“What we refuse is not without value or importance. Precisely because of that, the refusal is necessary. There is a reason which we no longer accept, there is an appearance of wisdom which horrifies us, there is a plea for agreement and conciliation which we will no longer heed. A break has occured. We have been reduced to that frankness which no longer tolerates complicity." 1
The End of Ideology
The phenomenon of "the end of ideology"2 is nowhere more "evident than in architecture. The intensity with which the "programs and manifestos"3 of the late 19th and early 20th century were projected, seems to have given way to a sobriety bordering on depression. The promise of an objective architecture has not materialized and architecture's ability to be an harbinger of a new order is beginning to look like an illusion.
Reaction to this varies depending upon one's own temperament and the interest one serves. The young and the radicals bemoan this ideological vacuum and reject or suspend architecture as part of bourgeois culture, just as they reject or suspend its literature, its philosophy, or for that matter any activity that does not spark action or does not noticeably help to change the world.
On the other hand, the conservatives in the "glove of Academe" gleefully proclaim "we told you so." For them architecture begins and ends in the "problem of ventilation" and in the rising cost of land. They accept the corporate reality and the reality of the marketplace. Ironically - and this only sharpens the ideological confusion in architecture - both of these groups deny the distance and dissociation of architecture from Life, albeit for very different reasons. If architecture is still anything at all, they say, it must be real and a part and parcel of Life. While for the conservatives Life represents the prevalent and established values, for the radicals Life itself is a "conscious negation of the established way of life, with all its institutions, with its entire material and intellectual culture and its entire immoral morality".4
"All Clouds are Clocks"
Examining the present crisis and its polemics, we observe that the present fissures in the ideological system of architecture may be the result of a built-in contradiction in the system whose beginning can be traced to mid 19th century. The moralistic 19th century demand for structural integrity, dependent to some extent on the technical innovations of the industrial revolution, based more on the fundamental Cartesian revolution of thought itself, reduced the object of architecture to that of an artifact of use.5
Placed on the far lower level in the "hierarchy of organization"6 architecture became analogous to "clockwork".7 Even after allowing for a degree of "cloudiness"8 in a clockwork system, it is safe to say that this is the level of predetermined dynamic structures repeating its movements because of some simple law of connectedness among its parts. This is the world of mechanics, governed in the small by the Newtonian equations and in the large by Einstein's atonal systems.
Analytical Method Designing at this level implied an analytical method involving (a) analysis of the nature of components and (b) their reconstitution into a problem solving whole. This was understood both in its material as well as conceptual sense.
The application of analytical method depends on two conditions. The first is that the interactions between components be non-existent or weak enough to be neglected. Only under this condition can the components be "worked out" actually, logically and mathematically. The second condition is that the relations describing the behaviour of parts to be "linear". Only then is the equation describing the behaviour of the total form as that describing the behaviour of parts.
Implicit in the above is a discontinuity between the classes of objects or institutions within a given culture, which usually demand to be treated in terms of their formal co-existence. In other words, the assumption that architecture has validity independent of its context is derived essentially from its own history.
The Reason and the Real
Divorced from its traditional cognitive role as a super structure of society, no more governed by the same rules which govern other cultural manifestations, architecture came to rely more and more on the initial Kantian assumption that "all concepts, even the questions posed in pure reason, reside not in experience but in reason. Reason it is which engendered these ideas".
It followed that only the radical discontinuity between the reality of lived experience and the reality as knowable guarantees precision, objectivity, and scientific accuracy. In science, the use of experiment for the purpose of knowledge was already the consequence of the conviction that one can know only what he has made himself. The much discussed shift of emphasis in history of architecture, from the old question of "what" or "why" to the new question of "how" is a direct consequence of this conviction.
