GAM 04

Editorial

Ullrich Schwarz

GAM.04 – Emerging Realities. If the gods are no longer gods, if time simply passes them by, and if – mostly by no wish of their own – they descend from the heavens, if the sacred grove has become a simple group of trees, and if, as Hegel put it, we no longer bend our knee, then the twilight of the gods soon becomes a twilight of idols. The aura is followed by exposure and often by the discovery that the emperor is not wearing any clothes at all. And one day, when things have run their course, active “ideology-critical” deauratization peters out in the cultural end moraine of disinterest and oblivion (before a glorious rediscovery takes place in fifty years at the earliest).

Can We Describe the Current Phase of Architectural Development in these or Similar Terms? It certainly would not be totally amiss,as several contributions in this year’s GAM demonstrate. The notion of thestar architect cultivated by the media is, to begin with, a generic for a personalizedbranding strategy that aims for successful market conquest, butthat really has nothing to do with architecture. As an example, we can demonstratethis process by looking at the architects who were showcased at thefamous deconstructivism exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in NewYork at the end of the eighties. This was an exhibition of the heroes of wildform of the day who were accused of rebelliousness, radical dissidence, andinnovational impetus for architecture as such. What is the picture almosttwenty years down the line? Today you can find Gehry, Hadid and CoopHimmelb(l)au, who never had any really durable theoretical positions, whereverthere are dollars (or any other currency) to be made: yesterday Beijing,today Dubai, tomorrow the ice-free North Pole. Since his 9/11 designs, atthe latest, no one takes Daniel Libeskind seriously any more, except perhapshis clients in Korea (was that North or South Korea?); Rem Koolhaas isgame for anything, and of course he never meant it like that, cleverly conveyinga sense of intellectual ambiguity, so that our author Andreas Ruby –his belief in the idol shaken to the core – invokes Koolhaas: Tell us that itwas all meant to be subversive, and everything will be fine again. Perhapseverything is subversive with Koolhaas, but it is becoming increasingly difficultto see it that way. Which, incidentally, also applies to Koolhaas’s businesspractices proper. In this issue, Silke Ötsch presents the very first attemptat an analysis of the internal economic rebelliousness structure of the OMA/AMO conglomerate. As we know, Koolhaas recently went on recordas seriously saying that he founded AMO in order to be able to enjoy a bitof intellectual freedom once again, after suddenly realizing that internationalcapital does in fact cramp the architect’s personal freedom.[1] Even after somein-depth research, Silke Ötsch still cannot say whether OMA/AMO is reallyabout freedom for ideas or rather freedom for internal money transfers, tooarcane is the mesh of numerous subsidiaries and affiliates. What does becomevery clear is the fact that “fuck urbanism” also has a hard economic core.

On the product side, formal design branding corresponds to personalized star branding. Whether we talk about “icons”, “signature buildings” or spectacle buildings, it is always about garnering maximum media attention as quickly as possible, while achieving immediate recognition value: a Gehry is a Gehry is a Gehry is a Gehry. Of course, this ceased to be about architecture or urban structures, let alone social questions, a long time ago.

And finally we come to Peter Eisenman; of all the heroes of decon, commercially he is probably the most unsuccessful. So has he done everything wrong or right? That depends on your point of view, but Eisenman has met with particularly strong opposition since about the mid-nineties. But the motive for this attempted patricide was very different to that of the masters of the Bilbao effect. Whereas architects ranging from Gehry to Koolhaas were regarded as conformist and uncritical, Eisenman appeared to be too “critical”.

Ole Fischer looks at this aspect in great depth in his article. In the US debate, Eisenman not only personifies the position of “critical architecture” in terms of content, he is also accused of having hegemonically dominated and, as his critics claim, in the end paralyzed the architectural discourse, at least in the US, with this position and with his media and academic networks. From a European vantage point, it should be mentioned that this would seem to be about inner-academic partisan feuding between a select few American faculties of architecture, that is just as much about media presence and careers, a dispute that is, however, probably of extremely little empirical relevance for real architecture. For it would be truly astonishing to discover that people involved in actual building in the US were ever even remotely interested in whether Eisenman or others see themselves as critical architects or not. The discussion about post-criticality must not be confused with a debate about Eisenman’s theory of architecture. Such a debate is necessary and fruitful, but is far from finished. In this respect, we are pleased to be able to publish two of Eisenman’s recent texts for the first time in German in this issue. In reality, post-criticality is not about analyzing individuals or positions, but rather about redefining the perspectives and opportunities of “meaningful” architecture in the twenty-first century or, as Dietmar Steiner says, it is about a reset.

But it is not enough to see architecture not only as design and spectacle, seeking to bridge the gap between theory and practice. On the one hand, no-one today can use “theory” as an excuse for something, faced, as we have been, with a standstill in the production of substantial theories in the “traditional” sense since around the start of the nineties. And on the other hand, it is not enough to call for a stronger link to practice. For that is the weakness of the post-critical plea for a projective approach: How does this attitude differ from simple submission to given conditions? So the foremost question is, when we talk about practice, what kind of practice do we mean? When we talk about realities, what kind of new realism do we mean (if it is not to be mere conformism)?

Numerous articles in this issue, particularly those by Miessen, Fischer, Steiner, Ötsch and Koch, set out to answer these questions. No longer are these answers dressed up as “grand narratives” (Lyotard). Rather they talk about de-radicalization and a zero point. But this zero point is a point of transition.

GAM.04 – Emerging Realities. If the gods are no longer gods, if time simply passes them by, and if – mostly by no wish of their own – they descend from the heavens, if the sacred grove has become a simple group of trees, and if, as Hegel put it, we no longer bend our knee, then the twilight of the gods soon becomes a twilight of idols. The aura is followed by exposure and often by the discovery that the emperor is not wearing any clothes at all. And one day, when things have run their course, active “ideology-critical” deauratization peters out in the cultural end moraine of disinterest and oblivion (before a glorious rediscovery takes place in fifty years at the earliest).

Can We Describe the Current Phase of Architectural Development in these or Similar Terms? It certainly would not be totally amiss,as several contributions in this year’s GAM demonstrate. The notion of thestar architect cultivated by the media is, to begin with, a generic for a personalizedbranding strategy that aims for successful market conquest, butthat really has nothing to do with architecture. As an example, we can demonstratethis process by looking at the architects who were showcased at thefamous deconstructivism exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in NewYork at the end of the eighties. This was an exhibition of the heroes of wildform of the day who were accused of rebelliousness, radical dissidence, andinnovational impetus for architecture as such. What is the picture almosttwenty years down the line? Today you can find Gehry, Hadid and CoopHimmelb(l)au, who never had any really durable theoretical positions, whereverthere are dollars (or any other currency) to be made: yesterday Beijing,today Dubai, tomorrow the ice-free North Pole. Since his 9/11 designs, atthe latest, no one takes Daniel Libeskind seriously any more, except perhapshis clients in Korea (was that North or South Korea?); Rem Koolhaas isgame for anything, and of course he never meant it like that, cleverly conveyinga sense of intellectual ambiguity, so that our author Andreas Ruby –his belief in the idol shaken to the core – invokes Koolhaas: Tell us that itwas all meant to be subversive, and everything will be fine again. Perhapseverything is subversive with Koolhaas, but it is becoming increasingly difficultto see it that way. Which, incidentally, also applies to Koolhaas’s businesspractices proper. In this issue, Silke Ötsch presents the very first attemptat an analysis of the internal economic rebelliousness structure of the OMA/AMO conglomerate. As we know, Koolhaas recently went on recordas seriously saying that he founded AMO in order to be able to enjoy a bitof intellectual freedom once again, after suddenly realizing that internationalcapital does in fact cramp the architect’s personal freedom.[1] Even after somein-depth research, Silke Ötsch still cannot say whether OMA/AMO is reallyabout freedom for ideas or rather freedom for internal money transfers, tooarcane is the mesh of numerous subsidiaries and affiliates. What does becomevery clear is the fact that “fuck urbanism” also has a hard economic core.

