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An inter-university resource for students of architectural theory In dialogue:

K. Michael Hays
with Izabel Gass

Sanford Kwinter
with Nicholas Risteen

Nana Last

with Joseph Lim

no. 1

spring 2007

Manifold Magazine


Izabel Gass

faculty editors: Sanford Kwinter Nana Last

associate editors:

Nicholas Risteen Joseph Lim Etien Santiago

Manifold is printed and distributed by the Manifold Publishing Group, established 2006. This issue brought to you through the generosity of the 2006-2007 Dr. Bill Wilson Student Initiatives Grant. All work copyright the original author. 2007 Manifold Publishing Group All Rights Reserved

Manifold Theory
Spring 2007 contents
l etter to the r eader -Izabel Gass, Editor-in-Chief theory and science: reconciling the heuristic and PhilosoPhical Sanford Kwinter on: Science and Architecture with Nicholas Risteen, Rice University AD Architecture and Science -Nicholas Risteen, Rice University The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge -Nicholas Risteen, Rice University Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy -David B. LeFevre, University of Pennsylvania 5

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theory and Politics: What is the relationshiP BetWeen critical thought and Political Justice? Nana Last on: Political Justice with Joseph Lim, Rice University Is Pragmatism an Ideology? Reflections on Theory and Politics in Postmodernity -Michael Hardy, Rice University What constitutes theory noW? Crib Sheets -Stephanie Tuerk, M.I.T. The State of Architecture at the Beginning of the 21st Century -Paul Morel, Rice University An Overview of Post-criticality in the Last Five Years -Jason Nguyen, Drexel University Constructions -Nicholas Risteen, Rice University Questions of Perception: Phenomenology of Architecture -Rachel Alliston, Pratt Institute

After Theory -Izabel Gass

39 46

61 65 69 74 76

Atlas of Novel Tectonics -Nicholas Hollot, University of Pennsylvania K. Michael Hays on: Post-criticality with Izabel Gass, Rice University
the editors

83 86 94

Get me a copy editor, or a good stiff drink, if you will. Our resources have been on hold for a generation, and this is the result. John Ashbery, Filigrane Developing a Resource: The Inaugural Issue of the Manifold Project It is the opinion of the founding editors of Manifold that architecture has encountered an era in which its intellectual resources are temporarily on hold, an era in which philosophical innovation and assiduous self-criticality is lacking, and attempts to compensate for this lack are often ill-considered dismissals of the validity of philosophy altogether. Nothing could be more difficult than to formulate a viable intellectual program in this atmosphere, but then, nothing could be more important. Therefore, four students at Rice University have attempted to set in motion a reinvigoration of architectural theory within an inter-university student-faculty community. Manifold is a social projecta think tank, if you willto promote philosophical inquiry within architecture schools today. The project will take on the form of multiple media, including this journal, a correlative website that allows for dialogic exchanges and formal online publishing, and continual conversations between students and selected faculty. In launching this project we hope to achieve three goals. First, we want to develop an inter-university community committed to the task of philosophical inquiry. The contributors whose book reviews, interviews, and essays fill the pages of this issue constitute the nascent student and faculty body audaciously joining our project; we hope more will come. Second, because every intellectual community must maintain a collective knowledge base, the Manifold project will initially introduce materialbooks, articles, ideas, and authorsthat will become the kindling for further, in-depth philosophical debates and inquiries. Third and most importantly, the primary goal of the project is to see a sustained philosophical inquiry through to its fruition, whether in the form of critical essays to be featured in print, design projects to be documented and described, or records of conversations that endure long enough to produce intellectual innovation. This inaugural issue of our journal is only intended as a catalyst for the philosophical outpour that we hope 5

will soon fill its pages. In structuring this first issue, we surveyed the contemporary critical landscape by investigating three epistemes that pose serious questions for the validity of theory as we know it; these are: science, politics, and current architectural discourse. Each of these categories is introduced in its own section of the journal through book reviews of relevant texts, interviews with architecture faculty, and short essays, all of which are framed around questions that the editors found compelling or, at times, compellingly unanswerable. What is to be emphasized here is that these articles are intended to introduce, not to summarize, their subject matter. In the weeks following its print distribution, Manifold will move to the web, at which point blogs will open for each of the three themes in this issue. The goal is to treat these blogs like web-based seminars of sorts, where all the bloggers are engaged in a quod-libetal discussion of a particular text or set of ideas. For example, the brief review of Jean-Franois Lyotards The Postmodern Condition found in this issue should prompt one to pursue the original essay, develop or rekindle a working knowledge of its text, and return to the Manifold community, offering critical commentary or insight. In short, this issue of the journal is an index that should guide us all to an initial swath of reading material and ensuing discussion. Our first category of inquiry, Theory and Science?: Reconciling the Heuristic and the Philosophical, addresses the question of how science and scientific methods can be incorporated into the theorization of architectural production. Editor Nicholas Risteen ventured a conversation with Sanford Kwinter, whose science-based philosophy has long managed to forge new ground for the architectural mind set. Perhaps the most important insight that Kwinter offers is his assertion that science is about model building, not facts. This notion of architecture and science as likeminded tactics for projecting cosmologies can be further explored in the writings of Kwinters academic comrade Manuel DeLanda, one of whose books is reviewed here, among a variety of other texts that evaluate the relationship between science and philosophy. It is with the understanding of science as a creative endeavor that we hope to prompt a future discussion of what it means to structure ontology and formalism scientifically. The second section of this issue puts forth a major question that 6

reaches beyond the scope of architectural theory in particular, asking, What is the Relationship between Critical Theory and Political Justice? The writings in this section primarily respond, implicitly and explicitly, to the claim of literary critic Terry Eagleton that theory is currently futile as a practice for analyzing contemporary culture because it has disengaged itself from political and moral issues, a stance Eagleton articulated with effrontery in his 2003 manifesto, After Theory. My own review of Eagletons book is accompanied by contributor Michael Hardys proposal for the possibility of a Pragmatic, epistemologically Postmodern justice. Hardys paper evaluates how philosophies oriented toward the performative and the temporal can engage with the fixed ideologies that inform Western Democracy. Editor Joseph Lim further elucidates a critical interpretation of Eagletons book in a conversation with Nana Last, a Rice University professor who writes on interrelations between architecture, art, philosophy, and critical theory in contemporary work and continually introduces political thought into a classroom dialogue on these subjects. Finally, our third section, What Constitutes Architectural Theory Now? returns home to an intra-disciplinary overview of recent architectural discourse. In the form of book reviews and an explanatory essay by contributor Jason Nguyen, we present a survey of several different viewpoints on the contemporary theoretical scene, including Phenomenology, Materialist Philosophy, and Post-Criticality. We provided this survey as a way of asking a question: which of these movements, if any, warrants further investigation in our journal? Which of these topics do we have an interest in exploring more extensively? Or is it time, as I would suggest, to shift our weight to something completely new, completely outside the parameters of todays critical scene? It was on the subject of the Post-Critical that I conversed with K. Michael Hays, an invaluable contributor to the formulation of philosophically engaged architecture and a founding editor of the bold and ingenious journal Assemblage, which enjoyed a fruitful fifteen year run from 1986 to 2000. In our interview, Hays offers his characteristically forward-facing insight that critical theory is distinctly designed in such a way that it must constantly update itself. In other words, the practice of critical theory must continually think its own historicity as part of the very work which it purports. I agree with Hays instinct completely, 7

and in the spirit of his remark, I hope that we have created a medium for re-invention and self-evaluation in our era of suspended resources, a medium to be used by a student community who collectively embraces the challenge to recreate philosophical architecture in the onslaught of techno-scientific innovation, political turmoil, and philosophical rupture. We have put some names and thoughts on the table to begin, but now its your job, as readers, to pick up the discussion. Go back to the primary material; read the range of authors weve suggested, as well as (and especially) those whom you find necessary, then join us on the web with new ideas and criticisms until we have a viable project underway. It is absolutely imperative that all involved in this effort take advantage of our communication network to help us set in motion a productive dialogue. We must collectively define the questions that frame our discussions and the texts we want to discuss. The print version of Manifold will descend from the web in the form of a physical journal again once we have developed our first set of philosophical projections, whether in the form of essays or design projects. I thank you for reading, and I challenge you with an invitation to join our endeavor. Sincerely, Izabel Gass Founding Editor-in-Chief

theory and


Reconciling the Heuristic and the Philosophical

Sanford Kwinter,

in conversation with editor Nicholas Risteen on:

