Philosophies

Architecture + Philosophy research seminar, ResArc, Sweden: Dr Hélène Frichot, Critical Studies in Architecture, KTH Stockholm

Category: RESPONSES MODULE 02

Metropolis and Lobby

by hannesfrykholmuma

 

In “The Metropolis and Mental Life” Georg Simmel states that he is set on understanding the conditions for the individual in the metropolis, rather than “to complain or to condone” over its multiple varieties and expressions.[1] He is an observer. This position centers on an understanding rather than a critical reading (as in revealing specific conditions that are not seen at first) or a projective discussion on how life in metropolis could be different. To be the observer is to consider at a distance, similar to the detached gaze of the flâneur. But is it possible to separate the act of understanding from the complaining voice of criticality?

Simmel describes the metropolis as a condition where survival is based on the individual ability to express him-/herself among the wide torrent of people and impressions.[2] For Simmel this condition is the psychological response to money as the “frightful leveler” of every expression and value. For the inhabitant of the metropolis, the nerves are worn out, giving way to an “incapacity to react to new stimulations with the required amount of energy” and to an “indifference toward the distinctions between things”.[3] In response to the anonymity and lack of historical forms of social control, the metropolis prompts (or even forces) the individual to express originality in contrast to the masses. This pressure for change can be conferred with the “projective city” as discussed by Luc Boltanski and Éve Chiappelo, where social relations are happening in temporary and shifting projects and success is based on being “prepared for change and capable of new instruments.”[4]

Simmel is unspecific about the spaces and forms where the plethora of individuality is expressed and produced in the metropolis. An example of such a discussion could perhaps be found in Sigfried Kracauer’s writing on the hotel lobby, partly inspired by Simmel.[5] For Kracauer, the hotel lobby of the modern city is a space where the traditional relations are detached for the “sake of a freedom that can refer only to itself and therefore sinks into relaxation and indifference.”[6] The lobby does not refer to anything beyond itself, and the “aesthetic condition corresponding to it constitutes itself as its own limit.”[7] In its internal logic, the lobby for Kracauer provides a safe haven away from the external expectations on the individual. Just like the metropolis in general has detached humans from the social control mechanisms of the historical village, the lobby allows for anonymity and indifference toward the strangers in the same room. In this sense the temporary congregation of the lobby is no different from a group of people waiting for the subway.

What unites Simmel and Kracauer seems to be a preoccupation with the surface of capitalism rather than the structural depths of it.[8] To look at the superficial, the conspicuous and the glamorous aspects of metropolis, is to consider how this physical environment and aesthetics generates particular conditions for living and particular forms of subjectivity.

Hannes Frykholm

[1] Georg Simmel, “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” in The Blackwell City Reader, ed. G. Bridge and S. Watson (Oxford and Malden, MA: Wiley, 2010), 19.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 14.

[4] Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism (London: Verso, 2005), 112.

[5] Siegfried Kracauer, The Mass Ornament: Weimer Essays (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995).

[6] Ibid., 179.

[7] Ibid.

[8] David Frisby, Fragments of Modernity: Theories of Modernity in the Work of Simmel, Kracauer and Benjamin (London: Routledge, 2013).

Economisation of Life

by helenefrichot

In her essay, ‘Economisation of Life’, Michele Murphy explains that ‘economy’ as we habitually use the term today tends to refer to the national economy of nation-states. This figure of “national aggregate economic activity” concretised through data collection, GNP (Gross National Product), inflation, unemployment rates, and subsequently, ‘cost of living’, and ‘consumer confidence’ is a use of the term that emerges in the 20th century. (143)

Some notes on other economies via AbdouMaliq Simone

by helenefrichot

AbdouMaliq Simone, ‘Deals with Imaginaries and Perspectives: Reworking Urban Economics in Kinshasa’, 2013.

“a propulsion of bodies…an economy of transactions, of continuously realigned affiliations and exchanges”(238)

“too often notions of ‘dynamic’, the ‘efficacious’, the ‘sustainable’ and the ‘just’ are intertwined in mutually supportive roles without a clear sense of what is taking place.” (239)

How can economic life be constituted by manoeuvres of affective speculation? (239)

This concerns the anticipation of desires, or what can be called atmospheres of affect, how environments come to be produced in advance of your arrival as what Simone calls a “field of affective textures”…but there is also the opportunity to create other vantage points, and “prospective futures”, Simone appears to suggest.

