the elegant pointed arches in the base and even the plaza surrounded by the maze of streets of the New York financial district which - according to Ymasaki - recalls the courtyard surrounding the Kaaba at Mecca.

In other words, Osama, the renegade son of the Bin Laden building dynasty, not only attacked the symbol of capitalism but also the symbol of the cultural inflation of Islamic architecture, an inflation to which his own family has been party. It’s a devilish imbroglio beyond the stretch of any literature, fantasy or divine conspiracy theory. Who says architecture has lost its significance? One could almost wish it had less significance.

If this cultural intrigue makes one thing clear, it is how closely the significance of architecture is allied to relations: relations between events, relations between places and relations between emotions. There are buildings, structures, monuments, ensembles. But it is the assimilation of the built into our inner landscape and the kind of links that this gives rise to that is crucial. Architecture is in other words the interplay of physical space, network space and mental space. It is the outcome of cultural affinities. Or the lack of them.

Archis has launched many initiatives during the last year aimed at bringing to life not only the representation of the built environment, but also these relations. Sometimes very literally, by inviting you to disclose your own mental space to us by SMS or fax. Sometimes more suggestively, by offering pages through which you can enter into relations with others. It is our intention to carry on promoting this dynamic between the spatial dimensions within which cultural life unfolds, not least by means of the Archis web site . In a time of destruction, it is not enough simply to report; we must create.

Inside and outside architecture

Archis editorial
1998 #6

Who still talks about the autonomy of architecture? Who still confesses love for that lovely, quiet notion that implies the existence of an inviolable core of architecture, of architecture’s own immanence and tradition, its own momentum? It would seem that concentration on the craft, the discipline and the profession has all but been blown away in the typhoon of spatial upscaling, economic globalization and the countless technical, organizational and bureaucratic complications of the building process.

This you might at least conclude from the words of those who are involved with architecture.
Just consider. When presenting new architecture, designers increasingly refer to all kinds of social process. In criticism, the recontextualization of architecture within a broader cultural framework is the flavour of the month. When formulating the brief, clients and consultants issue a list of determining factors which go far beyond the competence of the old discipline of architecture. The individual building plays only a marginal role nowadays in the social debate on the use of urban and rural space, having made way for a variety of political and economic considerations. Policymakers write architectural memoranda in which architecture is equated with space in general and the world in particular. Many an architect makes a name for himself with sweeping theories on the metropolis, suburbanization, ecology, digitalization and similar technological quantum leaps. Statistics, and hence vast numbers, have become hugely popular. Architecture is capable of absorbing anything, and hence tends to dissolve into everything. There are all the same signs of development taking place in architecture, both as an art form and as a profession. Firstly, the familiar pattern of alternation of styles remains in undiminished force. Every few years a new form of expression comes into vogue. A lively discourse about new design and building techniques is going on, moreover, ranging from research into interesting design and presentation software to a revolution in the use of new materials. Typological research is also undergoing a renaissance. What about all the work in the area of high density living, the intelligent office, the reconstruction of airports as roofed-over urban developments and so on? Even in this supermodern era, there exists a version of the Vitruvian venustas, firmitas and utilitas. And of course there is interest enough in the rare, sublime exception, the top architect who takes care of concinnitas.
Does it make sense to stress the boundary between these approaches, between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ architecture, to accentuate the difference between them? Not infrequently the dichotomy boils down to a question of mentality. The animosity that it engenders is then played out by each camp behaving as though the other did not exist, or by each declaring the other heretic. This is a downright shame, for it neutralizes the unprecedented energy available on both sides. Instead of thinking exclusively in terms of inside and outside, a complementary approach could be considered; an approach characterized by designing in teams, by transdisciplinary education and by integral criticism.
Naturally, there will still always be special courses of training for architects and there will always be professional jargon; the specialized magazines are still with us. Sufficient reason exists, in short, for preserving the status of a world apart. From a distance, the outsider still sees a specialist caste of architects, who are moreover often treated with a customary suspicion in the mass media. This is not wholly without justification. Quite a few of the existing institutions are here simply because they were here yesterday and they do not feel obliged to spend all that much energy on formulating more positive reason for existence. But, at the same time, tremendous efforts are being made in the new fields of activity and on the new forms of architecture. Perhaps that whole autonomy business was a needlessly contrived problem of definition. Conversely, further new definitions of architecture should make it possible to continue calling the discipline autonomous till kingdom come. Any takers?