The phenomenon of "the end of ideology" is nowhere more evident today than in architecture. The intensity with which the programs and manifestos of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries 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 a 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. For example, the radicals bemoan this ideological vacuum and reject or suspend architecture as part of the bourgeois culture just as they reject or suspend this latter's 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 "grove 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 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, both in the profession as well as in academia, life represents the prevalent and established values, for the radical life itself is, to quote Herbert Marcuse, a "conscious negation of the material and the intellectual culture and its entire immoral 'morality."1
Modern Architecture was essentially revolutionary in character. This implies that it was involved in projecting a new classification of the external environment; a classification predicated upon the values of efficiency, universality and the linear progression of history; all basic, a primary tenets of rationalism. However, the issue here is not what was implied by Modern Architecture, but the fact that it had taken a public position, a moral end in view, and in the process had made it possible for architects to rededicate themselves to their proper role in society. If we reject Modern Architecture today, it will have to be not because it was too ideological and that we should now strive for an architecture devoid of a public position, but because its ideological system may have contained a fundamental fallacy. We must examine this.
Architecture is a mode of knowledge, a way to conceptualize and internalize the external world. In other words, it is a system by which the external world, both animate as well as inanimate, consisting of things as well as relationships, with all its multitude of information, is classified and made knowledgeable into comprehensible categories through corporeal form. The criteria of this classification are provided by culturally acceptable norms and values at any given time. Thus whether we architects accept it or not, our formal decisions are more often than not informed by the prevalent ideas and values. Therefore through the methods implicit in its programs and manifestos Modern Architecture was to concretize, and thus make known, the ideas and values which were essentially revolutionary. This revolutionary and ideological content of architecture was one of the first victims of the Post-Modern developments.
It is obvious that a significant displacement of the objective of architecture has taken place from that of building "good" buildings to merely "beautiful" buildings. Whereas "good" implies both aesthetic and ethical dimensions, merely 'beautiful" is strictly speaking unpolitical and extramoral, like Fourier's phalanastery which he said "has to lead man back into relations in which morality would become superfluous."2 But all great architecture of the past, as Romaldo Giurgola has remarked, "came to be as a result of a desire to make good architecture first and foremost. They are the places where aesthetics and ethics were inextricably joined in the same practical system which provided the basis both for the construction of buildings and the creation of the work of art."3
This displacement seems to have occurred at two levels. At first it occured when it was felt that architecture must be accountable to the strictly rational qualities of mind. At this stage machines, the clockworks and the coaling towers, the airplanes and the steamships, not only provided new forms to enrich architecture but also provided the analogy, an active metaphor, with which architecture was to express, in sensuous forms, a new classification, a reorganization of society based on the values of efficiency, universality and progress. Thus a house became a machine to live in. Architecture became an ARTIFACT OF USE. A devaluation from "good" to the "useful" occurred.
Placed on the far level in the hierarchy of organizations, architecture became analogous to the machine, a predetermined dynamic structure 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 rational systems.
So overwhelming and so powerful was the inspiration of the machine that it did not occur to the authors of the new slogans that this entails a far more fundamental change, a shift in the conceptual system of architecture, and not merely a substitution of new symbols for the old.
The use of the machine as a metaphor in architecture presupposes an analytical method of designing which involves a) splitting an architectural entity into its various components, b) analysis of the nature of these components independent of each other and c) their reconstitution as a problem solving whole.
But the application of an 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 behavior of parts be linear. Only then is the equation describing the behavior of the total the same as that describing the behavior of the parts.
Implicit in the above is a discontinuity between the classes of objects in any given system. Extended to the level of society it implied a similar discontinuity between institutions within a given culture which usually demand to be treated in terms of their formal coexistence. In other words, the assumption that architecture has validity independent of its cultural context and that this validity is derived essentially from its own history.