On the product side, formal design branding corresponds to personalized star branding. Whether we talk about “icons”, “signature buildings” or spectacle buildings, it is always about garnering maximum media attention as quickly as possible, while achieving immediate recognition value: a Gehry is a Gehry is a Gehry is a Gehry. Of course, this ceased to be about architecture or urban structures, let alone social questions, a long time ago.

And finally we come to Peter Eisenman; of all the heroes of decon, commercially he is probably the most unsuccessful. So has he done everything wrong or right? That depends on your point of view, but Eisenman has met with particularly strong opposition since about the mid-nineties. But the motive for this attempted patricide was very different to that of the masters of the Bilbao effect. Whereas architects ranging from Gehry to Koolhaas were regarded as conformist and uncritical, Eisenman appeared to be too “critical”.

Ole Fischer looks at this aspect in great depth in his article. In the US debate, Eisenman not only personifies the position of “critical architecture” in terms of content, he is also accused of having hegemonically dominated and, as his critics claim, in the end paralyzed the architectural discourse, at least in the US, with this position and with his media and academic networks. From a European vantage point, it should be mentioned that this would seem to be about inner-academic partisan feuding between a select few American faculties of architecture, that is just as much about media presence and careers, a dispute that is, however, probably of extremely little empirical relevance for real architecture. For it would be truly astonishing to discover that people involved in actual building in the US were ever even remotely interested in whether Eisenman or others see themselves as critical architects or not. The discussion about post-criticality must not be confused with a debate about Eisenman’s theory of architecture. Such a debate is necessary and fruitful, but is far from finished. In this respect, we are pleased to be able to publish two of Eisenman’s recent texts for the first time in German in this issue. In reality, post-criticality is not about analyzing individuals or positions, but rather about redefining the perspectives and opportunities of “meaningful” architecture in the twenty-first century or, as Dietmar Steiner says, it is about a reset.

But it is not enough to see architecture not only as design and spectacle, seeking to bridge the gap between theory and practice. On the one hand, no-one today can use “theory” as an excuse for something, faced, as we have been, with a standstill in the production of substantial theories in the “traditional” sense since around the start of the nineties. And on the other hand, it is not enough to call for a stronger link to practice. For that is the weakness of the post-critical plea for a projective approach: How does this attitude differ from simple submission to given conditions? So the foremost question is, when we talk about practice, what kind of practice do we mean? When we talk about realities, what kind of new realism do we mean (if it is not to be mere conformism)?vNumerous articles in this issue, particularly those by Miessen, Fischer, Steiner, Ötsch and Koch, set out to answer these questions. No longer are these answers dressed up as “grand narratives” (Lyotard). Rather they talk about de-radicalization and a zero point. But this zero point is a point of transition.vToday, architectural modernism must be conceived as reflective modernism. Its issues are no longer necessarily history, truth, negation and salvation, but rather contingency, uncertainty, ambivalence and irony. The “absence of presence” (Eisenman) has by no means diminished in the universe of a reflective architectural modernism, but it may no longer be gauged by final, ultimate questions with such an obsession with principles. The “real” and the “imaginary” also engage here in a wide variety of intricate links, that cannot necessarily be brought down to the common denominator of “presence”, let alone to the common denominator of “design”.

In his novel “Requiem”, Antonio Tabucchi has one of his characters say: “I have always preferred the material to the imaginary, or rather, I have always liked to invigorate the imaginary with the material”. Roger Connah chooses the term “pulp” for this material, talking about Pulp Architecture: “We see these (glamorous, US) buildings but we really don’t want them any more, neither in reality, nor on paper. They ignore what most architecture ignores in its spectacular individuality. What’s that? The street? The pulp, the chaos, the excitement, the unpredictable, that goes to make up the street? Do they lack surprise, the unplannable, non-order?”

Provocatively, Connah asks: “Is it possible to have no plan and still carry on?” And he furnishes the perhaps surprising answer: “What we need is the architect as a critical being.”[2] That would indeed be a dialectical volte-face: After the post-critical, a new concept of criticism. Emerging realities. ■

 

 


 

[1] Cf. Hunch No. 9, 2005, pp. 124 f.

 

[2] Cf. Connah, Roger: Am Punkt Null? – In: StadtBauwelt No. 174, June 2007, pp. 60 ff.