You can read ‘Philosophies: A Primer for Undergraduate Students of Architecture’ here:
You can read ‘Philosophies: A Primer for Undergraduate Students of Architecture’ here:
I revised the conceptual coloring-in book after the closing module of Philosophies. Besides some minor corrections in the texts, I modified the title from ‘Fragments’ to ‘Fragments of constructions’ and I added an ‘about’ at the end. The ‘about’ chapter contains the arguments developed during the presentation. The drawing visualizes the access to the revised version (published on 18 september 2013).
Eric was loitering in the parking lot next to the architecture school, where he said he’d be when I called. No one really knew the status of Eric Packer’s enrolment at the school: it was unclear whether he’d dropped out, or whether in fact he’d ever enrolled – he certainly had never taken part in an orientation day exercise, or queued for a student card. There were rumours that he’d been kicked out of the AA, or possibly the Berlage; there were rumours that he only did architecture in order to appease the demands of his mother, the CEO of a global construction company. Whatever the truth, Eric spent his days plying the share market, playing Candy Crush, and driving around the city in a slick German sedan with his best friend, Vija De Cauter. He referred to Vija as his “Chief of Theory,” presumably because they always submitted papers and projects based on conversations had whilst idling in peak hour traffic and aimlessly cruising the edges of the city. I liked Eric; even if he channelled a serious Patrick Bateman vibe at times.
“Afternoon,” drawls De Cauter as I get in on the driver’s side. “Eric wants a haircut. You wanna join?”
I nod, immediately acquiescent. “Sure.
What’re you reading, Vija?”
“Deleuze. Agamben. Lazzarato. Foucault.”
I shouldn’t have asked. The car crawls lazily through the boom gates of the campus perimeter, outwards – that is, towards nowhere – not in any discernable direction, not taking the main highways, and not the arterials, just the feeders and local streets of the surrounding suburbs, which are (as always) leafy, idyllic, and still.
“You grew up in the suburbs, didn’t you?” Eric now, head turned, thumb hooked through the steering wheel. Not condescending, but not particularly committed to the notion. A foreign territory for the Erics and Vijas of the world. Hence their love of cars, I reflect. A novelty.
“Yep,” I reply, trying to sound non-committal. “Thinking of making the move?”
“In one way,” muses De Cauter, “we’re all suburbanites. Even us fervent city dwellers have to fight the suburbanization of daily life: cars, phones, tvs and computers are basically the tools – and, let’s face it, causes – of this process.”
“Capsules,” continues Eric, going straight through yet another roundabout, “all of it. Home to office. Office to home. Neoliberal individualisation plus suburbanisation.”
“The third law of capsularisation,” concludes Vija, happily.
I smother a laugh at their entitled irony. “Capsularisation? From the two of you? You couldn’t be more cocooned if you tried. Driving around all day, in this… car? Seriously? You live in a dream world. And you love it.”
“And don’t you love joining us in Disneyland?” Eric is laughing now. At me.
“The grimmer and uglier reality on the outside becomes, the more hyperreality will dominate the capsular civilisation,” I respond, quoting De Cauter’s latest, and most infamous, essay, which she’d posted all over the school instead of just emailing to the professor. The Capsular Civilisation On the City in the Age of Fear was urban legend.
The conversation reminds me of the last time I was in Eric’s car. Maybe Sarah was right, I reflect: maybe we had all already heard the same opinions, expressed in the same way, before. It was a few weeks back that I’d heard this last. Vija had asked Eric what it was that capitalism produces, according to Marx and Engels. (Clearly a trap.)
“Its own gravediggers,” he’d said.
“But these aren’t the grave-diggers,” Vija had responded, flipping through the pages of Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture, a book we were reading for our theory class, and pointing at various architects doing various things. “This is the free market itself. It breeds these men and women. They are necessary to the system they despise. They give it energy and definition. They are market-driven. They are traded on the markets of the world. This is why they exist, to invigorate and perpetuate the system.”
The car pulls to a stop. Time in the car is always different, more slippery, than time outside. We’re in front of a suburban barber, nowhere special.
“Haircut time. You wanna stick around and watch?” The offer is casual, excluding agreement in advance.
“Nah, I’m good. Might get the bus into town,” I answer, somewhat reluctant to leave the leather-clad surroundings of the car, but in need of some air. I grab my bag, suddenly gasping for metropolitan urbanness. De Cauter and Packer disappear into the barbers.
