Critics & Agents
A Brief Introduction.
On Freedom and enjoying mud puddles.
This Wednesday 10th of June, at ROCA MADRID GALLERY (Jose Abascal 57, Madrid) Fredy Massad will be presenting his book “LA VIGA EN EL OJO; ESCRITOS A TIEMPO” (“The Beam in the Eye; Writings, In Time”) published by EDICIONES ASIMETRICAS. I have the huge honor of being at the presentation panel along with a group of amazing architects (and friends): Santiago de Molina, Beatriz Villanueva, Juan García Millan (Editor) and Fredy himself.
When I was at my second year in architecture, a teacher encouraged me to read. To read everything, whether I liked it or not. So, obedient as I am, I went to NAOS (an architect’s Mecca when we talk about books in Madrid… or elsewhere) and I asked for a book I could read on the bus and subway (I was such an idiot!). The lady there (Whose name I knew and I’m sad I can’t remember, bless her great intuition) offered me Tom Wolfe’s “From Bauhaus to our House” (Which some spanish genius translated into “Quién teme al Bauhaus feroz” or “Who is afraid of the big bad Bauhaus”. It’s not the siblings in Mogambo, but almost).
I enjoyed the book like a kid with a water gun in a pool. Like a pig in a mud puddle. For the first time I was witnessing the process of thinking in a critical way, of questioning, of unmerciful deep analysis of a reality usually showed to me as an absolute I had to accept like a dogma. And I’m not a person who accepts dogmas, as you may have guessed.
I’ve read it many times since then. It is like an old friend I always return to. I’m older now, 23 years older (and probably not wiser) and I find myself questioning some of the passages of this book I simply adore. And I think that’s the best rendition to something that in a way changed my view on so many things: the fact that it taught me that questioning is always good, that it shouldn’t stop. That it is always necessary or we are doomed to a life of false gods and boredom.
As I’ve said, for years my refuge in this world of lack of debate and critical thinking in architecture, was my old copy of Tom Wolfe’s small book. That’s until someone told me to keep an eye on a guy that has a blog and writes for ABC, with mind-blowing titles such as “(De) Generación Digital” or “El Fin de la Fase Rem” [“Digital (De) Generation” / “The End of Rem Phase”]. Since then, I have cheated on Wolfe with Fredy, and I have proudly -what makes it more interesting and perverted- cheated on the dogma of spanish architecture with both of them.
I envy his clarity, his outspokenness, his knowledge, his commitment, but most of all, I envy his freedom. Because if you ask me what needs a critic to be first of all, I will probably say that it needs to be free. And everything else will come, like Fredy’s writings… in time.
I also have the pride of calling Fredy and Alicia Guerrero Yeste (His partner and life partner) my friends. I have shared with them laughs, long talks… and old BBC series. And that is what, after all, matters.
So, this article is dedicated to both of them, and the rest of the family, Mimi and Francisco. For all I have learned and all I plan to keep on learning from them, thank you so much.
[It is also dedicated to Blanca Espigares. Addicts like me need only a little push to write, and she is that little push in this occasion. She may have a name which translates as “white”, but she has a mind and a brain for evil. And oh, how I envy that brain you rascal]
So let’s start:
I don’t care about parametric architecture.
Don’t give a damn actually. Don’t care if it is curved, spline based, blurb looking, white grey or candy colored and tangerine flake streamlined (baby).
Or to be precise, parametricism is neither good, nor bad. It doesn’t make architecture better or worst. To quote Ezra Pound (Read through Antonio Miranda’s work): What makes architecture better or worst is… architecture. A measurable item. A quantity of truth (Oh yes, truth) in what we do and why we do it. A capability for civilization. (Our mission to civilize, a Sorkin character would say)
Patrik Schumacher last rant (Article in Archinect here) starts on a very naïve cornerstone. Assuming that parametricism and all innovation applied to architecture is, per se, better. No questions asked, no analysis necessary, no in-depth investigation: Pure and simple, it is the future and as so, it must be good. Every time.
As I have said. I really don’t care. ¿Is it curved? ¿Is it based on the positive heuristics of the parametricism manifesto? So what.
A critic’s labor is to analyze, is to go far beyond architectural jargon, fame (fortune too) and all the previous work of an architect. It is to look beyond labels and recipes, as post-fordist and techno-blaberish as they may look and sound. A critic’s labor is lonely. And it must, above all, be free.