Architecture as Commodity of Consumption
Thus from an analysis of "process", emerged a discipline of formal composition which symbolized process itself. In the place of concept of Being, we now find the concept of Process. And whereas it is in the nature of Being to appear and thus disclose itself, it is in the nature of Process to remain invisible, "to be something whose existence can only be inferred from the presence of certain phenomena".9
However, in order to make process visible in architecture it was necessary to reduce the object of architecture further as a commodity of consumption, for only by being a part of the never ending natural process of "man's metabolism with nature,"10 by acquiring an "exchange value"11 in the cycle of consumption and regeneration and by reverting back to the realm of nature can architecture symbolize process.
The fact that the desire for universality in architecture can only be fulfilled at the cost of putting a decisive distance between Man the human and his built environment is the built-in contradiction mentioned earlier.
Simultaneous to this domination of "how" over "what" is also the domination of "functional ideology" over the ideology as "secular religion".12 The distinction is significant since the much proclaimed "end of ideology" may actually be a replacement of an "all-inclusive system of comprehensive reality, a set of beliefs, infused with passion, which seeks to transform the whole way of life",13 with an ideology which has "the social function of maintaining the overall structure of society by inducing men to accept in their consciousness, the place and the role assigned to them by this structure."14
Thus in place of architect as a person15 we have architect as a professional. As former he can be a force in society while as latter he can only be a force of society.
The implications of all this are quite direct. For one, a rational analysis of architecture alone is inadequate. What people say they believe cannot always be taken at face value, and one must search for the structure of interest beneath the ideas; one looks not at the content of theories but their functions.
A second, more radical conclusion is that if ideas mask material interests, then the truth of the doctrine is linked with the interest it serves. Thus there is no objective architecture, but only "bourgeois architecture" and proletarian architecture", or high architecture and low architecture. One is expected to take sides. The alternative is to take refuge in the dispassionate professionalism of singling out one value without linking it to others.
My thesis here is that the "end of ideology", far from being a historical necessity, is one of the tactics of the Western civilization, the direct consequence of which is to make architecture irrelevant by its "failure to represent public ideas. For the relevance of architecture lies not in its ability to satisfy the exigencies of the moment but in its ability to project the image of a just and humane society.
But slogans can be over-simplistic and may even be taken as alibi for inaction. In order to avoid this, it is necessary to clarify here the dialectical relation between architecture and its social context.
Dialectics of the Transformation
The term project16 clarifies the specific character of the way a society organizes the life of its members. This involves an initial choice between alternatives, which are determined by the initial level of the material and the intellectual culture. It is a determinate choice, "seizure of one among other ways of comprehending, organizing and transforming reality."17
While in the traditional, and more stable societies there existed, in the initial choice, a reciprocity of perspective whereby architecture and society mirror each other,18 this reciprocity is far more complex in societies in which the various manifestations of culture may be linked with different value systems - cultural datum - which themselves may be constantly shifting. Thus, architecture in societies under transformation is bound to present a thoroughly confusing picture of overlapping value systems.
Whereas all substantial changes in social structure, these shifts in cultural datums, create their own tangible symbols in architecture, formation of a conceptual system on the social level is a precondition for its manifestation on the physical level.
On the other hand, for these transformations to become cognizant, it must first be concretized in architecture. Thus architecture is unique among all the super structural activities such as language, myth, social organization etc. in that it is at once both a consequence and a cause of social change. Architecture has the advantage of being able to project ahead through concrete images, through physically perceptible events, the physical environment of a society built on a different set of values. What is suggested here is not the omnipotence of architecture which can lead to fantastic and unrealistic schemes alienated from the social space. Far from it, what I want to point out is the cognitive role of architecture which may be alienating without being alienated.
Events and Structures
A possible method emerges from the above which is diametrically opposed to the method employed by science. In other words, the relationship between "events" (percepts) and "structures" (concepts), to borrow from Levi-Strauss,19 is reverse in architecture to that in science. While science seeks to create events and objects (technological transformations) through conceptual structures, architecture seeks to create structures of cognition through a set of events and objects (which may include those left behind by the shifting cultural datums). The initial choice defines the range of possible ways in which these events and objects may be combined, and precludes alternative possibilities incompatible with it.