Science and Architecture

RISTEEN: As the dialogue between science and design continues, what are the lessons to be learned from emerging sciences? How do changing ideas in traditional scienceslike the rise of EvoDevo filter into design? KWINTER: There is a form of real intellectual naivet that is expressed in the very way the word science is being used today in humanities milieus, and although architecture is not the worst culprit, it continues to be a victim of this naivetindeed one might even use a harsher word: dishonesty. Science has never been foreign to architecture, and it has certainly never been foreign to thought. When we say that Thales was the first (Western) philosopher it is because when he posited that All is water he achieved a scientific statement and attitude regarding the cosmos, regarding material reality. From that beginning, civilization has not ceased to organize the traits and properties and elements found in the world in space, in time and in mind. And there is no culture that does these tasks separately. Architects either step up to the plate and become players in the game of shaping historical reality, or else they take a back seat and relegate themselves to the provincial backwaters as decorators of city walls. The idea that science is that part of culture that speaks about found realityand is therefore somehow poorer than the disciplines that inventis another unproductive form of narcissism to which architects often fall prey. Science is about model building, not facts. Every experiment is a model, a form imposed on a piece of world to produce an effect, isolate a behavior, generate a fact that can be transposed to another milieu. You can even say this about mathematics; even about Gedankenexperimenten. Today, possibly because of the demise of philosophy and philosophical modes of life and thought, the sciences have become the richest source of novelty and invention in our world (far more so than the more often vaunted popular 11

culture and absolutely more than art). And as you point out, for all of sciences legendary rigidity with respects to its own formalisms and quantitative criteria, it has of late shown an extraordinary flexibility and capacity to adapt in order to formulate new questions. Evo-devo is but one of the new Gedankenexperimenten that we now recognize as an independent branch of inquiry with its own hypotheses, its own objects and concepts. Yes, today science takes risks, which is why we should be listening to it more closely than ever. . . Any practice that takes the material world as its place of workand I would even include sports in this categoryand which approaches this place and world with something other than a superstitious and magical attitude, is fundamentally science. All good architecture is model and cosmology, it tells a story of how things are made that goes well beyond the banalities of caprice. When architects stop telling stories and positing possible worlds they cease being scientific, but they also cease being interesting and they cease being historical. I would even say that they cease being architects. RISTEEN: In reading through literature on science and architecture from the past two decades, the preoccupation of architecture tends to be with the recognizable architectural models in science: topology, the fold, Ren Thoms Catastrophe Theory, and scientific/mathematical advances in geometry. Are there avenues of science that you feel have been overlooked by architectural practice? How could/should they now be approached? KWINTER: Basicallyand I am not feigning optimism hereI feel one has not yet even begun. There are, for example, new developments in the neurosciences that will fundamentally change the way we understand experience and perception; they will change every notion we have inherited about how an organism, or nervous system, arrays itself in space. Just as scientific optics shaped the architecture of the Renaissance, and phenomenological psychology the building of the middle 20th century, so will concepts like primary and secondary repertoires and superposition determine the organization of space in the era to come. Additionally, the mental habit of studying science for its formal insights teaches us to think of the brain as itself a material 12

product of forces in the environment, a form called up and shaped by a changing world acting on a lump of squishy protoplasm for a certain period of time. In other words, the capacity of the brain to organize and design is itself a product of design. The environment designs the machine that in turn designs it. There is no design philosophy more powerful or important to understand and harness today than the one that biologists call evolution. It is the great form producer, the great function producer, and its tenets, once timidly called simply a theory now form a full-fledged science that is affecting every other aspect of human inquiry including string theory, robotics, neurology, even economics and literature. I think the interest that architecture has shown over the last 15 years in mathematics and geometry has been more than interesting and altogether merited, even if most of the experimental applications ended in disappointment. From todays perspective it is possible to say with complete confidence that this interest has changed the way architects think and it has changed the way they select and formulate problems. The oblique infiltration of scientific habits of mind has also raised the bar on the way in which architects talk about what they make. They must now connect their forms to systems of ideas, and they must be able to connect their efforts to efforts that precede them and that follow from their own. At this point in time, I do not think this form of forced historicization is at all a bad thing. Another area that is certainly of value for architecture is the vast field of non-Western and pre-Modern knowledge systems. It is not just that these offer extraordinary riches to be mined in the architects endless quest for unexpected and challenging forms, but the study of forms in non-habitual contexts develops in us a very deep intuition of that which I spoke about earlier, the collective and integrated way in which a civilization generates all of its forms, musical, psychological, and epistemological as well as physico-spatial. No other method instills in us the same deep understanding of the foundational logic of form in life. I believe very strongly today in an anthropology of form as a remedy for the tired formulas that we have inherited from bourgeois art history. 13

RISTEEN: To what extent would you say science, as discussed by architecture, actually enters the design field in a scientific way? Does a pre-occupation with applying a scientific method to design deny other possibilities? Is science as a generator of form the only use for science in architecture? KWINTER: These are both excellent questions. The first is easy to answer, the second more difficult. It is clear that one is courting disaster (not to mention failure and ridicule) if one tries to adopt a positivist attitude within architecture, to see it as a science in the classical sense. It would be very misplaced to apply scientific method to architecture. Part of what is required today is to rethink science as well, to bring its spectacularly inventive side to the foreground. In many ways this turn of mind began 40 years ago in the AngloSaxon world with the publication of Thomas Kuhns Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Aside from his theory of paradigms his work largely helped foreground a new understanding of science as being a generator of ideas and not only facts. It is this aspect of science that should interest us. The second question is tantalizing, but probably 5 to 15 years ahead of its time. We know the answer, without being fully able to answer it: no, generating form is not the sole use of science in architecture, but what lies on the other side of todays regrettably utilitarian and opportunistic horizon is very unclear. But one thing is certain; architecture is a form of human knowledge, and it even represents a form of thought. This is a challenge that architects have not for the most part dared to meet explicitly. Even composers of music have applied rigorous formal methods to the organization of sound in ways that yield concrete directions for further research. One of the reasons that this is possible is that the brain responds very precisely to designed sound, temporal structures. Architects for too long have wallowed in the sloppy permissiveness of effects produced in space, but much of this sloppiness is only a product of their own historical lack of discipline and clarity. Architecture may itself well be largely an art, but this does not absolve it of the seriousness and industriousness that we have seen in Western music. This may seem a bit confining to many of todays architects, but it is 14

truly bewildering to see contemporary youth and emerging architects rejecting the challenges laid down by their immediate predecessors (the 90s generation) as too much to bear. My prediction is that these architects who try so desperately to put architecture back on a foundation of arbitrary sensibility will be eclipsed and forgotten even more quickly than they appeared.


AD Architecture and Science

Giuseppa Di Christina, ed. Academy Press, 2001 Nicholas Risteen, Rice University

The Topological Turn takes on a variety of forms in architectural discourse, from theoretical principles to design rubrics, with arguments and counter-arguments accumulating along the way. AD Magazines collected volume AD Architecture and Science, edited by Giuseppa Di Christina, collates a large swath of this developing scene, organized in a presumably chronological order (while the argument of the collected work unfolds somewhat linearly, none of the articles carry original dates of publication). Spanning roughly 10 years of praxis in architecture (through the 1990s, roughly), the essays from Jefrey Kipnis and Greg Lynn through to Michael Speaks and Giovanna Borradori show a marked transformation not so much in content (all are dealing with the issue of topology and the fold as instigated by Gilles Deleuze) as approach to their chosen subject. As new preoccupations emerge in design, the struggle with topology becomes more about how to fold them into the pre-existing discourse than in letting an entirely new model emerge. Roughly, this collection moves from the theoretical underpinnings in Deleuze and Ren Thoms catastrophe theory to technological advances that allow these theories to take new and unexpected forms, and later to the implications of these forms after the onslaught of a new media culture and issues of the body and the erotic. Expanding the project beyond a purely theoretical realm are interjecting project descriptions from the likes of Eisenman, Reiser + Umemoto, Lars Spuybroek, Stephen Perella and others. While the bulk of the collection 16

resides in the essays, these short design diversions provide a good amount of relief to the project as examples of the fold in praxis (with a few of them even in built form). A few more would have been nice, but the publication of the volume in 2001 left many designs in this lineage as yet-to-be-conceived. The implications of that lineage are what date this volume the most, as 2001 was, by many accounts, early in the integration of these ideas into the mainstream architectural world. Therefore, the project as a whole feels a bit dated; renderings of Stephen Perellas Mbius House Study look woefully behind the times, as do the drawings for FOAs Yokohama Port Terminal (at that point still an unrealized project). While the books contents cannot be described as really current to the issues of topology and the fold in architectural design practice, what this temporal distance does allow is a greater understanding (and appreciation) of the topological turns lineage. Peter Eisenmans Rebstock Park Masterplan anchors the initial foray into issues of topology and practice, with a rather literal application of a folded geometrical grid producing a series of urban effects on a grand scale (and one still manipulated by hand). The onslaught of new technologies (such as computer modeling) pushes the field into new territory, and in so doing incorporates issues of organic and biological processes (see in particular Mae-Wan Hos essay The New Age of the Organism). Biology gives way to new media (and its saturation of everyday life) with Stephen Perellas conception of the Hypersurface, an attempt to activate the process of formal creation in topology and animation, which had been derided for simply freezing one moment of a design process without providing any means of understanding the unfolding mechanism used in its creation. As Brian Massumi writes: if the idea is to yield to virtuality and bring it out, where is the virtuality in the final product? Precisely what trace of it is left in the concrete form it deposits as its residue? Critiques of the hypersurface and the faults of animation provide ground for the final and more captivating portion of the collection as theoreticians and philosophers like Michael Speaks, Massumi, and Giovanna Boradori undertake to not only critique the topological turn as practiced thus far but open its discourse to issues of the virtual and phenomenological experience that reaches beyond mere technical 17

facility. All of these authors proffer a body-centric version of what is truly new about this architectural vein, allowing for the shifting experiential movement of the body-in-motion as the topological frame of reference. While not as cutting-edge as its dust-jacket copy would claim (ages have gone by in terms of technological advancement in architecture since the books 2001 publication), ADs volume does provide the genetic lineage to the topological turn in a clear and thorough way (though not always concise, unfortunately; many of these articles could do with a reediting). As historical record, Di Cristinas volume does an admirable job of collecting many of the relevant thinkers and practitioners in one place. That collection, in turn, shows just how far the topological turn still has to go.


