“Representation, theater of life or mirror of the world.” Michel Foucault, The Order of Things
Presented as a 9-by-11-inch hardbound volume of full-color drawings, this sumptuously produced book includes interviews and writings alongside Diana Agrest’s design research as demonstrated by the work of her M.Arch II students at the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at the Cooper Union in New York City over a period of nine years.
Agrest is known for work that spans theoretical discourses in architecture, urbanism, semiotics, and gender1. Her approach to semiotics has been neither purist nor essentialist; rather she takes a mediated view that argues that shifts in textual meaning are based on shifts in cultural context.2
The Architecture of Nature exhibits (at first blush) a big pivot, with a new arena of investigation, if not perspectival view and methodology. The focus on nature, seen through geologic data (point clouds and weather data), is new to Agrest, yet the representations it produces are familiar as the aura and language of Cooper Union through multiple eras (under the leadership of Hejduk, Vidler, et al.)
- 1. In his interview with Agrest, science historian D. Graham Burnett suggests the work is “best understood as a kind of cataloging of contemporary gestures in the direction of a program—call it the ‘neo-sublime.’ This new program trades heavily on the aesthetics of information. In these cases, what we stand before that occasions a moment of negatory vertigo is not a big cliff or a deep cave but a colossal mass of data.” Burnett’s point is a salient one that this reader wishes had been further explored by Agrest. It’s part of a discussion that’s been percolating.
- 2. In the 1970s and ’80s her view was also a kind of mediation between the Whites and the Grays, treating representation as a form of artifice, reflexively commenting on architecture’s inability to do more than this.