Free of all the above and free of any need to explain anything but to its own code. Its own commitment. Not influenced, not biased not even expecting to be read or to be liked. Only hoping to spark a debate. To civilize. To exercise critical thinking.
It is absolutely not to explain nothing to the general public and definitely it isn’t being a mediator between architects, the mass media and the citizens that pay for their work (Because, ah, they tend to do). That’s what Patrik Schumacher seems to want. He wants you to explain his reputation his (I quote) “inspirational work that commands the attention of the discipline and the public”.
He wants you to be his agent.
Or his bitch, whatever comes first.
Because you know, avant garde design is memorable. Parametricism is. Zaha Hadid’s and Patrik’s work is. Even when it is not. Specially when it is not, because innovation –Patrik explains- is a pointer rather than a “fully fleshed achievement”. It happens in the luminous Land of Oz where money is made of candy, where fluid space is always curved and bigger than life and Adolf Loos is just a flying monkey.
So no matter if a bridge pavilion goes approximately 52% over budget (from 54 to 82 M. euros) or a football stadium floats like a stone in the middle of nowhere looking like something… rather fleshy, actually. Doesn’t matter if Heydar Aliyev Centre has no relation whatsoever with its surroundings or makes Alberti roll over in his grave, watching civilization flushed down the pipe of that façade that is nothing more than a technified decoration for the demonstration of empty personal –fascist- power. Doesn’t matter if we drain the best out of industrialization turning it into bourgeoise craftsmanship for the elite thus depriving it of its more democratic and powerful tools.
Remember, parametricism is good. Is always good. It is the future. ¿Why can’t you see it? All hail the hypnotoad.
Moreover, it is the critic’s failure not to be a good mediator. A nice lad that explains all this to the mass media so they can digest it for the general public. ¿Data you say? ¿Analysis? Please, ¿Are you kidding me? ¿Have you not read our recommendations? You have to explain them that this things happen. In the name of form and parametric design, or whatever it is on the table. After all they are not architects, we allow them to live just as long as they pay for our shit. Our avant garde shit, that is. It is all too complex for them, ¿you know? And you critics are not doing your job. Doesn’t matter if Galicia’s public libraries are funded out and unable to offer new books to kids because, you know, we are still paying for Eisenman’s Cidade Da Cultura. You have to understand, Peter was just making a point. You can’t really expect (after 300% over budget) a “full fleshy achievement”. Or even a “medium fleshy” for that matter.
After all ¿What is an icon? ¿You mean they all look the same, focusing on shape, no matter what? ¿Or that they, in spite of the so publicized parametricism ability to adapt, tend to feast on the same principles no matter where they are built? This is all your doing, you lazy critics. Icons you say. ¿Why? ¿Because they are big, and flashy, and we build them no matter the cost or, to be precise, because of the cost? ¿Because they are chosen even before the client sees them or a single line is traced with the only pretense to make… well… icons out of them? ¿You mean they are spectacular photocall backgrounds, its lives -may times- no longer important beyond the inauguration? That’s just a coincidence. And nothing else. You pesky little politically correct unionists.
But… to be truthful… I wonder ¿Haven’t “critics” been that way already? ¿Haven’t they been for the past 20 years?
The truth is architecture criticism has already been what Patrik cries for. Except for a handful of free professionals we have been surrounded by agents. By magazines anxious to publish the next big thing. What Patrik claims for is what he has had for the last ten to twenty years to his heart’s content. No analysis, no questioning, no nothing. Just mediation in the form of censorship (Zizek’s censorship): The so called new and the so called avant garde over everything else. Over anything else no matter what, and preferably in couche paper and big ass HD photographs. Like with porn you, my dear citizen, are an idiotic consumer. You can’t have both things. You can have avant garde and a full explanation. Just mediation. Just translation. Just one dimension of things: signed by. ¿Who profited on this system? ¿Who encouraged it denying every possible approach to their work not based on accepting a list of pre-approved descriptions that apply to everything like a mantra (and I quote): radically innovative, memorable visual appearances, new approaches, visually surprising, stimulating?
So ¿Are the popes of branding as impervious to reality as to expect us to believe their buildings become icons because we don’t understand them? ¿Because their methodology is not more widespread?