The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge

Jean-Franois Lyotard Univeristy of Minnesota Press, 1979, 1984 ed. Nicholas Risteen, Rice University

Lyotards book is decidedly not about architecture, but thankfully so. Any clear connection between postmodernity and architecture in a discussion of architecture and science would by necessity send many scrambling for cover. What Lyotards book does contain, though, is a thoughtful critique of the state not just of knowledge but of its reception and changing process of legitimation within the scientific community. While John Rajchman and the collected authors in Architecture and Science are all entirely immersed in the theories of Deleuze, Lyotard engages more with the philosophy of Michel Foucault and the much used (and abused) notion of pouvoir-savoir (power-knowledge) in the world of late capitalism to formulate his thesis. The books title is apt: Lyotards book is certainly a report (presented to the Conseil des Universitis of the government of Quebec) and concerned above all with the condition of knowledge at the time of writing. The book also acts as a rebuttal to Jrgen Habermas text Legitimation Crisis of a few years earlier. The crisis in Habermas text refers to the loss of reliance on the master narratives of modernism, or indeed any kind of metadiscourse to legitimate science, literature, and the arts. Legitimation, as the term is used by Lyotard, refers to the process by which new scientific knowledge is accepted into the collective framework of established truth-statements within either the scientific community or society at large. Hard and solid rules that once applied to these fieldsin classical 19

physics, aesthetics, or the epiccome into conflict in the post-modern age, and in many cases with each other. Indeed, Lyotard posits at the very beginning of his text that science has always been in conflict with narratives. As progress in science began to dispel the prevalent narratives of the time, where could legitimacy reside? While Habermas argued for a legitimation achieved through discussion and consensus, Lyotard takes issue with that approach as destructive towards invention, which in his view is always born of dissension. In both cases, the operative field for legitimation is language, and language games, and the question of whether those language games can be counted on to legitimate knowledge and in particular scientific knowledge, which can in turn be relied upon as a paradigm to describe society. Lyotards argument focuses on languages ability to accomplish this goal, with special attention to the influence of narrative in scientific discovery: we no longer have recourse to the grand narrativeswe can resort neither to the dialectic of Spirit nor even to the emancipation of humanity as a validation for postmodern scientific discourse...the little narrative [though] remains the quintessential form of imaginative invention, most particularly in science. Those bits of narrative, Lyotard argues, are governed by a distinct set of rules, which guarantee the means by which these language games can reliably act to legitimate the current state of knowledge. To extract an excerpt:
The pragmatics of science is centered on denotative utterances, which are the foundation upon which it builds institutions of learning (institutes, centers, universities, etc.). But its postmodern development brings a decisive fact to the fore: even discussions of denotative statements need to have rules. Rules are not denotative but prescriptive utterances, which we are better off calling metaprescriptive utterances to avoid confusion (they prescribe what the moves of language games must be in order to be admissible). The function of the differential or imaginative or paralogical activity of the current pragmatics of science is to point out these metaprescriptives (sciences presuppositions) and to petition the players to accept different ones. The only legitimation that can make this kind of request admissible is that it will generate ideas, in other words, new statements.

Lyotards turn to parology (false reasoning) is not meant as a sly attack on logic, but rather the opening up of logics own fissures in hopes of working towards manifestly new ideas. That accomplishment rests on 20

what Lyotard terms noise, a state of discourse devoid of consensus that pushes the envelope of knowledge production ever further. Drawing on Lyotards report for use within architecture points towards drawing a parallel in practice between the noise in Lyotards system and topological deformation, both of which seek to upset a given state of normalcy to push towards something new without totally breaking with the old, a process with clear evolutionary undertones. Formation becomes deformation, the fold folding into infinity, and the goal a process of ever increasing levels of complication and complexity that break from linear development and move towards staking a claim in process as opposed to product.


Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy

Manuel Delanda Continuum, 2004 David B. LeFevre University of Pennsylvania

Contemporary philosopher Manuel Delandas Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy is an attempt to translate the ontology of Gilles Deleuze as it applies to philosophers of science and scientists interested in philosophical questions. As a materialist philosopher, Delanda is able to reconstruct Deleuzes philosophy to show that it is robust to change; the principles of matter and energy are interpreted and applied across a range of disciplines. The notion of utilizing cross disciplinary strategies has become more prevalent through increasing interest in morphogenetic and morphodynamic processes. As both of these processes are taken to unprecedented levels with the aid of advanced computational and design tools, emergent design strategies that breed global complexity out of local simplicity benefit from a materialist ontology that gives a why to the how of form-generating applications non-linear communication structures. Materialist philosophy is an architects tool for linking applied knowledge with the art and science of discovery and invention. Understanding the scientific processes behind the functioning of matter and energy allows the architect to hack material principles as a way of targeting the recipe for problems and opportunities inherent in the built environment. As Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy progresses Delanda moves from a more technical geometric and mathematical explanation of actual ideas, such as manifold, singularity, and multiplicity, into an application of these actual ideas as a means of conceptualizing 22

the spatial and temporal aspects of intensive thinkings virtual ideas. He then distills the relevance and importance of the actual and the virtual as a strategy for avoiding subjective evaluations or social conventions. The chapter titled The Actualization of the Virtual in Space, is arguably the most relevant to the type of work being done in architecture schools and research based offices today. It is here that the concept of the intensive versus the extensive is elaborated and the potential of linking biological processes to architectural form finding is explored. Delandas key points in this chapter are the notion that the potential energy stored in intensive differences may be used to drive processes and that intensive properties change states at a series of critical thresholds i.e., solid, liquid, gas. The introduction of nearequilibrium and far-from equilibrium thermodynamics to material science yields a rich blend of ideas incredibly relevant to design strategies, especially when issues of self-organization, spatial configuration, and mechanical configuration come to play. Links between part-to-whole component based architecture, the cell-based growth of biological processes, thermodynamic theory, and information theory are teeming with metaphor. In Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy Delanda successfully reconciles ideas of physics, computation, biology, and form finding by coupling the materialist thinking of Deleuze with his own nonlinear and incredibly clear mode of research and description. The book provides an architect with an appropriate springboard to launch into a critical discourse with the implications of synthesizing nonlinear scientific research with nonlinear architectural research.



theory and


What is the relationship between critical thought and political justice?

After Theory
Terry Eagleton Basic Books, Reprint 2004 Izabel Gass Rice University

Terry Eagletons 2003 After Theory posits that the utility and vitality of critical theory has come to a pathetic conclusion. Eagleton claims that the years between 1965 and 1980 saw the full effect of critical theorys potency as an interdisciplinary critique of the global, sociopolitical status quo; however, since this golden era, theory has lost its efficacy and cultural relevance, largely because Postmodern discourse has disengaged from politicized analysis, dismantled the notion of absolute truth, and shied away from any discussion of moral imperatives. From the Political to the Cultural: Theorys Alleged Downfall The years between 1965 and 1980 saw a flourishing of politically Leftist cultural commentary within the intellectual circles of Europe and America. During the May 1968 student revolt in Paris, academia directly and publicly abutted political action; meanwhile, within the ivory tower at the time, thinkers such as Roland Barthes employed the techniques of linguistics to uncover the political mechanism at work in constructions of mass culture, and Jean Paul Sartre extrapolated the relationship between existential agency and Marxist political history. Despite the urgency of its Leftist call to action, however, this distinctive era of political thought was constructively critical of the Marxism regnant of previous 20th century critical theory. Eagleton lauds the efforts of the intellectuals of 65-80 for a commitment to politicized thought that extended to an innovative 27

rethinking of politics as such, but sees this initial reconstruction of Marxism as a damaging legacy for the later thinkers of the 1980s and 90s, inasmuch as it gave rise to cultural theorys abandonment of politics altogether. Eagleton claims that if revisionist Marxism began as an attempt to find a way around Marxism without leaving it quite behind ended by doing exactly that, for, post-1980,
Julia Kristeva and the Tel Quel group turned to religious mysticism and a celebration of the American way of life. Post-structuralist pluralism now seemed best exemplified not by the Chinese cultural revolution but by the North American supermarket. Roland Barthes shifted from politics to pleasure. JeanFranois Lyotard turned his attention to intergalactic travel and supported rightwing Giscard in the French presidential elections. Michel Foucault renounced all aspirations to a new social order. If Louis Althusser rewrote Marxism from the inside, he opened a door in doing so through which many of his disciples would shuffle out of it altogether. 1

Eagleton thusly portrays post-80s, Postmodern thought as a selfindulgent submission to the allure of studies on sexuality, behavioral deviance, and mass culture at the cost of a rigorous investigation of injustice. This, for Eagleton, is theorys move away from political inquiry, toward a superficial form of cultural analysis that never launches a socioeconomic critique. But perhaps the dramatic transition that Eagleton delineates between the 60s-70s scene and the Postmodern is less revolutionary than he would have it, and certainly less than entirely depoliticizing. A curious footnote only thirteen pages into Eagletons text offers a definition of the Postmodern agendaor at least a definition of the philosophical agenda that Eagletons manifesto decries:
By postmodern, I mean, roughly speaking, the contemporary movement of thought which rejects totalities, universal values, grand historical narratives, solid foundations to human existence and the possibility of objective knowledge. Postmodernism is sceptical of truth, unity and progress, opposes what it sees as elitism in culture, tends towards cultural relativism, and celebrates pluralism, discontinuity, and heterogeneity.2