Thus architecture is part of an established culture to the extent that it derives its raw material from it. As such it is an affirmative force sustaining this culture. It is alienating to the extent that it proposes an alternative to the established reality. As such it is a negating force. The harmonization of this antagonism provides the essential tension in architecture.
From Nature to Culture
The nature of architecture depends, then, not upon the nature of individual events (signs)20 which compose it, but on the relationships which organize these events into meaningful structures. The activity is analogous to myth making in prerational societies in the sense that it is indeed relating or ordering of differences into a structure which; confers interest or value upon sign.
Revealed here is the extraordinary propensity of the human mind not only to organize, through sign systems, its experience of the world, but also in the process reveals the threshold of the human, that level at which Man passing from nature to culture becomes human.
Having identified the metaphysical sources of modern architecture and the various ideological detours resulting into the present devaluation of its object, I have noted that to accept the method and logic of science in architecture can be fatal, for the limitation of the method of observation and communication can limit the phenomenon to be observed and communicated.
This limitation concerns our notion of the real, initiated in the philosophy of the 17th century. Moving towards abstraction and rejecting the notion of idea or object external to its aesthetic form, it seeks its aesthetic validity from within, in a diachronic development of its formal vocabulary in time. But to claim the supremacy of the diachronic over the synchronic is to enshrine history as an instrument of validation.
Simplification of Social Space
On the social and the urban level, it concerns our notion of the private and the public domains and the line of demarcation between. One of the most intriguing paradoxes of our time is that, while the technological resources for a more complex social and urban structure building, transport, communication systems increase, we find a gradual simplification of social interactions and forms of social exchange.21
As the equations describing the behaviour of family is conceived to be similar to those describing the behaviour of the whole society, family increasingly appropriates the social functions and contacts that man once sought in the broader arena of the city.
"Simplification of social space" implies not only the gradual isolation and intensification of family, but also the fact that the world between men has lost its power to gather them together, to relate and to separate them and make them aware of the presence of others.
The Private and the Public
According to Greek thought, the human capacity for political organization is not only different from but stands in direct opposition to that natural association whose centre is the home and the family. Hannah Arendt has pointed out that "it was not just an opinion or theory of Aristotle but a simple historical fact that the foundation of the polls was preceded by the destruction of all organized units resting on kinship".22
But in advanced industrial society, in which the technical apparatus of production and distribution functions, not as the sum total of mere instruments which can be isolated from their social and political effects, but rather a system which determines a priori, the product of the apparatus as well as the operations of servicing and extending it,23 this apparatus tends to become totalitarian to the extent to which it determines not only the socially needed occupations, skills and attitudes, but also individual needs and aspirations. It thus "obliterates the opposition between the private and the public existence, between individual and social needs".24
This distinction between the private and the public sphere of life, corresponding to the household and the political realm, which have existed as distinct, separate entities at least since the rise of the ancient city state, has not only gradually disappeared, but the private has replaced the public.
I have said earlier in this article that architecture got reverted in the realm of nature (private) when its object was reduced to the level of a commodity of consumption. "Without taking things out of nature's hand and consuming them, and without defending himself against the natural processes of growth and decay, the animal laborans could never survive. But without being at home in the midst of things whose durability makes them fit for use and for erecting a world whose very permanence stands in direct contrast to life, this life would never be human."25
Towards a Pro-human Architecture
The foregoing suggests that a radical reversal of values is prerequisite in order to generate the necessary conceptual and methodological tools for an architecture would like to call pro-human. The authentic architecture of future will not be created by those who desperately try to produce the absence of Form and the union with real life, but rather by those who do not recoil from the exigencies of Form.
