Tag Archives: architectural fiction

On the Drive of Writing (and Reading)

             © Pedro Gadanho, Untitled (Tallinn Winter, 2011).  Soundtrack here.


Translator Richard Howard writing on Roland Barthes reminds us of the latter’s fierce determination to assert “the pleasure we must take in our reading as against the indifference of (mere) knowledge.” Barthes, himself, evoked the writerly bliss as that which “unsettles the reader’s historical, cultural, psychological assumptions,” a specific event that “brings a crisis to his relation with language.” Meanwhile, it sounds like architecture only recently has come to be seen as a form of knowledge, a language that is related to something more than just erecting buildings. Now that its erogenous zones have been reallocated, maybe the bliss of writing (and reading) on architectural matters can be about something else. It may now be about merrily upturning our liaison to architecture’s very foundations, instead of further tying us down to its fundamentalisms, its recurring institutional incarcerations, its plain unfortunate downturns.”

in “On Experimental Architectural Writing and Its Media”

This is one of sixteen sections in a text I have recently contributed to the catalogue of the exciting Archizines exhibition, opening this Friday November 4th at the Architectural Association, in London.

While Beyond was chosen as one of the 60 independent architectural magazines on show, Elias Redstone was also so kind as to challenge me to dwell on “why it is again critically imperative for creative, fictional and personal narratives to be inventive in regards to architectural discourse and practice” – as related to media where this is still possible, as against the general (main)streamlining of culture.

The resulting exploration was an opportunity to finally weave together some wandering ideas on the pleasures of writing and reading architecture, especially after my participation in the On Experimental Writing panel debate, at the CCA, back  in February. (The podcast is still available on that link).

Beyond criticism, press releases and other boring reports on what’s up in the world of architecture, I specially wanted to focus on how writing can and should be a practice on its own terms, one that nonetheless only accomplishes itself when it reaches the reader through what Barthes appropriately called bliss.

Being an avid, curious reader, I tend to consider any text that fails to sustain my attention simply badly written. Fiction itself is about the precise technique with which one delivers a story, more than about the inventiveness of the narrated facts. Good writing is one that captures its reader through both idea and form.

This being said, there is a considerable difference in between the baroque complexity of one Pierre Bourdieu – in which the sheer strength of the ideas surmounts a decided, purposeful difficulty imposed on his readers as a sort of initiation rite – and someone whose thoughts are simply insipid and unclear.

Texts must want to communicate. They must want to communicate ideas, or emotions, or even straightforward information. In an age of information surplus, texts that lack such inner, initial desire, become merely superfluous. Vain. And the same should be said of any form of communication, architecture included.

Sit Down and Enjoy the Flow

While finishing classes for the academic year of 2010-11 and already preparing to join the Realdania/IFHP/DAC  “Another Urban Future” think-tank in Copenhagen – to again visit the Danish capital for the first time in 20 years – I couldn’t but think of just sitting down and enjoying the flow of information that one has to suspend if one wants to carry with business as usual.

In this case, going back to the dark side of your email inbox is quite enough to delight in immediate possibilities for reflection. With our focusing on communication tools such as Facebook or Twitter, we constantly overlook how the much humbler email has changed our lifes – and our possibilities of (net)working internationally at considerable low cost…

This is not only about the instanteinity of communication across the globe, or the innumerous newsletters updates one consumes at daily rate and absurd speed. This is also about how painful – and deadening on a one person-structure – it would be to print, fold, envelope, lick, stamp, and take 20, 30, 40 letters a day to the nearest post office. Unconceivable and yet only 30 years distant.

Indeed, if I would have to consider what was the electronic tool that has brought us to our current state of affairs after the invention of personal computers, I would have to state that this was the email.

And this small digression is only to start telling you about two or three things on my inbox that tickled my curiosity enormously over the last weeks – before I archive them into an almost inevitable oblivion.

The first are news on an intriguing project sent in by Beyond #01 contributor Antonio Scarponi, the bright mind behind Conceptual Devices.

I think my enthusiasm for Malthus, A Meal a Day was triggered because it reaches into that dominion of design fiction that, parallel to architecture fiction, very effectively feeds our imagination of the future ever since Anthony Dune and Fiona Raby started to devise weird scenarios to explain their startling objects.

But I also got carried away because of its connection to a text that impressed me earlier on. In the unexpected context – or not so much – of an architecture magazine, “L’Agriculture en Ville” by Etienne Chobaux simply explores the current possibilities of hidroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics and shows us how the future of food may be about to change oh so drastically.

This sort of future visions is the thing that ultimately prevents me from being a depressed pessimist on account of the information I access every day: they reveal the incredible but proven potential of the human mind to permanently (re)create, (re)think, (re)improve and transform its technologies and inventions.

Socially, or in terms of the current history of our democracy, we seem to be placidly looking at the decline of another roman empire from the very comfort of our living rooms. We seem indecided to muse on revolt or to just remain indifferent vis-a-vis the spectacle of luscious greed merrily overcoming any possible rationale of well-distributed progress.

The possibility of sanity then probably arises from the lone fact that we secretly know – or want to believe – that some people out there are still diligently blinding themselves to the reality around them and just moving on with their own doings – and with their own micro-narratives of possible progress.  We somehow expect those people to be our guarantee for ‘another future.’

And while I’m pretty sure Antonio Scarponi does his best day-to-day efforts to prevent himself from considering that Silvio Berlsconi’s really exists, all of this pretty well relates to another blog feed that just landed on my personal email from DPR Barcelona.

DPR’s quote of Zizek provides an excellent opener for a peculiar reflection on how again, and as we are one,* architecture can be political, even if also assumedly withdrawing from the violent assaults of current reality.

Curiously, Ethel Baraona and César Reyes’ contribution to a larger blogiscussion reflects upon the project of a Greek architect, Aristide Antonas, featured above. And, as their text eventually suggests, this is not an unrelated happenstance.

Coincidently, my forthcoming claim that architects must go back to the streets – an op-ed for Domus that states that… they are already doing it – also inevitably echoes the violence that, while munching dinner with our small children, we sense rising daily in the very same cities that more than two thousand years ago saw the unconscious, mythological birth of Western democracy.