Certainly, Eagleton is speaking roughlyhere and throughout the bookand perhaps just roughly enough to have talked vaguely around 28

the actually intricate and complex contours that define Postmodernity, offering a crude approximation of a philosophical movement easy to attack. One cannot help but imagine that Eagleton, like the dozer in Goyas The Sleep of Reason, has been in repose at the seminar table for the last thirty years, and has conjured up a fictive monster in violent pursuit of his own unreconstructed Enlightenment-era values of truth, unity, and progress. While the Postmodern era has certainly seen moments of weak susceptibility to a Nihilistic, consumerist idiocy, on the whole, political disengagement and a skepticism of progress does not characterize the philosophical zeitgeist of our timesif there even is any such unifying spirit. If anything, contemporary thought has altered the rubric by which the Western intellectual community defines politicization. That the value of Tel Quels religious mysticism as a form of intellectualism is beyond Eagletons bourgeois rationalist sensibilities is not surprising; yet, to think beyond the State-defined criterion for academic production and to defile established standards for intellectual performance is a profoundly politically radical act in and of itself. For instance, Barthess turn from politics to pleasure, or from Marxism to a then-unexamined theory of intellectual desire, engendered a solid proposition for architectural production as a politically radical act in the work of Bernard Tschumi.3 Eagletons call for philosophys direct address of politics in order that it be constituted as politically productive is myopic at best. More disconcerting is that his rough summary of the contemporary scene does not even venture to the real intellectual goldmines we find in the post-1980s hexagon. Gilles Deleuzes works particularly his brilliant collaborations with Felix Guattariwere only just getting off the ground in the late 70s, and came to offer a radical rewriting of subjective agency that has been injected, time and again, into multiple venues of political thought. Neither Deleuze nor Guattari receives a single mention in the book, despite the pairs vitality to any overarching explanation of Postmodernity, and despite their productive investigations of Eagletons trine sins of pluralism, discontinuity, and heterogeneity. And Eagletons argument does not even broach the relevant claims of Alain Badiou, who, in his recent Metapolitics and throughout his career has argued for a philosophy consciously disengaged from politics directly, but innovative within the domain of political 29

logic production.4 Ultimately, one wonders if Eagleton isnt either out to attack a strawman, or a small pocket of Anglo-American insipidity in which he is himself marooned; in either case, the attack seems of little concern to those immersed in productive contemporary thought. Absolute Truth Eagleton credits his roughly defined Postmodern intellectual regime with having altogether destroyed the philosophical validity of absolute truth, or the possibility that linguistic factual statements representative of material conditions can be unquestionably, universally, valid. Eagleton insists that the absoluteness of truth is a remarkably modest, eminently reasonable notion, and ultimately, the axiom on which the flourishing of democracy is contingent.5 Eagletons assertion implicitly attacks the claims of Postmodernitys legacy of Relativism, an umbrella term for a basic epistemological revelation which comingled with and gave rise to many different schools of thought during the contemporary era, including Post-Colonial Studies and the History of Science. Relativism, as Eagleton simply distills it, is the assumption that truth, or the set of denotative statements that a culture makes about the world in which it resides, only acquires its status as truth because a social consensus is reached that it can be treated as such. Thus, for the brazen Relativist, even factual statements are never absolutely or universally true, but rather, are true relative to their acceptance by other parties within a society. Obviously, the broad range of contemporary Relativist thinkers includes extremists and moderates; Eagleton cites the writings of the most extreme in his seemingly easy case against Relativist absurdity. Jean Baudrillards dubiousness at the Gulf Wars occurrence, for instance, serves as Eagletons best example of the dangerous delusions and consequential mitigation of political responsibility that Relativism permits.6 Truth be told, Baudrillard is too often a reactionary zealot for the aesthetic of the philosophically new, one who will overstep logic to arrive at any philosophical conclusion symptomatic of a carelessly defined innovation.7 However, it would be more interesting to see Eagleton tackle the Relativist claims of, say, Thomas Kuhn, who has argued that even scientific discovery, accepted by the Western mind as a generator of (absolute) truth statements, requires an accommodating epistemological framework in which to 30

settle its factual assertions.8 Ultimately, there is an unexamined logic guiding Eagletons thought that inhibits him from acknowledging the necessity of Relativism and in turn defines his political aspirations: he understands Democracy as a perfected and eternally unchanging social stasis. For Eagleton, it is the job of contemporary society to discovernot decide anewwhat constitutes truth. And because his (Enlightenment-era) definition of truth is one of absoluteness, which is to say, a rigid, permanent, and timeless truth, the quest for intellectual discovery in society is meaningless beyond the revelation of a finite set of truth statements. Thus, for Eagleton, theory, and all fields of intellectual inquiry, are utilitarian tools for uncovering a limited data set of indices that describe the material world. This limited data setthe finitude of truththen teleologically leads to static political constructions. For, where the Relativists see truth as defined by an ever-flexible socio-political consensus, Eagleton demands that socio-political consensus (in the form of laws and cultural values) be defined by the timeless truths that constitute moral judgments. So theory is at work in a two-part process of uncovering truth to uncover Utopia, at which point its utility evaporates. This logic is apparent, for instance, when Eagleton asserts that an objective viewpoint is necessarily a just viewpoint, or, simply put, that ethical judgments are nothing more than absolutely truthful readings of human actions:
[Is] oppression just a matter of opinion? Not at all. To argue over whether a situation is anti-Semitic or not is to clash over our interpretations of what is going on, not over our subjective responses to it. It is not a matter of our both seeing the same set of morally neutral physical actions, to which you then add the subjective value-judgement good and I add the subjective value-judgment bad. . . . If I describe an anti-Semitic assault in purely physiological terms, I am not seeing what actually happened 9

Eagleton here conflates what he terms moral judgements with the material events that give rise to them, assuming that degrees of moral qualities are objectively measurable and readily apparent in all human actions. Thus, once logic leads the concerned citizen to the absolutely true, she will have also arrived at the absolutely wrong and 31

absolutely right. Eagletons common sense is ultimately the voice of fundamentalism, thena fundamentalism of bourgeois, Rationalist truth. Moreover, the above passage exemplifies how Eagletons unspoken preference for ideology, the deductive execution of a set of predefined principles, over theory, the act of infinite self-criticality, pervades his rhetorical voice and, consequently, the political views it generates. Throughout the book, Eagleton constructs his argument through representative scenarios that provide an image of plausibility for all of his logical playshere, for instance, the depiction of antiSemitism in its concrete social enactment defies any ambiguity in defining the anti-Semitic phenomenon. What cultural theory does at its best, however, is untie the apparent connections that bind an argument to its plausibility and unsettle the ideological foundations that ground ontological assumptionstheory denaturalizes the obvious, to use a Barthesian term. Thus, Eagletons vignette in which two parties argue over whether a situation is anti-Semitic does not ask a question about its own social construction; theory must push further and address whether anti-Semitism is a situation. In other words, theory must ask, as various strains of the Relativist philosophy that Eagleton is so quick to denigrate do, where the initial construction of a moral code (as the virtuality productive of real material events) occurs, if not in some transcendent ontological realmthis being a notion even the outdated Eagleton avoids. The cutely colloquial what actually happened of Eagletons case-in-point here remains an unexplored complexity, leading one to ask whether Eagleton fully comprehends the strategy of inquiry his manifesto has set out to quash in the first place. On the whole, though, what Eagleton most disappointingly denies in his support of an absolute Democracy extracted from an absolute truth is the potential for a constant, temporal renegotiation of justice. This is readily evident in his quip that, change is not desirable in itself, whatever the postmodern advocates of perpetual plasticity may consider.10 The ambition for Democracy and critical inquiry to achieve social stasis, hand-in-hand, forgoes the possibility for theory to become a method of constant creative inventiona way of launching into action as of yet unforeseen political possibilities. 32

Morality One might assume that Eagletons unsophisticated critique of the relationship between politics and philosophy would falter most severely in its address of morality, that infinitely complex negotiation of logic, social norms, and human subjective compulsion. However, it is on this issue that Eagleton is perhaps his most level-headed and promising, not in the critique he launches on contemporary theorys address of ethical issues, but in his own projections for the constitution of a moral code for action in the contemporary era. Eagleton, predictably, accuses critical theory of shying away from moral inquiry, and sees this timidity as symptomatic of what he considers a Postmodern (again, Relativist) impulse to evade any cohesive moral framework that might establish a universal code of behavioral conduct, offering that:
You cannot describe someone as oppressed unless you have some dim notion of what not being oppressed might look like, and why being oppressed is a bad idea in the first place. And this involves normative judgments, which then makes politics look uncomfortably like ethics. On the whole, cultural theory has proved fairly unsuccessful at this business. It has been unable to argue convincingly against those who see nothing wrong with shackling or ill-treating others. . . Almost everybody agrees that exploiting people is wrong. It is just that they cannot agree on why they agree on this 11

First, the accusation that cultural theory has not successfully defined moral parameters for human action is merely a lazy abdication of the enormous fissures that philosophy has opened in moral thought in the last thirty years. For instance, even Straussian Mark Lilla reluctantly attributes the fruits of the final years of Michel Foucaults life, which saw the completion of The History of Sexuality (1976-84), to the philosophers sincere personal investment in moral inquiry.12 Certainly, Foucaults lifelong study of social mechanisms for oppression and the quelled pursuit of subjective freedom is less than decisively affirming of the universal standard for moral conduct that Eagleton seeks, but it is also not unproductive in asking the question of what being oppressed might look like. Perhaps Eagleton is dissatisfied not with philosophys unwillingness to argue convincingly against injustice, but more with the strain of injustice against which philosophy argues, as he ultimately 33

asserts that:
what is under assault here [within his vaguely defined Postmodern movement] is the normative. . . Thinkers like Foucault and Derrida chafe against...equivalences, even if they accept them as unavoidable. They would like a world made entirely out of differences 13

And this world made entirely of differences is certainly undesirable to one who claims, the world would be a better place exclusively populated by gay Chinese, intimating that Democratic structures function best in atmospheres of unanimous social consensus.14 The unsaid assumption at work in Eagletons thought here is that the world as it currently exists would be a better place if entirely populated by a homogenous community; Eagleton maintains an indolent unwillingness to participate in reconstructing a political order in which the world would actually flourish in its social diversity. Whats more, especially given his pro-normative position, Eagletons claims that theory has not developed agendas for moral conduct is empty. For one, Martha Nussbaum and her entourage have continually gone to bat in the political sphere for the breed of Essentialist ethics that Eagleton promotes. And yet, Eagletons empty criticism finally opens onto his own refreshing and surprisingly radical Socialist moral directive:
The liberal model of society wants individuals to flourish in their own space, without mutual interference. The political space in question is thus a neutral one: it is really there to wedge people apart, so that one persons self-realization should not thwart anothers. . . [But] when Aristotles ethics of flourishing are set in a more interactive context, one comes up with something more like the political ethics of Marx. The socialist society is one in which each attains his or her freedom and autonomy in and through the self-realization of others. Socialism is just whatever set of institutions it would take for it to happen 15