Consider the diversity of aesthetic economic persona the ‘traders’ take on in the marketplace of Gambela that Simone describes. These are subjectivities in process, produced partially in relation to acts of trading. Economic processes of subjectification. At the end of the day it is important to undertake ‘impression management’ that is, to exude the appearance of success to make sure more trades will follow tomorrow (242). Further, urban bodies must be understood as being entangled in all manner of material relations, entwined as they are with “scrap, fuel, rain, heat, waste, sweat, tin, fire, fumes, noise, voices, and odour” (243).

Goods, often irrespective of, but as often connected with their significance, must be kept in movement, to maximise a person’s exposure to a greater playing field, keep the goods in motion, keep the game of trading going (its a matter of life and death). A central question of ‘livelihood’ (see 243-244).

Finally, he states “we know that we live in a  fiscal world based on the tremendous expansion of capital disarticulated from any fundamental underlying asset” (250). How can we make this place other than it is? How can we reach each other across seemingly incommensurable divides and differences?

‘Economic Science’ does not exist! Says Bifo

by helenefrichot

In his recent book, The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance (2012), Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi argues that economic science does not exist, as it does not correspond to the definition of science as a dogma free discipline that extrapolates “general laws from the observation of empirical phenomena” (72). Instead, Bifo argues, economics imposes itself on society as a kind of technology, a set of tools, procedures and pragmatic protocols that aim to mould social reality according to a logics of profit, accumulation, power. Economic reality does not exist, but is rather produced, or forced onto a socius via processes of technical modelling, submission and exploitation.

In his final chapter Bifo makes reference to Félix Guattari’s Chaosmosis, as a way of developing an environmental consciousness adequate to the “technological complexity of hypermodernity” (145). It is about reimagining a complex universe composed of intricate relations between embodied entities, an “organic and inorganic continuum, animal and machinic, mental and electronic” where embodied minds are apt to hook onto each other, and were ideas travel wildly with both wondrous, but also detrimental effects.

While it seems Bifo wants to reject economy as a discipline – or rather as a dominate rationality- altogether, could it be that alternative, less destructive economic logics can be imagined? Alternative economies? Other ethical, even caring modes of exchange?

HF

“Transition” as a Technology of Power – Environmentalities

by bojanboric

The new post-socialist authorities perceived that the total break with the Soviet past was necessary especially in terms of dissolution of the Soviet system of spatial organization, ideological, institutional and social structures. This notion which may be summarized in one sentence as “throwing away the heavy weight of the past” (StanilovK. 2007) is in essence similar or could be viewed as a parallel process that occurred in the West during the 1980’s and preceded the revolutions in most Eastern European countries when neoliberal doctrines conducted by Thatcher and Reagan dominated the other “transition” – a shift from the Fordist system of production organized within the Keynesian welfare state system to a much more geographically open entrepreneurial system of governance and market based society (Harvey D. 1989). The lessons learned in the West during this process were soon implemented even more radically by IMF, the WTO and the World Bank (Stanilov 2007) in the process of institutional restructuring of societies in CEE countries through privatization, deregulation, decentralization, weakening of the state, strict monetary controls, austerity measures, etc. This time the most radical version of transformation was implemented as a form of “Shock Therapy” and directed by economists, such as Jeffrey Sacks who believed that only radical measures could achieve positive results in the long term. In this context the remains of the socialist system were metaphorically compared to a “ cancerous growth” (Stanilov 20007) that needed to be severed and uprooted in the shortest possible time.