This booklet comes with certain modifications to the prescribed assignment. Instead of a series of blog posts connected by an introduction and a conclusion, I have taken the liberty of focusing on one longer essay which involves four different theoretical clusters. [The presentation will only involve this longer essay and not the blog posts which are also included in the booklet]
I open my eyes. An hour has passed and I’m still on the lawn, but now right in the middle of triangular patch of shadow – the errant turret of a faux-Gothic university building has come between the late summer sun and the page of my book, which I am only pretending to read anyway. I rouse myself to move out of the shade, spotting a few familiar faces on the western side of the lawn. As usual, Sarah and Bob preside over a gathering of architecture students, their latest batch of second-year groupies. Sarah and Bob have a band, called The Doppler Effect, which has somehow managed to bridge the otherwise impossible rift between the digital design kids’ penchant for electronica and the depressed hipster ballads of the “politically engaged” clique. At the feet of Sarah and Bob, an unofficial truce reigns and the otherwise oppressive mood of the heavily factionalized architecture school lifts considerably. The duo exude a different atmosphere, a disinterested brand of conviviality that rubs off on everyone in their vicinity and gently blunts even the sharpest of daggers.
“Hey, Sarah,” I say, throwing my bag down next to them. As a doctoral student, I have some privileges when it comes to seating arrangements on the lawn. “What’s up?”
“Not much,” she answers nonchalantly. Bob nods in greeting.
“Just had to get out of there” – she gestures at the steel-clad building behind us – “for a bit. I mean, seriously, do you ever feel like you’ve already heard the same opinions expressed by the same people somewhere or other, in the same way, with the same words, turn of phrases and gestures? I’m over it. You know: this nascent mix of a critical, neo-Marxism with a celebration of the vernacular or everyday? What is this, 1984?”
Bob murmurs in agreement, and checks his phone, an object adorned with glittery stickers that somehow impress me despite their deliberate irony. It’s always like that with him.
“1984 was probably worse, Sass,” Bob mutters.
“Bullshit. 1984, like Perspecta 21-1984, has got nothing on this! Now, they’re” – again, Sarah waves at the architecture building – “basically implying that all architecture automatically occupies a de facto critical position. That our work is always situated in some kind of in-between.” The last word is extended disdainfully. “Culture and form. Kitsch and avant-garde. Objecthood and art…”
“… Capitalist development and design,” Bob finishes for her, pointing with a yet unlit cigarette towards the copy of Architecture and Utopia that I realise I’m still holding. I shove it back in my bag, secretly glad that I won’t have to discuss that with these guys, after the tussle with Isabelle earlier.
“Actually, I just had coffee with Isabelle.” I throw the statement into the ring, hoping that the two of them might be able to shed some light on my inner confusion. Their discussions were seductive in that way: as if just by talking to them, torturous ethical dilemmas could be sucked up and then spat out, like poison from a snake-bite. And after such operations, it almost felt like – here, I catch myself mimicking the Dutch accent of their all-time hero, the inimitable Koolhaas himself – we could all just live happily ever after, making fantastic architecture. I needed a bit of that right now.
“Oh yeah?” Sarah seems interested in the fact that Isabelle had finally surfaced on campus. We’d heard rumours for weeks that she would be guesting in one of the studios.
“Yeah. I mean, I know you guys think the critical has hit a dead end, and I can agree with you to some extent, but this ecology of practices stuff? I’m not so sure about it.” The two of them seem less bored than usual, so I continue.
“The idea that rather than illuminating a situation, rather than emancipating people, we’re rather to dedicate our time to constructing (inevitably partial) relations between practices, and then that we are to celebrate those relations as a ‘cosmic event’? I don’t know, it’s pretty damn close to relational aesthetics for me, and you both know my views about,” I drop my voice to a whisper so as not to be overheard by the French contingent of The Doppler Effect’s fanbase, “Nicolas.”
“Oh God, not the Nicolas thing again! You should never have become friends with Claire, babe. I told you.” I consider myself reprimanded. “But seriously,” Bob continues, “I don’t understand why you should have a problem with Isabelle or Nicolas – I mean, you all pretty much agree that disciplinarity needs to be directed against the negative reduction of qualitative experience to quantification, right?” I want to refute this, because I’ve never really been into the whole Situationist-inspired argument for altering practices. But I save it, wanting to hear his conclusion.
“What Sarah and I are saying is forget reification: disciplinarity needs to be directed towards the possibility of emergence. If that happens, serial accumulation can itself result in the production of new qualities. The Doppler.”
Sarah, adopting a more conciliatory tone, finishes. “Ultimately, we’re all in the game of eliciting particular forms of behavior in particular multiplicities, right? We’re all into multiplying contingencies, projecting forward alternative arrangements and scenarios? I mean, in that sense, we’re all post-critical.”
“Exactly!” I yell, frustrated now and speaking far too loudly for the languid atmosphere of the western part of the lawn.
I love these guys, but I really have to get out of the sun.
Gossip entails spectacle and it presents evidence which may or may not have credibility, yet regardless of its origin it performs and it “exceeds any distinction between truth or falsity, fact or fiction.” Why is gossip important? It provides the means to pass a message and it is the cheapest most useful way to test a scenario.