Eagletons implicit attack on Habermass public sphere is here, finally, truly constructive. The notion of reciprocal self-realization, as he terms it, could fuel true political revision, not least of all beginning in the architectural redefinition of public space. 34

Political Engagement Beyond the Ivory Tower: An Afterthought Ultimately, the problem with Eagletons fusillade is simply that his guns are aimed at the wrong target. Philosophy as a discipline will remain forever stifled if we demand of it direct and immediate political engagement. Whats more, politics will be forever stifled if we hold all fields of academic inquiry accountable to its existing logic, rather than allowing these fields to invent their own cosmologies, the likes of which could fuel political innovation. (Marxism was once a Utopian dream that acheived a very real, if very disappointing, actualization.) But does Eagleton have good reason for launching a generalized attack on the contemporary academic communitys political disengagement in the first place? Certainly. We live in an era in which intellectuals have declined to publicly voice political opinion as citizens, regardless of their work in the ivory tower. Particularly, to bring the discussion to the States and to relevant current affairs, Irving Howes legacy of Dissent Magazine which continues to consider itself a mainstay of academic Leftism in our countryhas lately grown so anemic that its content is almost a mockery of its title. The spring 2007 issue features a piece by Nicolaus Mills assailing the righteousness of the claims of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson against Don Imus as no more than a gotcha game on account of Jackson and Sharptons own previous (albeit hideous) racial slurs.16 Mills article principally castrates the political agency of two public and important Black Americans (apparently committing an act of injustice forever precludes one from speaking out against another), and betrays the predictable middle-class American tendency to reduce the causes for unrest and social revisionhere, the intractable legacies of Slavery (American racism) and the Holocaust (global anti-Semitism)to mere interpersonal quibbling. Naturally, this trivialization is just what Mills alleges to contest when he suggests that Jackson and Sharpton redirect their attack on racist language to the rap music scene (implicitly, onto Black artists rather than White men), in their quest for social equality. But more disheartening than all this is that Mills piece, and by extension, Dissent Magazine, is engaged in its own gotcha game, preoccupied by the frivolity of a largely inconsequential media affair, rather than the launch of a constructive political agenda. If this is the best the American academic Left has to offer, then it is no wonder that our country is fast 35

sinking into a vulgar political conservatism. Were Eagletons combative manifesto to address the issue of how public intellectuals conduct themselves as citizens, in discussions of current events and, consequently, in the writing of a historical record, he would have a constructive argument. Since he does not, I would instead suggest that we redirect our attention elsewhere, perhaps to the writings of Eric Lott, whose recent book The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual (Basic Books, 2006) offers a much deserved, heavy handed blow to the public American academic Left, and gives us some sense of what a true liberal intellectual would have to offer.


1. Eagleton, After Theory, p. 37. 2. Ibid, p. 13 3. To see Tschumis politicized deployment of Barthesian theories of pleasure, look to: Tschumi, Bernard. Architecture and Disjunction. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996; particularly p. 89: Totally gratuitous architecture is ironically political in that it disturbs established structures. 4. See Badiou, Alain. Metapolitics. Verso 2006.While Badiou, unlike Deleuze and Guattari, does see two brief mentions in After Theory, his well-considered projections for how philosophy can productively interact with disciplines outside its own go unacknowledged. 5. Eagleton, After Theory, p. 103 6. Ibid, p. 50. 7. However, this is not to arrogantly dismiss Baudrillard, for he is not without his moments of stimulative cultural commentary. In the design field, for instance, it is worth investigating a transcript of conversations between Baudrillard and Jean Nouvel: Hays, Michael K., ed. The Singular Objects of Architecture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002. Here, Baudrillards often ill-considered philosophical extremism and unsustainable Nihilism is surprisingly redirected into a relatively constructive dialogue on architecture. 8. See Kuhn, Thomas. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996 (3rd ed). 9. Eagleton, After Theory, p. 149. 10. Ibid, p. 163. 11. Ibid, p. 149. 12. See Lilla, Mark. The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics. New York: NYREV Inc., 2001, pp. 137-158. 13. Eagleton, After Theory, pp. 13-14. 14. Ibid, p. 158. 15. Ibid, pp. 169-70. 16. See Mills, Nicolaus. The Gotcha Game: Don Imus and his Critics. Dissent Magazine, Spring 2007; online edition.



Nana Last,

in conversation with editor Joseph Lim on:

Political Justice
LIM: How would you describe political justice? Is it a condition? A maxim for action? Regulative or constitutive? How do you view it? LAST: Political justice particularly as it engages architectural theory or in just the widest way? LIM: In the wide way and how it engages architecture specifically, if you view it in different ways. LAST: Well I guess political justice takes a lot of different forms but I see it mostly as a process, and to that end being constitutive of a state of society, and a set of relations that the society produces that are going to have huge repercussions all over. So, thats just a starting point... but definitely constitutive because I do think it produces types of citizens and what we expect of citizens and what we see as central to being a good citizen as compared to extra, what is additional. LIM: So, where do these additional qualities come from? How do we decide what those additional qualities are that make up the politically just or conscious citizen? LAST: Well, I dont know that they get decided to begin with, but I do think that they get tried and enacted as the system sets up and therefore are subject to change. Can I go a little to something you sent me in an e-mail, because I do have a thought about that... it talked about Eagletons claim that theory is dead because it is not politically engaged... and I would like to connect these things. The point is I read this, and it said how you wanted opinions on Eagletons claim that theory is dead because it is not politically engaged and how to reconcile postmodernitys cultural 39

relativism with democracys claim to universal rights, and I thought oh, this is a very interesting combination, and I dont know how much you deliberately wanted to associate... to bring up Eagleton in relation to the idea of some sort of universal rights but I thought that there is a type of answer which certainly goes to what political justice is that I think goes very much to the heart of what associates those [things]. So I was interested in their association because... I think what Eagleton expects of theory and how he sees it functioning, the system in which he understands it to exist, is very much related to how you reconcile or how you support the idea of a universal rights under democracy. So what I wanted to go to was something that does emerge under the writings of someone like Claude LeFort who looks very much at democracy and political justice and is certainly a theorist himself. He talks about when democracy first emerges, at the moment of its first inception; I think he uses the phrase the democratic invention. There is this moment in the late 1800s when there arises this thing called the Rights of Man, and when they are first spoken they [are] presented as natural. So, here are a list of rights, there is no defense of them as such when they are first stated, and that certainly goes against a lot of things he would find problematic, that they are stated as natural or universal, but immediately what begins to transform that process, and I think this is a big role where political justice and theory both play parts, is the understanding that the stating of those rights the claiming of those rights is an act and its an act that sets into motion a bunch of things. So whereas you have this moment where you are stating things that sound, and almost necessarily have to be... claimed in this position, as if natural, what it sets in motion is a process where those rights need to be constantly defended and argued for. I think its not even in the act of arguing but in the need, when things are considered unsettled, when they are considered not absolute, for people to offer their arguments for it that they become important. I think thats really the production of those rights. They set discourse into motion...they need to be regularly re-defended and redefined. Its not that they are the only natural ones, we still argue...its that you need to state your reasons and your arguments. 40

Making those arguments public under the system is where I think the democracy really emerges and really rises and I think clearly where theory is going to step in and play a very important and ongoing role. Now this very much does relate to Eagletons claim because Eagleton always sounds so reasonable in some sense and its because he speaks from a position where he has naturalized the role of theory. He presents theory very much in a sort of Marxist framework where there is an end to theory. It has a goal, and part of its goal involves its self-dissolution. When it achieves its political ends, when it sets in motion other processes, when it sets in motion other changes, when it becomes involved, when it is successful, it no longer has an existence. It no longer is needed because this new just society or whatever version this is supports itself. And he also speaks from the point of view as if the subjects under such a society would have no thoughts of theory because theory is about this goal of change or bringing about these other sorts of conceptions. And of course thats where the problem is, because why would you envision a world without the need to continually defend, and change, and develop, and argue as the good just world? Why would you understand that to be the summation of political justice? LIM: Well, it is interesting that you bring that up because there is a sort of paradox where Eagleton shuns first principles and Truths and still it seems he is envisioning a society where we will reveal those things, truths and principles that will never need to be questioned. LAST: In the form of history and real events... LIM: I am also interested in you describing democracy and the just democracy as the one that can constantly change, almost defining political justice as the state that allows this free change... LAST: . . .that requires it as part of its process. And of course, you can see it as something that doesnt always know what democracy is, and we dont know what democracy is around a lot of issues. I always think technology is so interesting because it is always forcing us to define, what is the value? Cloning came out a few years ago and people 41

wrote about it different ways, certainly people writing about theory and justice because it challenges what is a citizen, a fundamental aspect of democracy. What are we producing, what is allowed? So that whole idea that there are other bases of subjectivity and that it is being challenged in such an obvious way is, I think, really important. And Eagleton is interesting in the sense that he seems to be propounding the importance of theory as long as it has this role. But how can he, given that, understand it as dead? Because then it wouldnt be theory for him. And he is so clearly torn between the importance of theory and its non-importance. And it is because he is justifying it that it has to have a one to one correlation, and we have to see its goals. And I am certainly in no way saying that theory is always successful, but those goals and relationships are not always obvious, and cannot always be directly produced, and we cant always gauge the success of it at any given moment. LIM: Certainly. And I think it is interesting that the whole cultural studies project that Eagleton proposes as the replacement for theory is curiously absent from After Theory. We are missing that kind of direct incisive study and look at what culture is really doing. So it is interesting in relation to what you are saying because it becomes apparent that Eagleton is somewhat disengaged, more concerned with theory about theory rather than with its practice. LAST: Its true and he always wanted to look at what was going on to judge it, and he doesnt do that. It doesnt form the basis of his metatheory as he discusses it. LIM: What do you make of Eagletons argument that postmodernity got it wrong when it comes to fundamental truths? He seems to suggest that postmodernity rallied against these things because it defined them incorrectly. Eagleton thinks about truth as not necessarily comes from some transcendent place, but only that it means A and B cannot both be true AND mutually exclusive. So, do you think it is still possible to talk about truth and objectivity and justice in theory? And if you do, in what capacity? 42

