Often times I find myself working on something for long enough that when I realize how close I’ve gotten to it I need to pull my nose off the page. Sometimes a little perspective or retrospective is necessary. In my case this was literally accomplished during the installation of the GSAPP Year End Show exhibit. By being able to stand back and take it all in I was also able to critically examine some common threads of thought between the different authors I had been critiquing individually.
I want to begin with a connection made across Mike Davis and Paul Virillio. One of my favorite thoughts expressed by Davis was the need for us to adjust our perspective towards change and disaster. I like this because it’s not something that you commonly hear and because of the potential to view this as a slightly cynical position. You can just imagine a group of people whose homes were wiped off a mountainside in a mudslide reacting to someone saying “You should have seen it coming!” You never hear that because it’s insensitive, it’s insensitive but it’s true. Anyway, Virillio in his book “War and Cinema” makes a similar point in regards to military battle, “…the history of battle is primarily the history of radically changing fields of perception.” I’d like to bring these two thoughts on perspective and perception together by referencing Beatriz Colomina and her writing about the Underground Home. Colomina illustrates the conversion of the home to a battlefield through its use of technology pioneered by military use. If she argues that the home is now a battlefield then it too might be subject to radically changing fields of perception as Virillio states. Danger from disaster, war and even around the home all require regular reevaluation of perspective and contextual understanding.
In contrast to any kind of adaptive contextual understanding, all the authors at some point make comment about either boundaries, borders or definitions. Davis is especially critical in an urban planning sense about policing through architectural boundaries whether it’s through physically gated communities or by police controlled zoning laws. Stephan Trüby claims that its difficult to define the difference between what architecture is and what could be the world around it. Virillio speaks about war without war as the state acts with military power without defining it as war in a game of political semantics. I think this tendency towards the definition of terms, boundaries, edges, etc, relates to the larger concept of outside versus inside, or often times as us versus them. This language of division is essential in defining defense, fortification (which only exists with two sides of a wall) and conflict (which needs two sides). Inside versus Outside is the architectural representation of combat and conflict. Davis claims that by establishing hard boundaries or reversing the traditional roles of these spaces that they have become marginalized (he cites the new suburban streetscape as a sewer for cars devoid of human life). Colomina outlines the extreme interiorization and exclusion of the exterior in the home. These are signs of our attempt to tame the exterior and domesticate it. If using the Underground Home as an example then Trüby certainly has a point about the fuzzy definition of architecture.
Markus Miessen’s essay on the architecture of deprivation also demonstrates the language of inside and outside as he speaks about the detachment of the exterior and the introverted effects of space designed to deprive. In this case the fear is generated from within. According to Trüby’s explanation of fear the internal location of fear qualifies it as risk versus an external origin of fear which qualifies as danger. In all of these examples it becomes apparent that when looking at the role of architecture in relation to the effects of fear one of its primary roles is that of separation. This notion can have many different labels; defense, fortification, protection, zoning, interior, exterior, public, private, secured, unsecured, or opaque and transparent.
Finally I want to touch on two smaller themes I found interesting. Both the mention of Scale and the Culture of War intrigued me. I thought Colomina’s essay on the Underground Home was interesting because of it’s reduction of the scale to the home. The home was one of the first places where the military apparatus was introduced to the common man/woman through appliances and the scale of the individual. Trüby addresses the scale of the individual towards the end of his essay on 5 Codes with some thoughts on a pervasive protected space which he envisioned at a personal scale.
Both Trüby and Colomina also speak to the Culture of War, Trüby in his discussion of classical society and its seamless integration of the celebration of war into its architecture and Colomina in her observation of the home as engaged in combat. I’ve heard the argument that Culture and War do not mix and to that I’d quickly direct anyone towards these writings and authors. War is heavily engrained in our culture, whether it’s classical society or today; look at any classical triumphal architecture or the current pop-culture use of camouflage. These are obvious examples and the list goes on.