Monday, 20 July 2009

start at the end

I was interviewed for the AA the other day, and at the end of the meeting a member of the panel asked me if I had any questions. ‘I read Kuma’s Anti-Object recently’ I said, ‘and I found the introduction by Brett Steele very interesting. Given his, and the AA’s, role at the forefront of the digital revolution in architecture, his support for an architecture that is, if anything, adigital, seems quite a striking change of position. Is this symptomatic of the change in contemporary thinking? What do you think is the future of the digital revolution, and more specifically, what will be the future role of the AA in this field?’ None of the three replied, then after a few seconds a man who I sensed was least impressed by my presentation said: ‘the revolution is over.’

This reminded me of something I read in Log magazine recently, (run by Cynthia Davidson, Eisenman’s wife). Mario Carpo writes: “In the early 90’s, the digital revolution in architecture had no clearly identified course of history to call into question: in true post-modernist fashion it had no preset destination - no target, as it were, and almost no end in mind. Indeed, 15 years later, some may reasonably claim that as the digital turn had nowhere to go, it went nowhere.”

Yeah, alright, fair enough, I dislike the vocabulary of digital architecture as much as the next person. The projects mostly resemble neo-baroque fretwork, objects of unnecessary complexity just plonked down wherever their site might be (with no thought to landscape, to human scale, to the modality of perception), and then these architects claim to not have produced architecture at all, but programmable elements that in themselves are generic, but which can be adapted to the hyper-specific conditions of program. It makes me ill.
However, I hardly think its fair to search out a scapegoat in these times of global financial crisis. I first noticed this bitter approach when Zaha was balled out by one and all at the Barbican in April. Her style of digital architecture epitomises the fundamental ethos of Modernism: that we produce architecture we are technologically capable of, and not morally responsible for.

Does this perhaps mean that the Modern era is done with? Probably not. But the aim of this blog is, at the end of the digital revolution, to propose new directions for the profession. This does not mean abandonning digital techniques, but it does mean carefully examining the ontological legitimacy of what we produce. Or, if you prefer, asking again ‘why do we make architecture?’.

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