LAST: Just going for a second to Eagleton again, his particular version of theory and his ability to critically assess it, which is what he does in the position of meta-theory, goes a lot to his understanding of a unified subjectivity or body of people who will all have related or similar desires. The success of the theory he is interested in is based on the need to have as few distinctions between the public as possible, either class distinctions or other things that would make a unified aim. So the minute that there is multiplicity, and you look at the different origins of people and understand any group, and within any group, to be subdivided it goes against any possibility where he can see theory as successful. For instance he cannot judge that as a successive theory, that we have a far more complex subjectivity and there are true differences between sets of people, and their goals, and that they dont need to all be united. He cant see that as a success, thats one of the signs of failures for him. His theory basically needs for that to be unsuccessful in order for it to work. He has cancelled out those possibilities and anything that comes out of that is necessarily a failure. He is going to see it as something that fragments, and he needs something that unifies. LIM: And really just the productive way of reconciling postmodern cultural relativism and democracys claim to universal rights is this production of political justice? LAST: Potentially, but I dont know that they need to be reconciled or that so much goes under either. And certainly under the idea of a postmodern cultural relativism, a relativism that... as that phrase suggests... the relativisim isnt something I support. The possibilities for understand that diversity produces more diversity than is apparent even when we point at it and that we cant speak for everybody and that the ongoing conflict is itself a sign of success even if it doesnt always achieve certain ends it doesnt suggest this is the best version we could have but certainly the idea that cultural relativism could exist with democracys rights that were augmented first as universal and now understood as ongoing isnt at odds. 43

LIM: How do you feel about the current trend in thinking that a lot of what constitutes democracy right now is simply a plurality of opinion and that there really isnt anything underlying it anymore. LAST: I dont think a plurality of opinion is a substitute for democracy largely because it is offered as opinion and not as argument, not as discussion, not put in some form that could be more largely addressed. I think its a comment upon citizens beginning to be engaged; any failures are much broader than the theory base, those few thousand people who we always talk about being involved in theory. You might say that that theory is more successful than lots of other things in that endeavor. Does that mean its very successful? Not necessarily. But I think you maintain an involvement and I think thats what it asks for and I think theory helps engender that possibility of involvement. In terms of theory I think all of the after theory and related things... I understand really as backlash to the possibility of theory just beginning to be more successful and more known and more widespread. Certainly I think there are lots of changes in the world that arent the pace people might be after but thats assuming that theres one set of people after that set of things. LIM: And sort of in the vein of engagement, can you speculate how architects and designers can participate materially and critically in the production of just society? LAST: Well I do think first that they are also citizens and so they have a wider range of action. I think that people should, against those things, really weigh what they do and examine things critically. I think theres no obvious answer for architectures role other than to be continually involved. This question always seems to demand a set of answers, and you say you do them, and those actions are always judged in relation to some immediate result... LIM: And so really what you are suggesting is that the best way is to remain open and critical of practice? LAST: Yes. I think one needs to be involved, and I think putting together 44

journals like this and trying to get them into schools... Schools are interesting places because people go out into the broader and diverse parts of the world. Sometimes you hear those discussions about what people are interested in, you know, polls in the newspaper, and it sounds really terrible. So obviously something needs to change very early on or how can theory or anything else be successful? Its that engagement... I think what you do is you dont give up. Certainly, what would that achieve? Its a little bit of a set up of a question... and one that theories like Eagletons suggest we ask. Perhaps we need to compare it to other questions that resituate architecture in and around other practices and start to see them as combined.


Is Pragmatism an Ideology?
Reflections on Theory and Politics in Postmodernity Michael Hardy Rice University

I. Introduction In Critical Environments: Postmodern Theory and the Pragmatics of the Outside, Cary Wolfe defines pragmatism, that alluringly ambiguous label for an equally ambiguous philosophy, according to what he identifies as its two main features: (1) anti-foundationalism and (2) a focus on the real-world effects of philosophical theory, or political engagement.1 The second tendency means that pragmatist philosophers take as one of their principal concerns the relationship between main street and the ivory tower. As William James put it, pragmatism is characterized by its attention to the cash-value of philosophical speculation.2 What difference would it practically make to any one if this notion rather than that notion were true? James asks. If no practical difference whatever can be traced, then the alternatives mean practically the same thing, and all dispute is idle.3 At this point, pragmatism may look like philosophy for non-philosophers, an intellectual movement even an anti-intellectual could love (an impression James did little to dispel). But thats because we havent discussed pragmatisms first tendency. Pragmatisms anti-foundationalism, or anti-representationalism, means that the movement has no truck with Truth, i.e., with a transpersonal, transhistorical reality that it is the philosopherscientists job to discover, and which would provide the foundation for a metaphysical philosophy. Not Truth but truths might be the antifoundationalists rallying cry. First, one must note that no necessary ideological connection exists between pragmatisms two tendencies. One can be an antifoundationalist without being overly concerned with the practical effects of theory (cf. Jean Baudrillard) just as one can care deeply about the practical effects of theory without being an anti-foundationalist (cf. 46

Jurgen Habermas). Not only is there no necessary connection, there is hardly even an elective affinity between anti-foundationalism and what Ill call political engagement. The argument for the interdependence of these two terms is that anti-foundationalism implies political engagement because it compels philosophers to take their heads out of the metaphysical clouds and look around the real world. Yet, this argument seems as compelling as the argument against it: that antifoundationalism inevitably leads to a solipsistic abandonment of politics in favor of recondite language games. This paper explores the various ways pragmatist philosophers since William James, working in the late 1800s, have attempted to resolve the tension endemic to pragmatism, the tension between a populist focus on theorys real-world consequences and an elitist anti-foundationalism. This tension runs deeper than the superficial populist/elitist split: it has profound implications for how pragmatist philosophers conjugate the relationship between theory and practice; for the importance they assign to the role of philosophy in public life; and, perhaps most importantly, for their treatment of politico-ethical responsibility. I will interrogate a set of philosophers either explicitly or implicitly with three questions that I hope will highlight their treatment of this tension: (1) How useful or necessary is anti-foundationalism for effective political action? (2) Just how pragmatic is pragmatism? Is it any more effective than foundationalist philosophies in accomplishing what it wants to accomplish? (3) What kind of ethics is possible or desirable within an antifoundationalist framework? II. James and Rorty The founding father of pragmatism, William James, was clearer than most of his followers about the incommensurability between antifoundationalism (or, as James would likely put it, anti-dogmatism) and any specific political engagement. Pragmatism, he says in his essay What Pragmatism Means, does not stand for any special results. It is a method only. Later in the essay he provides his famous metaphor of 47

pragmatism as a corridor:
[Pragmatism] lies in the midst of our theories, like a corridor in a hotel. Innumerable chambers open out of it. In one you may find a man writing an atheistical volume; in the next some one on his knees praying for faith and strength; in a third a chemist investigating a bodys properties. In a fourth a system of idealistic metaphysics is being excogitated; in a fifth the impossibility of metaphysics is being shown. But they all own the corridor and all must pass through it if they want a practicable way of getting into or out of their respective rooms.4

Here, James reduces pragmatism to the barest skeleton of a philosophical program. Pragmatism is without positive content; it is indifferent to the distinctions between religion, science, metaphysics, anti-metaphysics, and so on. What then are we adopting when we adopt pragmatism? A method, an attitude of orientationthe attitude of looking away from first things, principles, categories, supposed necessities; and of looking towards last things, fruits, consequences, facts. Looking away from first things (Jamess high-falutin anti-foundationalism) leads naturally to looking towards last things (Jamess hard-headed worldliness), but the pragmatic attitude engenders no determinate practical consequences.5 Paradoxically, James seems to privilege the pragmatic method over any particular consequences that might attend its use; he pitches pragmatism as a sort of strength coach for theories, [limbering] them up and [setting] each one at work.6 The contemporary philosopher Richard Rorty agrees that antifoundationalism entails no particular political theory, but while for James this is a recommendation of pragmatismsee how flexible is pragmatism! one imagines him exclaiming proudlyfor Rorty this deals a knock-out blow to pragmatism and to philosophy generally. If philosophy (of the pragmatic or any other variety) cannot justify democracy particularly and explicitly, so much the worse for philosophy! In the essay The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy Rorty asks, rhetorically, whether liberal democracy needs justification at all, and then goes on to give an unorthodox reading of John Rawls in which Rawls is seen, counter-intuitively, to prove that democracy can get along perfectly well without philosophical presuppositions.7 For Rorty, pragmatisms anti-foundationalism, despite not justifying democracy, 48

does at least justify democracys priority over philosophy by pointing up the groundlessness of all human constructions. Democracy isnt grounded in anything outside its own rules and structures, and it doesnt need to be grounded in anything outside its own rules and structures. For Rorty, philosophy as it is traditionally practiced, even by pragmatists like himself, can and should have little influence on liberal democratic politics. Never one for hypocrisy, he suggests quite sincerely, in a different essay, that philosophers like himself try to work ourselves out of our jobs by blurring the line between literature and philosophy in a way similar to the style of Derrida8, whom Rorty argues uses philosophy for mainly private purposes,9 or Foucault, who uses it for Romantic self-invention.10 Rorty divides philosophers, in an admittedly crude way, into two categories: those whose work fulfils primarily public purposes (Mill, Dewey, and Rawls) and those whose work fulfils primarily private purposes (Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida). Nietzsche-HeideggerDerrida (Rorty treats them as more or less interchangeable) [produce] private satisfactions to people who are deeply involved in philosophy (and therefore, necessarily, with metaphysics) but [are not] politically consequential, except in a very indirect and long-term way.11 For Rorty, pragmatic anti-foundationalism is useful for fighting analytic philosophers in internecine academic warfarefor beating up on metaphysicistsbut is largely impotent in real politics, which Rorty defines as gradualist, consensualist, liberal democratic politics. There is politics and there is philosophy, and never the twain shall meet. III. Anti-Foundationalism and Unrealizability Rortys is an extreme position and is more or less directly repudiated by the rest of the philosophers I will examine in this paper, none of whom have the slightest intention of putting themselves out of their jobs. In fact, if there is any agreement between Foucault, Lyotard, Derrida, and the triumvirate of the three-way conversation published as Contingency, Hegemony, Universality (Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau, and Slavoj iek), it is on the continuing importance of philosophy in todays world, albeit a philosophy that looks very different from the metaphysics of their foundationalist predecessors. 49

Lyotard sounds the key note of this affirmation of philosophy in his letter The Subject of the Course of Philosophy (in The Postmodern Explained) when he distinguishes philosophy, which suspends reality, from the whole tendency of contemporary society towards the general values of prospection, development, targeting, performance, speed, execution, fulfillmentin short, towards the very progress that Rorty so forthrightly champions.12 Judith Butler seconds Lyotards defense of philosophy when she praises the value of critical theorys commitment to radical interrogation, which means that there is no moment in which politics requires the cessation of theory, for that would be the moment in which politics posits certain premises as off-limits to interrogation.13 Butler, needless to say, stands in direct opposition to Rorty, for whom a certain premisethe superiority of liberal democracy to all other forms of governmentis indeed off limits to interrogation. (Which then justifies Rorty in simply ignoring, as madmen, philosophers like Nietzsche and Loyola who dare to question this premise.14) What would a post-metaphysical (i.e., anti-foundationalist) philosophy look like? Rorty, who seems to believe that philosophy and metaphysics are mortally entwined, refuses to countenance such a possibility, preferring to assimilate to the category of literature attempts by the likes of Nietzsche-Heidegger-Derrida to do philosophy after the proverbial death of God. But while Rorty was getting his kicks beating up on metaphysicians, a group of French philosophers were busy outpragmaticizing the neo-pragmatist himself. Instead of fighting petty academic turf wars like Rorty, Michel Foucault mounted the barricades of philosophy to do precisely what Rorty said philosophers couldnt and shouldnt dochange the world. For Foucault, philosophers qua historians have the ability to perform
violent or surreptitious [appropriations] of a system of rules, which in itself has no essential meaning, in order to impose a direction, to bend it to a new will, to force its participation in a different game, and to subject it to secondary rules.15

Here we finally have a different conjugation of the relationship between anti-foundationalismthe doctrine that any given system of rules has no essential meaningand political engagement. For Foucault, the ethical, emancipatory moment of pragmatism is the recognition that in 50

a plastic world, where nothing is permanent, all sorts of appropriations are possible. Foucault writes:
The successes of history belong to those who are capable of seizing these rules, to replace those who had used them, to disguise themselves so as to pervert them, invert their meaning, and redirect them against those who had initially imposed them.16

This is reminiscent, and for good reason, of Judith Butlers celebration of parodic reiterationsof those perverse re-enactments of cultural codes, such as cross-dressing, that serve to unstiffen (a Jamesian moment here) their normative force. Both Foucault and Butler see in anti-foundationalism the possibility of emancipatory discourses that would destabilize entrenched structures of domination. So anti-foundationalism opens up the space for radical appropriations and revisions of established structures, but how are we to decide which appropriations and revisions to make? Here, the practical tendency of pragmatism again comes into conflict with its anti-foundationalism; the massive emancipatory potential promised by pragmatisms anti-foundationalism is undercut from the outset by that same anti-foundationalism, which by definition can prescribe no particular course of action. Were back in Jamess corridor, confronted with an infinite number of rooms but without any light to pick one by. IV. Decision, Hegemony, Act How to take action on an undecidable terrain (Ernesto Laclau)that is the question Derrida answers with the concept of the decision in his 1990 essay Force of Law: The Mystical Foundation of Authority. He begins the essay, which was delivered at a path-breaking colloquium at the Cordoza Law School entitled Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice, by remarking that deconstruction and justice have not typically been associated in the deconstructionist discourse. Why, basically, do [deconstructionists] speak of [justice] so little? Derrida wonders. [...] Isnt it because, as certain people suspect, deconstruction doesnt in itself permit any just action, any discourse on justice but instead constitutes a threat to droit, to law or right, and 51

ruins the condition of the very possibility of justice?17 Derrida here points up the apparent contradiction between anti-foundationalism and political engagement that lies at the heart of pragmatism. If our actions lack ultimate foundations, how are we to know which actions to take and which to refusehow can we be ethical agents? Derrida resolves the contradiction by accepting it fully: yes, Derrida effectively says, there is a contradiction between antifoundationalism and a deontological ethics based on categorical requirements (thou shalt not kill, act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law, etc.); therefore we must formulate a different concept of justice. Rather than relinquishing the concept of justice as a metaphysical relic, Derrida performs a deconstructive rehabilitation of the concept by redefining justice, in contradistinction to Law, as that which cannot be given by the mechanical application of pre-existing guidelines. Justice is an experience of the impossible, Derrida writes, as opposed to Law, which is the element of calculation.18 The moment your action is calculated to the fulfillment of the law, no matter how just that law may be, you are not in the realm of justice but of obedience. The name Derrida assigns to the true moment of justice is decision: [Each] decision is different and requires an absolutely unique interpretation, which no existing, coded rule can or ought to guarantee absolutely.19 Just as literary interpretation cannot proceed by the application of hermeneutical rules but only by the most careful attention to the particular contexts and inflections of each text, what is just cannot be described or delimited in advance of the moment of decision, which is always, insofar as it forsakes all previous descriptions and delimitations, a moment of madness (Kierkegaard). So not only does deconstruction insure, permit, and authorize the possibility of justice,20 as deconstructions critics are inclined to doubt; in fact, deconstruction is required for justice truly conceived. In Derridas intentionally provocative formulation, Deconstruction is justice.21 The condition of justices impossibility, the inability to specify in advance what shape justice will take in a given situation, is simultaneously its condition of possibility, since only an act that recognizes its own lack of external foundations can, by Derridas definition, qualify as just. 52

This movement from a concepts condition of impossibility to its condition of possibility, the positing of the necessary interdependence of the two conditions, is taken up by Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau, and Slavoj iek, in different registers, as fundamental to the links between anti-foundationalism and democracy; in other words, as fundamental to the possibility of a pragmatist politics. For Laclau, undecidability and decision (in the Derridean sense) are the names of that ineradicable and constitutive tension which makes possible a political society. The distinction in Laclaus political theory between the political (the field of competition between antagonistic factions) and the social (the relatively stable matrix of economic, legal, and political structures instituted by a victorious faction) makes possible the strategic rearticulation of the social by hegemonic political blocs:
Hegemony requires deconstruction: without the radical structural undecidability that the deconstructive intervention brings about, many strata of social relations would appear as essentially linked by necessary logics and there would be nothing to hegemonize. 22

Societys condition of impossibility, the impossibility of achieving an organic fullness of society through the elimination of social antagonism, is simultaneously its condition of possibility, since it is only through those antagonisms, and the temporary hegemonic formations that arise from them, that society was instituted in the first place. Just as for Derrida there is no justice without deconstruction, for Laclau there is no society without deconstruction. What is true of Derridas concept of decision might also be applied to Laclaus notion of hegemonyboth represent and traverse the experience of the impossible. In her intervention Dynamic Conclusions in Contingency, Hegemony, Universality, Butler calls this the valorization of the unrealizable23 the recognition of the emancipatory potential inherent in anti-foundationalisms rejection of the full and final achievement of political desiderata. [Democracy] is secured precisely through its resistance to realization, Butler writes.
[This] does not mean that there are no moments or events or institutional occasions in which goals are achieved, but only that whatever goals are achieved (and they are, they are) democracy itself remains unachievedthat particular


policy and legislative victories do not exhaust the practice of democracy, and that it is essential to this practice to remain, in some permanent way, unrealizable.24

Once again, the condition of somethings impossibility is seen to be its condition of possibility. Although democracy in its ideal state will never be achieved, to Butler this unrealizability is part of the very definition of democracy, which is always and necessarily futural. Slavoj iek radicalizes this logic of unrealizability in his essay Class Struggle or Postmodernism? Yes, Please! in Contingency, Hegemony, Universality, where he criticizes Laclau and Butler for denaturalizing race, gender, and sexuality at the expense of re-naturalizing the economy:
Postmodern politics [i.e. of the type practiced by Butler and Laclau] definitely has the great merit that it repoliticizes a series of domains previously considered apolitical or private; the fact remains, however, that it does not in fact repoliticize capitalism, because the very notion and form of the political within which it operates is grounded in the depoliticization of the economy.25

iek approvingly quotes Wendy Browns observation, recently echoed by Walter Benn Michaels, that the political purchase of contemporary American identity politics would seem to be achieved in part through a certain renaturalization of capitalism.26 ieks answer to what he sees as the Lefts retreat from its Marxist heritage is a renewed commitment to doing the impossible, to [subverting] the very structuring principle of [the political field]. He uses the Lacanian concept of the act to illustrate his point:
An act does not simply occur within the given horizon of what appears to be possibleit redefines the very contours of what is possible (an act accomplishes what, within the given symbolic universe, appears to be impossible, yet it changes its conditions so that it creates retroactively the conditions of its own possibility. . .)27

