CS 2101 Introduction to Contemporary Architecture
Instructor: Todd Gannon
Fondle the Details
1GA Fall 2015
Architecture proliferates and moves forward through the insatiable need to challenge and question itself. This constant flux is what makes architecture so appealing and keeps the practitioners of the discipline on their toes with the quest to generate questions and offer (in many instances assert) possible answers—making paramount the importance of a collective critical skepticism and the dogged habit amongst the cognoscenti of questioning everything in the discipline in hopes to inform and have a greater influence on the profession.
In using the terminologies discipline and profession in regards to architecture, it is requisite to offer Zago and Gannon’s argument for the classification due to the unprecedented expansion of the field of architecture in 'Tabloid Transparency.' They elaborate on the unwavering obsession with the re-definition of architecture by making a clear distinction between the profession and the discipline—asserting the vital differentiation of the profession as a commodity and the discipline as an art form. Zago and Gannon make a case for the importance of the hierarchy within the field of architecture, stressing the role of the discipline. The duo does not dismiss the role of the profession, but rather emphasize the significant role the discipline plays in the evolution and innovation of architecture. Though the implication of this emphasis implies that the discipline is more important; thus, establishing a somewhat elitist view, I tend to agree with Zago and Gannon’s defense of the discipline in relation to the profession. While it’s difficult not to make the initial assumption that one is better than the other, Tabloid Transparency offers a nuanced take on the discipline’s responsibility to society and the role it plays to push for innovation in the production of new work.
Tabloid Transparency navigates through the difficulties of communicating within the different areas of the profession of architecture due to, “the lack of linguistic common ground.” This problem is not unlike the linguistic phenomenon among the Philippine Islands. The Philippines is made up of over 7,100 islands and there is an expansive linguistic diversity consisting of 171 independent dialects where people from the same island do not speak the same language such that: language A would exist on one side of the island (1) and language B on the other side of the same island (1). While across island 1 to island 2 language B would exist along with languages C and D.
By the same logic of the linguistic diversity that exists in the Philippines, the burgeoning field of architecture is also experiencing this communication disconnect as Zago and Gannon illustrate. By pointing out the problem that architects do not speak the same language, they are able to build a framework for their argument of why it is important to make a distinction between the profession and the discipline. To support their claim they bring to mind Colin Rowe and Robert Slutzky’s use of the word transparency, “to structure a particular formal debate with in architecture,” and how they utilize the distinction between literal and phenomenal transparency to make categorical distinctions as well as value judgments. The technique of making a distinction between two things is an effective tool to expound how one is better than the other with out actually explicitly saying which one of the two is better. Zago and Gannon employ this similar method in their distinction between the profession and the discipline.
Zago and Gannon champion the role of the smaller porous circle of the discipline. While my inclination is to agree with and follow the logic found within Tabloid Transparency, I am skeptical and uneasy of the idea that a small group of people is responsible for the advancement of architecture as an art form. How are we to be sure there are no Clement Greenbergs or Micheal Frieds masquerading and undermining what Deluze, Benjamin or Krauss have argued and warned against art governed by taste and the desire to keep up a certain status quo? I’m afraid the pervasive ideas and pitfalls of what constitutes good art according to Greenberg and Fried will not soon be forgotten and one should remain skeptical of what the discipline offers.
What emerges from the week 14 texts that is most compelling is the relationship that is presented when two things are distinguished from one another—if not only by virtue of the relentless side by side comparisons in the readings and lectures in this class. Perhaps by chance of osmosis, this exercise in comparisons has been ingrained in me not only through this seminar course but also in the way studio critiques have gone thus far. In every single text, starting from the first week of this course the authors define what something is by defining what it is not. It is an effective device to clarify the dichotomy between two things that also in turn make what the authors claim as two otherwise different things inextricably linked.
The sine qua non like condition—for the lack of a better word or concept to describe the aforementioned correlations—embedded in these relationships echoes concepts Tschumi, Deluze and Nietche’s Genealogy touch upon in earlier readings. Sine qua non best describes how one essential thing can’t exist with out the other. As it were, it is a smaller part of the whole, a component of the larger thing. One could argue that Los Angeles wouldn’t be Los Angeles with out Hollywood, meaning that the sine qua non—Hollywood—is the essential part. For example the discipline is the essential part, a smaller part of the whole of the profession. For Deluze the Simulacrum is the essential part, the bad copy and the good copy. In this instance the good copy can’t exist with out the bad copy and vice versa. For Tschumi it is the labyrinth (the experience) that is the essential part but it can’t exist with out the pyramid (rationality). In Doppelganger, Jason Payne offers the relationship between an asteroid and an Albanian bunker through the double meaning of language and how one informs the other. Byrony Roberts in, Beyond the Quarrel, grapples with the Ancients and the Moderns, past and future, the old and the new and a call to collapse the two. Again, one cannot exist without the other. In the discipline, one is always asked to choose which side one wants to be on in the side by side comparison—though the practitioners make sure to implicitly advocate (albeit, however cryptic) a strong case for which side to be on. I will take their urgings with precaution as I attempt to navigate through the contaminated waters of the field of architecture.