[If something is old school –and widespread- that is iconic building. Power based, power driven, power profited, shellfish, out of reality, one dimensioned iconic building. Whether –again- it is curvy or as full of columns as to make Piacentini jump with joy: It is just the same and as old as totalitarism, censorship and the assumption that (I quote): the methodology and motivation behind the unusual appearance of a radically innovative design cannot be fully explained to the general public. It’s all for the people, without the people. And that’s not new. It is never new]
So if critics are agents ¿What’s the complaint then? I go through the architecture sites and magazines I read. Believe me they are quite a lot. Only 5% (Maybe less) of them are free enough –courageous enough- to publish a free analysis, whether it is (excuse me for the simplistic adjectives) good or bad. And by this I mean one that is not biased and pre-written. One that doesn’t limit itself to translate the public release by the architecture office into a dull article or a post. One that doesn’t act as a simple mediator, a perverted Broadway Danny Rose for architects, dedicated to sing the praises about their fame and work, but to fully and in depth analyze architecture to find out (Oh, surprise) if it really is. If there’s a minimum amount of architecture in the things we build. One that calls a dictator a dictator. A budget a budget. A simplistic empty stravaganza by its name, no matter the complexity of the tools employed to develop it. Because tools, you know, are just tools.
Architectural fashion brand system and neo-liberal architecture are not just the responsibility of architects, that is true. It is much more complex. Involves politics, media, consumerism, power, fascism, neo-liberal policies, vast piles of cash an absolute disrespect for citizens –considered a bunch of idiotic paying sheep- in the decision making process… and one thing above all.
Or to be precise, critics turned into agents. Precisely critics that “mediate”. Critics that assume a fact without questioning and reduce architecture in all its vast complexity to a brand issue. A signature at the bottom of the blueprint issue. A label issue.
The branding system, to breathe and endure, needs those critics Patrik so desperately request… although he has them yet. It doesn’t withstand without a servile (and profit driven) media core to perpetuate the benefits of the brand… even before the product itself is built.
Without criticism (true criticism) everything is the same. A tautology of the infallible. This is not meant to help in a decision process, it doesn’t serve as a darwinian differentiator because its basis is corrupted: In a circular move it needs dull or inexistent free criticism to mediate to keep widening the brand name so the brand name gets more dull criticism. Nike doesn’t sell sneakers anymore. It sells the logo, no matter on what it is displayed. We don’t need architecture anymore, we need a name. No matter on what it is displayed as long as it is the right name. The right looks. A nice picture and no questions asked. And please explain the general public (apparently oblivious to complexity) what this is all about.
This is not complexity reduction. This is complication indulging for the sake of branding and profit. This is a very undemocratic form of censorship. This is a consumerist perverted system in which public opinion is offered only part of the data based on a preemptive assumption: If you are on the list (Or you are, you know, avant garde (Whatever that means)) you must be, you should be, you are… good. Infallible.
I don’t do brands usually. I do them less in architecture. I do projects.
Maybe that’s me.
As I have said, I don’t care if it is titanium covered, pallet filled, sugar coated or cherry flavored. I don’t care about your previous work. Don’t care about your fame. Don’t care about what you think is avant garde, I don’t even care about what I think it is. I care about what you do. What you are doing. I care about architecture and, if it is public architecture and it is paid by tax bearing citizens, I care about responsibility and repel from every branding simplification that may turn our discipline into a fashion week event where the name on the label washes away everything else. Including politics and economics.
I go case by case. And I try to go deeply, not caring who reads it or who likes it. Or even If anyone reads it or likes it. Not caring what others want to discuss or what they think criticism should be in order to make them look good.
I am not here to mediate, not here to explain nothing basing my work on the assumed presumption that parametricism (or bio-friendly, or new urbanism, or high tech, or new arts and crafts, or reductionism, or diagrammatic, or whatever) is neither good nor bad. I am here to analyze, and to do it freely and fiercely.
To be –or at least try to be- honest and unmerciful.
There will always be great architects. The will always be –for lack of a better word- stars. Some buildings will turn into icons, in time. That’s not the problem here. Neither is parametricism, formalism, modernism or else. The problem is emptying architecture of everything but the brand –no matter what the brand did in the past, no matter how highly they think of themselves- and depending to do so on a “friendly” mediatory critical staff turned into agents that start by assuming all instead of by questioning everything. A system that embraces “complexity reduction” as a form of preemptive censorship instead of defending “complication analysis” as a form of preemptive freedom.