This overall institutional transformation has enabled local governments to engage directly with the international and local investors and business and this also transformed the role of the institutions in urban planning. This kind of new role of government as a facilitator of business interests rather then the defender of public interest reveals an essential conflict between two main components of the post socialist transition, the economic shift to market economy and the political process of democratization of society. According to Vaclav Belohradsky who refers to American sociologist Daniel Bell, there is an inherent conflict in late capitalism that he refers to as “the disjunction of realms”. For Bell, economy, politics and culture are the most important aspects of modern capitalism and if any of the three aspects become extremely dominant in society they negatively affect the other two. For example, the “imperative of maximum efficiency and profit” causes subjugation of society and shifts the balance of political power hugely in favor of those forces whose sole interest is profit making.

Thus, “the imperative of equality” as a democratic ideal becomes threatened by growing economic powers and in such case the coexistence of market economy and democracy lie on the shaky grounds. Another notable disjunction in the transition is that of two kinds of transitions: The first is the imaginary transition represented as a populist post-modern and utopian concept reflected in the belief in the life in desire driven consumerism visible in the images on urban billboards and in the media and the other type of transition is the actual bureaucratic process of admission to the European Union. This bureaucratic kind is perhaps the only “real” transition consisted of the relentless machinery of standardisation, seen as the essential to the process of EU accession. According to Alexander Kiossev, “every single sphere of social reality” needs to be synchronized through the implementation of EU standards and by involvement of variety of experts, auditors, controllers, etc. Every single aspect of life is to be adjusted to the new standards and those countries that do not comply with such procedures face severe sanctions. By replacing the Soviet version of biopolitics aimed to produce the new utopian society through centralized system of planning within a given state apparatus, the EU driven biopolitics introduces the process of shaping desirable populations on global scale by imposing norms on their local environment, interacting directly with their cultural habits, influencing daily life and not merely interacting with the classical state as a single center of power (since there is no such thing). Thus, new more acceptable forms of culture, which assures compliance with EU’s own apparatuses of security aims to produce new citizens.

Transitional Imaginaries – Socialities

by bojanboric

Post-Socialist period in CEE counitres is based on the disintegration of the previous centralized system of economy and politics. No one new for sure where the transition exactly would lead after dismantling the communist party and political apparatus. The only perceivable goal was that somehow societies would transform into Western-Style democracies but no theory of transition was ever proposed nor written that would provide guidelines for this process. Every country was supposed to find its own path (Stanilov, K. 2007). However, there is a certain consensus among scholars which interpret the notion of the post-socialist transition as top-down market economy driven economic and institutional transformation accompanied with democratization of politics. According to Ludek Sycora, the development of the post-socialist cities is today governed by the shift towards market economy. Therefore, it could be assumed that the economic restructuring is the main driver of institutional change in the CEE countries. In this context, the institutional reforms were the top-down process of the ideologically based reforms characterized by the departure from the centralized system based on “multiple transformation dynamics” (Sykora) consisted of institutional, social and urban transitions.

If the economy was conceived as the diving engine of change imposed from the top down, what if the questions are posed from the other end, from within the complex and diverse fabric of society that provide many cultural and social nuances, invisible for the eye of the classical economic science based on their reductive lens.

In the Eastern European context the advanced liberal economic policies imported from the west are at the heart of the mechanisms driving the social and institutional transformations. The paradox is that in the West there are calls to “rethink economy as a central organizing cultural frame” (JK Gibbson-Graham 2014). This is exemplified through the calls for alternative thinking by the “Occupy Movement” for example or by other types of social movements critical of the blindness expressed by the “economic orthodoxy” that calls for growth and overarching economic theories, no matter what the consequences for the environment or for the perpetual threat of economic crises.

Within economic anthropology studies there are efforts to approach economic practices that are based on “performative rethinking” about economic practices.

The important point here is that the diverse economic practices of the everyday are taken into account through the ethnographic studies. This approach takes into account the “rich pallet” of interactions that make up the daily pattern of human life, such as “making a living, surviving, getting by, getting ahead, gaining respect, building a future, maintaining habitats and juggling different regimes of value” (JK Gibbson-Graham 2014). The ethnographic approach is especially relevant in the places where there is an ongoing social change, such as in the post-Socialist transition because they reveal and engage with the complexity of social processes revealing nuances that are invisible through the conventional empiricism.