The second displacement In the objective of architecture occurred when buildings came increasingly to be designed not only to resemble machines in their operations but also the operational process itself came to occupy the central place in the theory of architecture, in the shape of the concepts of change and growth, giving rise to an aesthetics of process and a discipline of formal composition which symbolized process. In the place of the concept of Being we now find the concept of Becoming. But there was a problem here. For 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 the existence of which can only be inferred from the presence of certain phenomena. This was resolved by projecting an image of a changing world by distinguishing between various elements of the building as those which are relatively constant or stable and those which are likely to undergo programmatic or formal changes. At best this produced, as in the case of the Berlin Free University, an order expressing the dynamics of life. At worst it spawned a whole series of "plug-in" architectures, either of the Japanese "Metabolist" variety or that of the British "Archigram," and reduced architecture to a frivolous game, like Lego blocks, whereby elements of a building are conceived as not only potentially changeable but in actuality their replacement, when they become outdated, is already planned for; a kind of planned obsolescence, reducing further the object of architecture to a COMMODITY OF CONSUMPTION. Claus Oldenburg's proposal to erect a giant banana as a monument in the middle of Times Square not only is a comment on the values of a society which predetermines what is trivia and what is profound, but also it draws our attention to the increasing subjectivization of the objective world of things, i.e., the need for possessing, consuming, handling and constantly renewing gadgets, instruments, cars, buildings, etc. has elevated the element of novelty to the level of profundity.
The fact that some of the images produced by the Archigram group resembled parts of human anatomy or that the Japanese called themselves the Metabolists, indicated the biological basis of their thinking - the Japanese were at least more explicit. It also meant that the machine as a metaphor in architecture was, in a subtle way, being replaced by something more akin to human anatomy. It is my contention here that the biological underpinning af thase movements of the 60s has survived and has found expression in the more recent "Post-Modern" discipline of formal composition which accepts the increasing fragmentation af life as given and seeks to present an image of this condition through a composition of equally fragmented architectural forms extracted from our academic dictionary and plugged-in, as it were, in a new relationship. It is a further devaluation of architecture from a "useful object" to a merely "beautiful object."
We may question the basis of Modern Architecture, its metaphors and its slogans. But we will not be able to argue with the fact that it was an architecture practiced with a passion. It was propelled by an "all-inclusive system of comprehensive reality, a set of beliefs, infused with passion, which seeks to transform the whole way of life."4 Daniel Bell also has a name for it: "The secular religion." This religion is always present in an act of building initiated by a people's need for shelter, sustained by the logic of construction and impregnated with meaning by the mythology rooted in the culture.
It is present in a small and simple porch around a peasant's house in a Mexican town or in a courtyard surrounded by verandahs in an Indian Haweli and equally in a barn in the middle of an American farm. When these images are fragmented and the pieces are thrown around, what they convey is not so much the image of a fragmented, high-speed life but an image of a society which has, somehow, lost any memory of a beginning, of that moment when an idea not only compelled its manifestation but also determined the elements which constituted its presence. It presupposes an initiative from which no human being can refrain and still be human.
This calls for a different understanding of the nature of architectural activity than implied by the analytical method mentioned earlier. One way to arrive at this understanding is to distinguish between architecture and the profession of architecture. Strange as it may seem, often they do not share the same values and may also be working at cross purposes and harboring conflicting interests. While the former is an idea, free from the circumstantial, the later is an activity which results in a partial manifestation of that idea and is of necessity bound to the circumstantial.
The architecture of the analytical method also implied the emergence of the profession of architecture as we know it today. With the elevation of architecture to the level of a legitimate service "profession," its practitioner, the architect, also emerged as a "professional," an empirical, rational and dispassionate problem solver concerned more with the "how" of this work than the "why." I say "dispassionate" because the architect is not expected or supposed to be concerned with the origin of his or her problems, nor to question the particular organization of the society which defines the parameters of his or her work. Thus, the architect goes on building for the poor or the rich or those of middle income while he or she should be building for all of humanity. The architect often does not realize that the making of cities, while creating visible symbols of an economic order, simultaneously perpetuates that order do not question those things. "I am a professional. I just do my job" is an oft-heard remark. I suppose this is what is meant by the term "end of ideology."
