Conceptual Cluster 3: Ecologies of Practice

by katja2013

CCTV array

CCTV’s autonomy: aesthetic fluidity as partial object

Instead of condemning the architectural object as an effect and instrument of overwhelming social forces and ‘rather than repeating that nothing can be done because of capitalism, which demands and co-opts, Lefebvre encourages us to think of architecture as irreducible to the mode of production, state, and social relations: Lefebvre suggests a dialectical understanding of the conflict between specifically architectural imagination and the forces aimed at instrumentalizing it.[1]

A building is not simply a reflection of its functions, but is in fact active, constitutes information, behaviour, actions and perception over time, which are expressed both through the materiality (aesthetics) of the building and the image it projects. Architecture is both about presence and representation. It is about space and aesthetics, since every action produces an image.

In my analysis of the China Central Television Headquarters in Beijing (CCTV) by Rem Koolhaas I will look further than purely traditional (stylistic) approaches of analysis that primarily focus on the formal aspects of a project. When you like to catch where things are at work you have to register carefully the forms of agency and the relations that emerge in its spatial constellation and aesthetics effects applied. The CCTV building resists the celebration of the media house as just another icon (brand), and favours a much more dynamic understanding of its representation. The CCTV building as icon represents the power and media in China, but through its changing loop-form is at the same time deflating this image. It does not provide power in China an easy icon. Both on content and on a formal level the conflation of different media (loop, program, construction, tectonics, scale, bigness) produces a fundamental dissymmetry between media, provoking a distortion or destabilisation of identification and representation. The physical build loop, it is a visual effect, no skyscraper, establishing an urban site, rather than a point to the sky.[2] It challenges you to rethink it from every position you see it, its sculptural effect with its constant changing appearance, being a Z, I or otherwise estranging formation in relation to its environment. As audience you become a participant in asking what it is. The representation of the building is not a ‘passively representative image’, the image takes on the role of subjectifivization vector, or ’shifter’, capable of deterring our perception before ‘hooking it up again’ to other possibilities: that of an “operator of junctions in subjectivity”[3]. It has as Guattari defined anaesthetic fluidity’ which cannot be detached from the works autonomy, the ‘partial object’ derives from a “relative subjective autonomization”. (…) Here, the aesthetic object acquires the status of a “partial enunciator”, whose assumption of autonomy makes it possible to “foster new fields of reference”.[4]

Although paradoxical, autonomous systems (or autopoiesis)[5] can only exist through its interconnectedness with its environment. Autonomy derives through its interactivity with its environment, its separateness is there through its interconnectedness. Our own autonomy, its defined social relations, means nothing without environment, paradoxically, it is necessarily dynamic, and it is stable in time and change. Not only looking at the relational aspects, what architecture produces, is important, but also the way the autonomous object itself produces political effects/ forms/ aesthetics/ images, is essential to take into account, without autonomous presence there are no relations.


[1] Lukasz Stanek. Henri Lefebvre on Space, Architecture, Urban research, and the production of theory (Minneapolis,: Minnesota Press, 2011) p.250 Stanek speaks about a not yet published book: Lefebvre in unpublished manuscript: Vers un Architecture de la juissance (225 pages, 1973)

[2] Sven-Olof Wallenstein. ‘Media Houses, Architecture, Media, and the Production of Centrality’. (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2010) p.168

[3] Nicolas Bourriaud, ‘The Aesthetic Paradigm (Felix Guattari and Art)’, in Relational Aesthetics, Les Presses des Réel, 2002.

[4] idem

[5] The term was introduced in 1972 by Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela