Architectural Theory Review. . – Radar: Books – book review
Architectural Theory Review, Vol 7 No 1
Guest edited by Gevork Hartoonian, $17.50. Architectural Theory Review is one of a number of academic journals on architecture produced in this country with very limited circulation outside their narrow specialist audiences. In the past, it seems ATR has tried to make itself as unattractive as possible to a wider audience, with its clunky layout and the world’s ugliest font in its masthead. By the look of the latest issue, things are changing, and this impression is confirmed by a perusal of the contents. Guest-edited by Gevork Hartoonian, it demonstrates a degree of ambition and engagement with wide architectural issues that was not often demonstrated in previous numbers.
In his introductory editorial, Hartoonian establishes the general theme of “critical practice”. He means by this modes of architecture which neither celebrate the “regime” of late capitalism nor veil its operations, but rather open up space for reflection within it. He explicitly connects the imperative for such a critical practice with the need to negotiate with “the other” — an “anybody” whose subjectivity corresponds not to the rational accomplishments of Modernism but rather to those spaces of “in-betweeness” it produces. This is a theme with particular resonance in Australia today, but no contributors took up this particular challenge. Nevertheless, the abstract “other’ haunts much of the volume. Andrew Benjamin examines this through the idea of the cosmopolitan, arguing for an experimental cosmopolis against the return to place advocated by many critics of late Modernism. This he defines as “a complex spacing without end”. Papers by Mirjana Lozanovska and Nadir Lahiji — about post-war Beirut and post- wall Berlin — suggest that the “spacing” of the modern has often been attended by a certain violence. Ezra Akcan examines “the other” through the proliferating lenses of postcolonial discourse. She rejects the incommensurability of different cultural experiences and calls for a non-Eurocentric definition of universality. But what would this mean for architecture?
Another line of inquiry is architecture’s critical propensity, considered rather more autonomously. David Leatherbarrow insists that all architectural work involves both “a yes and a no to existing conditions”, and proposes designers should say “no” more often, that is, they should more often suggest innovation in the project’s social and programmatic conditions. John Macarthur’s sophisticated piece on minimalism in contemporary architecture finds a “no” operating in some modes of neo-modernism which he persuasively describes as “being real things made out of dead ideas”. Mark Jarzombek suggests the need for a meta-or post-criticism that would negotiate the alarming gaps opening up between architectural practices variously driven by sustainability imperatives, advanced computation, new urbanism, and the theoretical ambitions cultivated by the discipline since the 1980s.
In the middle of all this wealth, Hartoonian offers the reader the apparent treat of a clutch of interviews with his former colleagues at Columbia University: Kenneth Frampton, Mary McLeod, Bernard Tschumi and Mark Wigley. These figures are widely published, so these polished interactions yield little that feels new in comparison with the rest of the journal’s content, But Wigley’s equation of architecture with New Zealand, and architects with New Zealanders, is amusing and apt. In the socio-political realm, architecture is at the very antipodes of anything that matters, but it is this distance that can give it (as it gave him) the gauche chutzpah to somehow make a difference.
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