It seems it is in the nature of industrialized society to detach itself from ideology. The trick is to compartmentalize neatly each human activity into a profession complete with a method of practicing it. Thus the rationalization of architecture, expressed through the values of structural and functional efficiency, also implied a method; a scientific and analytical method whereby an architectural assignment is thought of in terms of a series of problems: of housing, transportation, ecology, services, circulation, loss of privacy, loss of community, etc. These problems were supposed to have arisen from the inevitable march of technology, for which the earlier methods of designing were seen as inadequate or irrelevant, and not from the rationalist's inherent need to categorize and to encapsulate information, which may have been their real birthplace. New categories of perceiving and describing problems had to be found. These turned out to be not only non-visual but also non-spatial. The design of human habitat had to be described in exclusively rational and extra-moral categories.
The formal structures we architects design are not as objective, value-free and ideologically neutral as we would like to think and the aesthetic criteria, far from being universal and pre determinable, are culturally variable. Indeed architecture is unique among all the superstructural activities such as language, myth, social organization etc., in the sense that it is at once both a consequence and a cause of social change. It 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.
I am convinced that the first steps towards this new understanding will have to be taken by the schools of architecture. In their search for certitude the schools failed to distinguish between Architecture and the Profession of architecture and in the process have accepted out questioning, the professional, and their role as that to produce architects who can readily be abs into the existing framework of professional practice. Most schools today structure syllabi which are weighted heavily in favor of technical and professional expertise neglecting in the process develop a learning environment can generate a sense of inquiry expose the students to the relation between architectural decisions and cultural and ideological predisposition of the decision maker. Such relation has always existed in history al understand it is the first prerequisite toward an understanding of the of architectural activity.
Learning by Doing still remains the effective learning method for architects. Thus studio exercises will be the core of any school curricula whereby a student is exposed to a variety of real or theoretical situations in which he is expected to take certain decision, become aware of, and express, his intentions and choices thru coherent visual form. However, method can also degenerate into goings-on with superficial projects schools fail to cultivate a critical attitude amongst the students about the purpose of their preparation. For without a sensitivity to the Ideas that inform architecture, all architects will have a tendency to fall back on the technical and fashions in vogue at the time and that define cutting edge, a restlessnes essential for each of them to become force in the society rather than of the society.
The schools of architecture must involved in a ceaseless and wholesome critique of architecture at all time critique aimed not at a realignment of design with the problem of production or even with the modes of social organiization but at an understanding of architectural act itself, an act of building shelters and monuments in the face of which humanity's passage from nature to culture is to be recognized. This act will have to be defined neither in terms of the encounter between an architect and a client nor in terms of the capacity of a building form to convey certain programmatic purposes (both these definitions so dear to the profession), but, as mentioned earlier, as an act of building initiated by a people's need for shelter, sustained by the logic of construction and impregnated with meaning by the mythology rooted in the land.
The school must become a place where, for a student, all the morphological and structural conceptions and all the operational tools which have thus far governed architecture become open to question. A vast set of alternatives and variables which the institutional culture and the profession have suppressed so far come back into play. Only under this condition can a student articulate and develop a clear ideological position and learn to take decisions, which derive their validity from his or her own clearly formulated intentions.
- 1. Morcuse. Herbert, Art as a Form of Reality:' On The Future of Art Viking (New York) 1970
- 2. Benjamin, Walter "Paris: Capitol of Nineteenth Century" Perspecta 12 (Yale School of Architecture) 196B
- 3. Giurgola, Romaldo "Notes on Architecture and Morality" Akshara (Ahmedabad) 19B2
- 4. Bell, Daniel "The End of Ideology" The Free Press (New York)