Isabelle is late, and I nurse my coffee in an offhand manner. This feels contrived, I’m not relaxed at all; the café is busy, the table I’m sitting at is tightly wedged into a corner, and I’m decidedly nervous. I didn’t like the text. And now I have to talk about why, and to do so with its author, a highly esteemed feminist, philosopher, and professor about whom I know very little and whose work I have read embarrassingly little of.
I test pushing back my chair, rehearsing the moves required to make a run for it, to escape to the south lawn and join the other students sprawled there, in the bright sunshine, discussing tv shows and politics. Lost in this thought, I fail to notice her enter and then suddenly she is at the table, smiling; caught off guard, I freeze, deer-like. Too late.
Isabelle sits down, signals to a waiter, orders a double espresso and introduces herself all in one, extended, movement. She’s just escaped a long and caffeine-deprived meeting in the physics department where – she brushes her grey hair out of one eye, exasperated as she unloads on me, a complete stranger – her suggestion that “physics needs a new habitat” was apparently met with some misgivings. “I have many friends, physicists, who get this, but here, at this school, it seems impossible for them to imagine that by defining a physical reality – a reality beyond fiction – that they claim a very exclusive position of judgement over other realities. In this way, they are both the addicts and the dealers of the strong drug of Truth, with all of its attendant power to judge, to deconstruct, and to criticize.”
Oh God, I think, immediately despondent, we’re getting straight to the bit that I like the least. Like jumping straight into a cold bath. I take a deep breath, turn on the voice memo function on my phone, and try not to speak too quickly (a nervous habit). “And this – Isabelle – is why I wanted to talk to you. As I understand it,’” I pull out a text marked ‘Introductory notes on an ecology of practices’, photocopied from a 2005 issue of Cultural Studies Review, “this text effectively poses critical theory as inoperable, possibly unethical, destructive even.”
“I mean,” I continue, “I guess that I’ve taken a lot from Raymond Guess’ definition of critical theory,” here switching tone a little, aware that she knows the territory better than I do, but at the same time determined to be clear, “and have been very interested in the production of theory that produces enlightenment in the agents who hold it (enabling those agents to determine what their true interests are); and then that (secondly) aspires to be emancipatory, freeing agents from (largely self-imposed) coercion. That definition has been really valuable to me” – here, I start to sound defensive – “yet it’s exactly that kind of theory that you describe as ‘ethics in a major key.’ You pretty much reject it outright.”
I pause to draw breath, and then continue, words crashing into each other now in an effort to get to the end of what I needed to say. “But without ‘grounding definitions or an ideal horizon’ (your words) and without an ‘if… then’ – without ‘cause’ that exceeds the specificity of ‘case’ – and ultimately without justifying our proposals in terms of reasons that can be accepted in spite of borders, how can we change the world for the better? I know it sounds ridiculously naïve, but how can an ecology of practices actually change anything? It seems that as a theoretical position, it can only celebrate that which already exists, by describing it. At best, it can affect people in a way that they change themselves. But,” I falter, feeling like a child, “what if that’s not enough?”
“Change the world? No.” She looks at me directly. “Absolutely not. Individual practices? Maybe. At least to the extent that the habitat of a practice, its surroundings, can affect its ethos. Through description theory produces, reinforces, and in some case solidifies those surroundings, the connections that form that network. Here is where we can work. This has to be enough.”
“Like architects?” I ask.
She goes on to expand on her choice of figuration, switching terminology and situation several times, rapidly, in her advocacy for the deployment of this metaphor. She talks me though the idea of a model of change based on the reformulation of “obligations” associated with certain “attachments”, through the production of “belongings” (a quality that, as I understand it, informs obligations) – both one’s own and others. I get a sense of a kind of performed change, that is embodied, enacted, and (she was very clear about this) definitively non-discursive. This is an immanent and performative model of the social world, then, whereby the effect and the cause present themselves simultaneously (in what she calls “the case”). A world without policy horizons, without The Future, without Utopia, and without critique. A world without urban planning, I surmise; or perhaps a planning of affect and experience, rather like the one of today – a planning that persuades, that seduces, that negotiates amongst actors, but that lacks a cause, an ideology, a doing that is for and on behalf of its diverse “publics”. Impressed though I am by the wide and simultaneously radically limited scope of her proposition, its shiny lightness, and its sense of generosity, my head is spinning trying to think it through in planning terms.
I’m shaken out of my reverie when she gets up to go, shaking my hand and encouraging me to continue thinking about this. I finally notice the tattoo on her arm – “Empowerment Not Enlightenment” – and smile. I like Isabelle, but I’m not so sure that I can be in her gang, I decide, as I walk towards the south lawn and finally slump onto the grass in the bright sunshine. I still have too many causes that, no matter how hard I try, fail to transform themselves into cases. I pull a book out of my bag, and decide to give myself up to the strong drug of Truth for the remainder of the afternoon.