One may claim that an illusion of the linear conception of time represented by the notion of “transition” as conceived within a dominant capitalist economic transformations are the product of the “capitalocentric discourses of economy” (JK Gibbson-Graham 2014) that leave very little space for non-capitalistic imaginaries. The alternative would be to theorize economies that provoke open questions, instead of providing dead ends theories that examine all social change according to the dynamics of capitalist and market economic processes.

Transition – a Fiction of Progress (subjectivities)

by bojanboric

In the post-Socialist Eastern European context, the “transition” – is a euphemism used to describe the processes of change in the former socialist Central an Eastern European countries that started in 1989 after the collapse of Soviet Union. The “transition” meant a rapid economic and political transformation of twenty eight countries of the former Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries which is about one sixth of the Earth’s total land mass (Hirt S. and Stanilov K. 2009)

However, the term “transition” is highly contested and ambiguous. The meaning of the term extends well beyond the rationalist approach of the political economy executed through shrinking of the state, massive privatization of public assets, decentralization, and other neoliberal reforms. The term “Transition” is also problematic since it implies a linear historical progression with a beginning and a projected end toward a perceived goal. It is an attempt to frame historic period of social transformation in the post-socialist Eastern European context within an “end of history” framework of understanding. The fiction of the populist narrative and operative process of legal and institutional transformations are mutually supportive mechanisms of social transformation. Furthermore, there is also a cultural dimension related to transformation of society that has produced a specific kind of a city, today also labeled as the transitional or post-socialist city.

The social and cultural transformation of post-socialist Eastern Europe (term “post-socialist” also being a problematic terminology) is associated with the post-modernism where the ideological metanarratives are resisted through commodification of culture, populism and fragmentation. I believe that the narrative of “transition” in terms of the notion of linear path of certainty is a populist fiction that represents a period since 1989 and has after the 25 years lost its meaning in the sense of passage from socialism to market economy and free market capitalism. The transitional or post-socialist city has acquired perhaps new different meanings and today it should be either dismissed as a utopian narrative of progress or it should be studied for its “own logic” (Hirt S. 2012) and in its own right. Bauman claims that the end of socialism is the end of modernity. He links common enlightenment roots of communism and capitalism and considers both socialism and capitalism as products of modernity. According to Sonia A Hirt, post-modernism is a “cultural-epistemological shift” represented through architecture and urbanism of fragmentation, privatization, reduction of private sphere, as well as the abandonment of the ideals of emancipation, etc. Therefore it is possible to relate the post socialist post-modernist city to the Western context of post-modernism. Fredric Jameson, describes post modernism as fascinated with populism and kitsch. He avoids periodization hypotheses because it represents historical periods in linear terms presents a historic moment through massive homogenization and “obliterating differences”. This is why it is important for Jameson to view post-modernism as “cultural dominant” and not merely an aesthetic style. Such conception allows for coexistence of different features within a system of thought.

While under the under the socialist modernist state: “shaping space to shape society” (Hirt S. 2012) was the norm and according to Georg Simmel, the modernist culture was defined by the “dominance of the objective spirit over the subjective” in the post-modern world of late capitalism, the human subject is unable to keep up with evolving surroundings transforming into a “post-modern hyperspace” of the city. Jameson claims that we have not kept up with the evolution of the space since our sensibilities were shaped by the late modernity. While in modernism the imperative of planners and architects was to shape spaces in order to shape society, in transitional and the post-modern world it is the mutating hyper-space that is perceived by human subject as disorientating, ambiguous, mutating space that causes “disjunction of body and its built environment”.

On Real Estate as the 13th Element

by hannesfrykholmuma

Basic RGB

 

In his critique of the 2014 Venice Biennale, Reinhold Martin argues that real estate, and the regulations and economy that constitute it, should be considered an element along with the other (the door, the wall, the stair etc). Martin suggests that real estate is “a primary infrastructural element” that expands through the infinitely repeated process of subdividing undeveloped land “into a one-stop shop for single-family suburban homes.”[1] In the repetitive process of suburban housing, developers acquired “large, undeveloped tracts of land, […] laid out street patterns and utility grids, divided the land into smaller parcels, and built residential neighborhoods on those parcels.”[2] Since the main exhibition on “Fundamentals” according to Martin shies away from real estate as “arguably the one truly globalizing force” it also fails to recognize the ties between the elements of architecture and the economic and political conditions in which these elements are always situated.[3]

