Conversation recorded January 24th, 2013
C: Everyone loves to mention Victor Hugo and how writing killed architecture, and I think to some degree it’s true. But it’s not that writing killed architecture, it’s that architecture changed. Now it’s an interpretable art, it’s not a representational art, it’s not an immediate art like it was. Now we have an architecture that’s so caught up in its own theoretical underpinnings that it requires a voice or explanation for it. Sometimes this voice comes from the architect and sometimes, more frequently, it comes from critics and theorists. When we look at a building today, does that building have a meaning in and of itself, or is that meaning something that’s applied by Kenneth Frampton or Michael Kimmelman or whoever it is? The editor Cynthia Davidson recently suggested that written discourse provides architecture’s intellectual wealth, that there is no architecture without writing.1 So there’s going to be a discussion, there’s going to be a voice, there’s going to be a theory, there’s going to be a criticism that’s applied to these buildings externally – and we should provide them for ourselves as well, this is a conversation we need to be taking part in.
SL: But you can’t ever prescribe meaning absolutely and I don’t know if you should. Any movie, book, song, theatre production is always criticized by people who have no part in it, and is understood differently from its original intention, and a building doesn’t differ. And it’s OK. You don’t necessarily go to a ballet and need to read something about it to understand it.
C: But there is always going to be someone giving that explanation.
SL: There is, and that can deepen your understanding of it, but you don’t need it. So a building that requires a written explanation, does that make it worse? Does that make it better?
IKL Another way of framing it would be like Walter Benjamin did, which is that people experience architecture passively in a state of distraction. Much of your experience or understanding of space is formed through habit. So you walk around the city unaware and unconscious of your surroundings, whereas with art you go with the intention of actively trying to understand it. Even with film as you passively absorb images on a screen you are at every moment constantly trying to digest a narrative or something. There is intent to interpret at every second. So that might be the problem now, there’s a lack of consciousness in the way people experience architecture. It lost its need to be understood.
W: Just because - for the passive architecture - people aren’t listening doesn’t mean it isn’t saying something.
IKL Yes of course.
LV: Well, that’s the point, architecture molds minds passively. Architecture isn’t made for those that want to go visit your project,
its made for those who live there, that go there without thinking that they’re going there.
SL: Like any good film though, it would cater to both audiences.
Q: The written word is an integral part to adding to these discussions that are going to be happening about our work once it leaves this building. And whether or not the opinions are the correct ones, or the right ones, or the final, or the definitive explanation is not important. The insistence is being a part of the conversation in the first place.
W: And its also not just our work, it’s the work that comes into our domain, that we’re influenced by. Everything that comes into our consumption, images, references, it’s the discussions about those. The conversations are already happening, we’re just trying to give them topics and shape.
SL: There’s also the type of writing that’s pure provocation, you write something just to get a reaction. But a manifesto is different, it is also a provocation, but more importantly it’s a call to an action.
W: They’re asking people to join, they’re not just throwing something out and saying ‘react to that.’
C: Something specific about publishing anything is that it is time stamped - it’s released in 1986, or 1909 and that was that moment, after that time period it’s always historical.
SL: It’s immediately dated.
C: Or perhaps even irrelevant. Something about a paper is that as soon as it comes off the press or out of the printer it’s old and unchanging.
IKL It’s archival. You edit and constantly revise design like you do a paper – it becomes evidence – a way of marking that process. In the same way that we want to build things that exist, this is something tangible, it exists.
Q: We readily acknowledge both mediums [architecture and writing] as an evolution of an idea. Sketches, study models, red-lines for the one, drafts, revisions, editions for the other, yet each seems to ignore the other when both are needed for a more complete understanding of the moment.
And this is not just historical, it’s to understand the context while living it. We have at our disposal a vast range of languages to communicate, perhaps now more than ever, whether they are architectural, diagrammatic, written, spoken or filmed. For every class, project and idea there’s a blog, website and youtube video, the infinite outlet of the internet is all welcoming.
LV: The drawing is not simply a step : the drawing is the project itself. We don’t need to actually build it to be able to talk about it in terms of architecture. So that can be transferred, can words be architecture? Can printed matter be architecture even if it doesn’t deal with the drawing itself or the building itself.
1 Davidson, Cynthia. “Writing Architecture: The Common Ground of the Printed Page.” Biennale Architettura 2012. Venice, Italy. 26 September 2012.