This Form will be evident not in the corporeal properties of certain objects (objet d'art), but as forms and modes of existence corresponding to the reason and sensibilities of free individuals who will be judged by their actions in the public arena. It will be evident not in parts isolated from their environment, but in the internal organization which lends meaning to parts and in the process suggests new and unpredictable patterns of human relationships. It will be evident not in rigid order, fear of change and a de sire for sameness, but in anarchy and disorder,26 constant change and in diversity.
It will be evident not in economically stratified society manifesting in low, middle or upper income housing estates (an inherently repressive and exploitative system), but in an architecture whose formal validity will have been linked with the timeless desires of Man, free of such fragmentations.
And it will be evident in a qualitatively different society in which a new type of men and women, no longer the subjects or objects of exploitation, can develop, in their life and work, "the vision of the suppressed aesthetic possibilities of man and things".27
It will take a long time for this to happen. But "only with burning patience can we conquer the Splendid City which will give light, justice and dignity to all mankind".28
- 1. Maurice Blanchot, “Le Refus” in 14 Juillet, no. 2, Paris, 1958
- 2. Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology. New York, 1960.
- 3. Programs and Manifestos of 20th Century Architecture, Ulrich Conrads, MIT Press, 1970
- 4. Herbert Marcuse, "Art as a Form of Reality", in On the Future of Art, New York, 1970
- 5. Hannah Arendt's interpretation of the concepts of "work," "reification" and the underlying attitude of utilitarianism is the basis of this. According to Miss Arendt, "the perplexity of utilitarianism is that it gets caught in the unending chain of means and ends without ever arriving at some principle which could justify the category of means and end, that is, of utility itself, in other words, utility established as meaning generates meaninglessness." The Human Condition, Chicago, 1958, p. 154.
- 6. Ludwig von Bertalanffy, General System Theory, New York, 1968.
- 7. Karl R. Popper. "Of Clouds and Clocks", in Objective Knowledge. An Evolutionary Approach, Oxford, 1972.
- 8. Ibid
- 9. Hannah Arendt, op. cit.
- 10. Hannah Arendt, op. cit.
- 11. Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man, Boston, 1964.
- 12. Daniel Bell, op. cit.
- 13. Ibid
- 14. Diana Agrest and Mario Gandelsonas, "Semiotics and Architecture: Ideological Consumption or Theoretical Work," In Opposition 1, Sept. 1973.
- 15. See Romaldo Giurgola’s analysis of Louis I. Kahn for an eloquent explanation of this. “Architect as a Person” Louis I. Kahn / Architect, R. Giurgola and J. Mehta, Westview Press, Boulder, 1975.
- 16. Herbert Marcuse, Op. Cit.
- 17. Ibid
- 18. Claude Levi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology, New York, 1963
- 19. Claude Levi-Strauss, The Savage Mind, Chicago, 1966.
- 20. I try to follow here F. de Saussure's definition of "sigh" (the units of the system) as a double entity composed of a "signifier" and "signified". Following this, signification is defined as a relation, internal to the sign, linking signifier and signified. F. de Saussure shows that signification is essentially arbitrary and is determined by an extern relation which he calls value. Course in General Linguistics, New York, 1966.
- 21. Richard Sennett, The Uses of Disorder, Personal Identity and City Life, New York, 1970.
- 22. Hannah Arendt, op. cit. p. 24.
- 23. David Dickson, Alternative Technology and the Politics of Technical Change, Glasgow, 1974.
- 24. Herbert Marcuse, op. cit.
- 25. Hannah Arendt, op. clt., p. 135.
- 26. I am using these terms in the sense that Richard Sennett uses them in Uses of Disorder. With a provocative argument Sennett shows that unlike popular and conventional wisdom, anarchy and disorder can have positive value,
- 27. Herbert Marcuse, op. cit. 28 Pablo Neruda, Toward the Splendid City, Nobel Lecture, New York, 1972.
- 28. Pablo Neruda, Toward the Splendid City, Nobel Lecture, New York, 1972 .