In Martin’s text contemporary architecture is placed in an unavoidable relation to power, and the most urgent question is therefore how to “limit, redirect or neutralize it, or at least not to be seduced by it”.[4] This call for a withdrawal from the power’s seduction reveals an understanding of the concept as innately repressive and static. In discussing power, Sven-Olov Wallenstein’s makes a distinction between on the one hand Michel Foucault’s understanding of power as being a relative and changing “series of transitional forms”, and on the other hand Giorgio Agamben’s reading of the concept as a “sovereign operation” happening in a “moment before or outside of history”. Martin appears closer to Agamben than to Foucault on this matter.[5] Power becomes an ontological concept that defines life from outside of life itself. This presents a problem. As a practicing architect it is impossible to detach from the structures of power, but at the same time it is impossible to engage in them, if one does not want to take the explicitly callous position of accepting global inequalities, etc. We are left with negation as the only way out.

Martin’s focus is mainly on the process of real estate prior to the completion of the project. The many different immaterial aspects of real estate, such as the “site acquisition, planning, construction, financing, insurance and marketing” take part in defining the conditions for particular modes of life. However, once the physical space of real estate is there, through for example a subdivision housing, it also carries an impact on a mundane level – through the doors, stairs, floors, lawns, driveways, etc. All of these elements form certain modes of life, and even though the immaterial forces are still there – for example through the ever looming threat of another housing recession – there is an immediacy of life that happens independently of planning documents, site acquisition and marketing. Martin does not deny this. His point is simply that the mechanism that produced all of the other elements, ie. real estate, should have been acknowledged in the biennale exhibition, as a primary condition.

There is a valid point in Martin’s critique of the exhibition’s tendencies to frame the elements as inert artworks rather than as performative objects located in a larger infrastructure. Is the Fundamentals exhibition not simply a collection of dead artifacts? A bestiary of the many different designs of toilets, that is then safely reintroduced into capitalism by the business fair-like seminars held around the inauguration days of the Biennale.

In his critique of the essentialist tendency of the exhibition, Martin introduces another essential category that operates with similar universal claims, that is real estate. Real estate supersedes and frames all other elements. It reduces them to components in an infrastructural system. Real estate is everywhere. It is for Martin the most common condition in which architecture meets the world. It appears in the subdivision units and in the colonization of generic land, but also in ”cultural monuments, leisure palaces and other political-economic symbols.”[6]

The concept of real estate, if analyzed from the “micro-historical” perspective that pervaded the main exhibition, probably would have been dissected into more parts than just “land”. The point is not the “eternal recurrence”[7] of a limited set of architectural categories, but the analysis of the small parts of architecture as a way to produce “evidence of key moments of […] metamorphosis while offering an interpretation of architectural elements as products of cultural and political shifts”.[8] To analyze the minor parts of architecture, can be a way to study the micro-politics of power as something plastic, rather than as a transcendental force of permanent oppression. This to me is an aspect missing in Reinhold Martin’s critique.

Hannes Frykholm

 

[1] Reinhold Martin, “Fundamental #13: Real Estate as Infrastructure as Architecture,” Places Journal.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Sven-Olov Wallenstein, Biopolitics and the Emergence of Modern Architecture (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009), 16ff.

[6] Martin, “Fundamental #13: Real Estate as Infrastructure as Architecture”.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Rem Koolhaas, “Foreword,” in Elements of Venice, ed. Giulia Foscari (Zürich: Lars Müller Publishers, 2014), 7.

