Little über-rant, rapidly expelled in the heady nausea of a post-stress-cigarette – listen, if it sounds like utter rubbish in the next lines, be a friend goddammit and let me know!
What is specifically “architectural” theory?
Is it the theorisation of the methods and modes of construction and built objects? Does this take into account the methods and modes of construction of intangible or subtle built objects – such as the construction of discourse, of interfaces, the construction of a public, the construction of society ..
Hadn’t this – or doesn’t this already – overlap (in reverse order) with the construction of infrastructures, of cities, of spaces of encounter, of dining rooms?
Let alone the spaces of production and construction themselves, which are forever altered, specifically by the inferred intangible modes of “construction and building” that is to say, by the changed and changing modes of communication and expression?
ps: please don’t substitute “communication” for “technology” in your head; you’re making it too easy on yourself if you do.
pps: maybe fun to substitute theory for discourse in the first line, dunno, just tried it.
ppps: what’s with the substitutions?!
Okay less fresh-from-cigarette, I persisted in arguing some points of the above questions with a friend; only continue if any of the above piqued your interest, I’m posting segments of our conversation here for my record of an extremely socratic but ephemeral webchat:
Q: is this an important question for you?
A: i guess. sort of. i think it’s a given that we accept architectural theory as an entity, composed of the historiographic text produced by, for, and about architecture. [otherwise we wouldn’t have a course]
and if we accept the centrality of texts or rather, the practice of writing to architectural discourse and theory.. then the formats of such writing, texts and discourse needs must be analysed, right?
i mean that’s obvious, isn’t it?
Q: i think of a professor from university who said: “relationships are cheap” in the sense that one can almost always find a parallel, analogy, relationship, link etc between any two things so, to illustrate why this “taking into account” is interesting is crucial. i think.. i’m not yet sure where the parallels in ‘construction’ of all those things are.. useful, interesting or insightful.
A: ah ok. its the parallels in construction. ok, to start at the beginning, or rather, to pick up on that: i agree with your nameless professor. parallels are easy and to my mind some sort of post-post-modernism (?? yes, i just said that: whatevs)
ok, so it’s simple; one speaks in a sort of tectonic language to describe these non-architectural things all the time. In fact if you google “architecture”, you won’t find architecture at the top necessarily; it could just as easily be web architecture or that of other softwares. Web-SITEs are inherently architectural, cyberspace is spatial, a site has a map and a structure and usually a HOME page. ok, and that’s just web stuff: we can talk about the architecture or structure of society or you know, government; the construction of networks; building of a database.
i think the ways in which these things are “built” (not just how those words are used in parallels, but the actual “methods of construction”) are almost certainly reflective and influential in the way we think about the construction or use of physical space. which is of course a “real” architect’s remit. simple example: when considering the layout of a “production space”.. what do you need now? a cotton jenny? An engine room? A well-lit Fordist shed? an iphone and a beanbag?
Q: does the use of architectural terminology actually change anything about the way we think about ‘society’, ‘government’ etc or not?
A: i was thinking more the other way round, as that’s my business. but yes, it’s easier to see (or perhaps easier to miss..) the way you have suggested it there. (but) it’s not about the terminology!! or the linguistics.
Thinking about the way we ‘construct’ (or whatever) society, government, friendship etc etc, the way we construct lives perhaps, in terms of how they might affect the process of architecture.
And if those processes, let’s say for ease that they are communication-based processes (we could also differentiate knowledge-based processes, or information-based processes) are affecting architectural production.. it makes sense to be thinking about the process of communicating ideas about architecture (that one seems elementary)
and here i think i get into a little feedback loop of some kind
Q: ok so i don’t know if i can yet substantiate this idea (maybe you can), but where you talk about substituting discourse for theory could one also substitute ‘form’ architectural forms themselves as evoking a social, institutional, psychological, or some other reality.
A: well yes.. that is what i mean. both architectural forms and the formation (if you like, rather than theory or discourse) of architecture. is that what you meant?
Q: so, to clear this up then: how is the ‘process of architecture’ defined? what do you mean when you say it?
A: haha it’s not; neither the process nor the discipline (nor in fact the practice, increasingly) is defined..
yet, i suppose we can agree that a process of architecture (perhaps rather than building or construction) implies an element of research, thinking, drawing upon the historiography of architecture, and ultimately designing. all the parts i describe are i suppose after a “tender” has been awarded, i.e. the legitimised or (capitally) sanctified practice of architecture! (or for paper architecture). also one might argue that consultation with the site, with the clients, with the context comes under research
Q: but i think the question is important (for me), because the construction of (say) ‘society is not a technical process in the sense that architecture (as defined here) is; in the sense that the construction of discourses, societies, interfaces etc is a joint, complex multi-authored process, without necessarily an objective, but as the cumulative product of many different happenings
A: sure, well exactly: that’s kind of my point.
Q: how can it be your point if you don’t answer the question!
A: who said my point had to be an answer?!! i think it was always going to be a rhetorical question, but you’re right not to treat is as one. So, what, the answer to <> i don’t think i would answer that, definitively. my POINT being.. well – perhaps we can think about it this way: while naturally society occasions its own chaotic or organic structures, networks etc.. we have been used to restricted, authored or at the very least, enclosed paradigms of cultural (and to a large extent, capital) production.. this is 1.0, 2.0 stuff
take the mass media; that which is suppposed to address, inform and reflect the public. tv, radio, papers – all a one-to-many relationship with their public/s. All, of course, have many authors, but one “body” from which they exude their product. A one-way (pretty much), and one to many source of authored content. surely that has an impact on all sorts of other things.. (head is melting a bit)
for example, design, or design criticism, or for example, pedagogy. so, thinking about architecture, or the relationship of the built environment.. surely this echoes the one-to-many culture we are in. except that that is changing..
what i can’t answer is what the effects will be…
i think this particular thread of conversation is dealing only with authorship, which is fine but only partial – To break for a moment, but not to leave the subject entirely – another facet is not just the ratio of communication, but the actual quality of it. to zoom closer, into a facet of a facet, the rise of social media, the nature of blogs and the proliferation of microblogging, such as twitter – especially because these are not always bidirectional relationships (i.e. twitter is “open”, you don’t have to be “friended” or approved for the most part) – has led to a phenomenal increase in the PHATIC quality of communication
what does THAT do? it is bound to have an effect; it’s just bound to!