Useless Architecture?

The name of this talk evokes the title of a recent conference given by Peter Eisenman. In Wither Architecture? the gentle and mature starchitect situated his recent practice within a double condition of lateness: a late work in the career of his author, and also an inevitable expression of the often called late capitalism. A charming weakness emerged from the almost anxious, if self-ironic, attempt to inscribe his work in the flow of architectural history. Eisenman’s obsessive use of fictional, historical or topographical grids to intellectualize and justify the form of his buildings came about as a means to achieve disciplinary legitimation. However, this was also a Piranesian prison that kept the creator from the pure creative act. Uttering a kind of last will, the architect aspired to one of the most useless and unreachable aspects of architecture: everlasting recognition. So as to produce relevant architecture, do we really need the various legitimations of visibility? Is architectural culture utterly useless or is it’s thinking strictly necessary to reiterate again and again the ultimate, unobvious usefulness of buildings?

This is the concept I’ve presented to ExperimentaDesign when invited to host one of their 2011 OpenTalks. With talk hosts such as curators Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Zoe Ryan, this promises to be one of the biennial’s Opening Week highlights, taking place as from today at 11am  in another amazingly empty heritage building in Lisbon’s historical core, until recently the home to the Boa Hora Law-Court.

.. At Trial in Boa-Hora Court, 1980. Via Memoriando.

So, this is the weird setting in which tomorrow at 11am invited ladies Alexandra Lange, architecture critic at the Design Observer, Folke Koebberling, from Koebberling & Kaltwasser, and Gretchen Mokry, from Architecture for Humanity will take architecture culture to martial enquiry…

The issue here is not really if buildings and shelter are useful, which they obviously are, but more if we may dismiss architecture thinking and its (dis)contents as distant and useless – as so many seem to assume too quickly.

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