 

Some reflections on the spectacle of neo-liberalism

by hannesfrykholmuma

forum gallery

Caesar’s Palace Forum Shops, Las Vegas, NC

Critical readings on neo-liberal urbanism sometime express an almost moral indignation over the visual appearance of this new landscape and its glossiness, surfaces, images, spectacle or simulacra. David Harvey’s text on urban entrepreneurialism is a good example of this reaction. In his critique Harvey notes that economy of the current city has entailed “ephemerality and eclecticism of fashion and style rather than the search for enduring values, […] quotation and fiction rather than invention and function, and, finally, […] medium over message and image over substance.”[1] So what are the things no longer there? “Enduring values”, “invention”, “function” and “substance” appear to be the things that have been marginalized in the city of entrepreneurialism. Yet, these words seem alien, even in the tradition of David Harvey.[2] Are they not part of an enlightenment project that disenchanted the world through rationality, economy and engineering, all in an efficient synergy with the expansion of capitalism?[3]

In the act of negating the phantasmagoria of capitalism, Harvey’s critique reproduces ideas of rationality and function that have been entangled with the capitalistic expropriation of life for the last centuries. Perhaps more importantly, this kind of critique misses the opportunity to challenge neo-liberalism in a realm that it has claimed for much too long; namely that of our fantasies. Instead of only calling for the loss of continuity and substance in current capitalism, it is interesting to ask why the expressions of “fiction”, “image”, “fashion” and “style” that appear in neo-liberal urbanism are so mundane and boring? In his book Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy Stephen Duncombe writes:

“Between arrogant rejection and populist acceptance of commercial culture lies a third approach: appropriating, co-opting, and, most important, transforming the techniques of spectacular capitalism into tools for social change. [—] To do this means recognizing that consumer culture—its crafted fantasies and stimulated desires—speaks to something deep and real within us.”[4]

It is nothing new that architecture is deeply entangled with the current economic system. Even the vocabulary of architectural practice bears signs of this, as in for example the use of the word “project” as both verb and noun. The projective signals a direction, as in the “projectile”, but at the same time it is a temporary engagement. Pier Vittorio Aureli notes that a project “addresses a potential future situation, but in doing this it seeks to organize the available means towards a possible end.”[5] The project in this sense is not permanent but rather a transaction involving materials and work during a limited period of time. It reflects an economy that is built on instability and changes, where adaptability and transformation are signs of vitality.

Every new project is a form of adjustment to specific conditions and requirements. For Boltanski and Chiappelo the notion of the “project” is located in an economy that transcends its critical forces through a grammar of inclusion. They write, “[a]nything can attain the status of a project, including ventures hostile to capitalism. Describing every accomplishment with a nominal grammar that is the grammar of the project erases the differences between a capitalist project and a humdrum creation (a Sunday club).”[6] The concept of the project also entails an aesthetic dimension through the spaces and experiences that it promises. Sven-Olov Wallenstein argues that architecture always entails “prefiguring or ‘projecting’ of future human sensations: the architect composes a pattern of possible movement, a possible trajectory of the body”.[7]

The aesthetic dimension of the projective is related to a particular set of criteria for experiences in the neo-liberal city. The neo-liberal economy operates on a sensorial and bodily level. Investigating the aesthetics of the spaces of neo-liberal economy opens up for a better understanding of how desire is generated in relation to certain activities within this economy. There is in this sense an aesthetic dimension in any built environment, a sensorium that produces affect. To simply negate the sensorial aspects of the current economy as being the chimera of an underlying condition is to disregard the ways in which it operates to form subjectivities on a spatial and experiential level.

Hannes Frykholm

 

[1] David Harvey, “From Managerialism to Entrepreneurialism: The Transformation in Urban Governance in Late Capitalism,” Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography 71, no. 1 (1989): 12f.

[2] Or maybe not, if we juxtapose the rational critique of Karl Marx to the dreams of utopian socialists like Charles Fourier and Henri de Saint-Simon.

[3] Cf. Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 2002).

[4] Stephen Duncombe, Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy (Ann Arbor, MI: New Press, 2007), 16.

[5] Pier Vittorio Aureli, The Project of Autonomy : Politics and Architecture within and against Capitalism (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2008), 16.

[6] The parallels between the contemporary starchitect and what Boltanski and Chiappelo refers to as the “great man of the projective city” is obvious here. Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism (London: Verso, 2005), 111.

[7] Sven-Olov Wallenstein, Biopolitics and the Emergence of Modern Architecture (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009), 25.

Sarah and Bob give advice; the sun gets too much

by helenjrr

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.