We see a structural homology between ieks act and Derridas decision in their respective attempts to formulate an antifoundationalist ethics. Both the act and the decision take place, to again quote Laclau, on an undecidable terrain. Both are defined in contradistinction to the programmatic, algorithmic application of 54

pre-defined rules of action. The inauthentic decision, according to Derrida, is a decision that follows the generality of a rule, a norm, or a universal imperative.28 The inauthentic act, according to iek, is an act that legitimizes itself through reference to the point of substantial fullness of a given constellation (on the political terrain: Race, True Religion, Nation...)29 Just as a true decision must be an experience of the inexperienceable, the genuine act must [touch] the dimensions of some impossible Real.30 The act and the decision, as key nodes in two exemplary models of anti-foundationalist ethics, represent two possible conjugations of the relationship between anti-foundationalism and political engagement and, therefore, two possible articulations of pragmatism. V. Conclusion In Force of Law Derrida deliberately singles out a quartet of American intellectualsStanley Fish, Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Drucilla Cornell, and Sam Weberwhose use of deconstruction for the study of legal theory Derrida commends as one of deconstructions most fertile and necessary developments because it takes deconstruction out of the ivory tower and into the grubby world of politics:
[These thinkers] respond, it seems to me, to the most radical programs of a deconstruction that would like, in order to be consistent with itself, not to remain enclosed in a purely speculative, theoretical, academic discourses but rather (with all due respect to Stanley Fish) to aspire to something more consequential, to change things and to intervene in an effective and responsible though always, of course, very mediated way, not only in the profession but in what one calls the cit, the polis and more generally the world. 31

Derrida emphasizes in the most explicit way the dual desires of pragmatism (to which tradition, because of his clear anti-foundationalism and equally clearat least in this passagepolitical engagement, I will assign Derrida) for (1) rigorous anti-foundationalism and (2) political engagement. In this paper I have examined the ways several philosophers associated with the pragmatic tradition have conjugated the relationship between these two features of pragmatism. Whether they place the emphasis on anti-foundationalism (James) or political engagement 55

(Rorty), whether they believe anti-foundationalism is the sine qua non of Leftist politics (Derrida, Butler, and Laclau) or irrelevant to it (Rorty and, by presumption, James), whether they maintain the necessity of philosophy (Lyotard) or cheer its obsolescence (Rorty), all the thinkers I mention have had to negotiate the (im)possibility of combining antifoundationalism and political engagement. Thus, I venture a markedly Derridean hypothesis: it is the very impossibility of making such a combination that keeps the pragmatist tradition alive. Just as iek writes that the ultimate failure of communication is what compels us to talk all the time (if we could say what we want to say directly, we would very soon stop talking and shut up for ever),32 maybe its the inevitable failure of pragmatism that compels philosophers to keep doing it (if pragmatism achieved total self-coherence as a theory it would obliterate itself in the sense that it would no longer be an evolving, organic tradition). Perhaps we should follow William Jamess advice and look away from first things,antifoundationalism, politico-ethical theory, etc.and towards last things, fruits, consequences, facts. How fruitful has pragmatism been? When it comes to engaging theorists of the most diverse stripes in pragmatic considerations, to challenging our basic philosophical assumptions, to promoting radical and rigorous interrogations of the world, and to inspiring philosophical creativity, as is herein evident, it has been fruitful indeed.


1. Wolfe, Critical Environments: Postmodern Theory and the Pragmatics of the Outside, p. xvi 2. James, Pragmatisms Conception of Truth, p. 88. 3. James, What Pragmatism Means, p. 25. 4. James What Pragmatism Means, p. 28. 5. This of course begs the question of the epistemological status of pragmatism itself. On the one hand, James insists that any idea is only as true as it proves useful in practice; on the other hand, he treats the pragmatic method as true regardless of its consequences. We are faced with the standard argument against anti-foundationalism (or relativism as its enemies would have it), that it is self-refuting. One way to answer this charge would be to radicalize Jamess logic and say that pragmatism itself must be judged by its fruit, that we must determine how useful the pragmatic method is in helping us meet our goals. But how do you justify the goals themselves? the foundationalist might ask in return, and so on ad infinitum. Unfortunately, I dont have time in this paper to give this paradox the full treatment it deserves. 6. James, What Pragmatism Means, p. 29. 7. Richard Rorty, The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy, pp. 178-179. 8. Rorty, Deconstruction and Circumvention, p. 86. 9. Rorty, Remarks on Deconstruction and Pragmatism, p. 16. 10. Rorty, Moral Identity and Private Autonomy: The Case of Foucault. 11. Rorty, Remarks on Deconstruction and Pragmatism, p. 16. 12. Jean-Franois Lyotard, The Postmodern Explained, p. 102. 13. Judith Butler, Dynamic Conclusions, p. 264. 14. Rorty, The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy, p. 187. 15. Michel Foucault, Nietzsche, Genealogy, History, p. 86. 16. ibid. 17. Jacques Derrida, Force of Law: The Mystical Foundation of Authority, p. 923. 18. Derrida, Force of Law, p. 947. 19. ibid, p. 961. 20. ibid, p. 921. 21. ibid, p. 945. 22. Ernesto Laclau, Deconstruction, Pragmatism, Hegemony, pp. 59-60. 23. Butler, Dynamic Conclusions, p. 268. 24. Butler, Dynamic Conclusions, p. 268. 25. Slavoj iek, Class Struggle or Postmodernism? Yes, Please! p. 98 26. ibid, p. 95. 27. ibid, p. 121. 28. Derrida, Force of Law, p. 949. 29. ibid, p. 125. 30. ibid, p. 121. 31. Derrida, Force of Law, pp. 931-933. 32. iek, Class Struggle or Postmodernism? Yes, Please! p. 94.


Works Cited Butler, Judith. Dynamic Conclusions. In Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left. New York: Verso, 2000. Derrida, Jacques. Force of Law, trans. Mary Quaintance. Cordozo Law Review, Vol. 11: 919. Foucault, Michel. Nietzsche, Genealogy, History, trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon. In The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984. James, William. Pragmatisms Conception of Truth. In William James: Pragmatism and Other Writings, ed. Giles Gunn. New York: Penguin Books, 2000. James, William. What Pragmatism Means. In William James: Pragmatism and Other Writings, ed. Giles Gunn. New York: Penguin Books, 2000. Laclau, Ernesto. Deconstruction, Pragmatism, Hegemony. In Deconstruction and Pragmatism, ed. Chantal Mouffe. New York: Routledge, 1996. Lyotard, Jean-Franois. Address on the Subject of the Course of Philosophy. In The Post modern Explained: Correspondence 1982-1985. Translation edited by Julian Pefanis and Morgan Thomas. Rorty, Richard. Moral Identity and Private Autonomy: The Case of Foucault. In Essays on Heidegger and Others: Philosophical Papers, Volume 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Rorty, Richard. Remarks on Deconstruction and Pragmatism. In Deconstruction and Pragmatism, ed. Chantal Mouffe. New York: Routledge, 1996. Rorty, Richard. The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy. In Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth: Philosophical Papers, Volume 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. iek, Slavoj. Class Struggle or Postmodernism? Yes, Please! In Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left. New York: Verso, 2000.



What constitutes architectural theory now?

Crib Sheets
Sylvia Lavin, Helene Furjan, Penelope Dean Monacelli, 2005 Stephanie Tuerk, M.I.T.

Cheers to Sylvia Lavin, Helene Furjan, and Penelope Dean, who have created a bookCrib Sheetsthat is, to use Lavins own words, a flash in the pan. If you havent read Lavins introduction, it might seem odd to celebrate someones work by attesting to the short lifespan of its ideas. But this limited longevity is exactly the kind of (anti-)theory that Lavin, Chair of the Department of Architecture and Urban Design at UCLA from 1996 to 2006, champions when she calls for a new architecture and corresponding theory that are not merely new, but that are contemporary. For Lavin, architecture has always avoided the possibility of being truly contemporary by understanding itself as an arbiter of permanence, distinct from the whims and fads that constitute what is contemporary. In an effort to highlight just what these whims and fads might be, and to thus foment a contemporary architecture, Crib Sheets draws from the transcripts of UCLAs own conference The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful (Spring 2002) to replicate the buzzed atmosphere of a cocktail party, producing a discourse which intentionally ignores distinctions between evidence and speculation and instead harnesses extreme rhetorical form to make even the most baseless rumor seem plausible. The dismissal of the traditional markings of academic rigorsustained argumentation and historical researchin favor of the cocktail-party mood, creates a promiscuous productivity that Lavin claims will allow architectural discourse to finally be contemporary. 61

Crib Sheets collects over five hundred quotations and groups them under twenty two fairly familiar buzzwords of 21st century architecture discourse: atmosphere, surface, image, style, decoration, technique, criticality, the generic, etc. Comprising a large part of the list of 200 names that have been excerpted are figures you might expect to have seen at Lavins cocktail parties over the yearsSanford Kwinter, Jeff Kipnis, Bob Somol, Stan Allen, Rem Koolhaas, as well as a younger generation of architectural academics whose names are just now becoming familiar. Interspersed are theorists who continue to haunt architecture today Walter Benjamin, Michel de Certeau, Guy Debord, Gilles Deleuze; architects from ages pastLe Corbusier, Gottfried Semper, Frank Lloyd Wright, Adolf Loos; as well as a few excerpts from contemporary cultural figures such as William Gibson and Andy Warhol. Within each heading, the quotes are ordered from shortestthree words (I didnt inhale, Bill Clinton, under Atmosphere and This is this, Robert de Niro, under Autonomy), to longesttypically a page and a half, and are printed on top of full bleed, sometimes recognizable, often single hued images, many without any figural subject matter. Both choices regarding the layout of the book make it rather difficult to read, but one gets the sense that the books editors dont really want us to do that anyway, as keeping our noses in books might be exactly what lets the contemporary pass by without our even noticing. Investing oneself in the arguments of a text, reading it carefully from start to finish, is implicitly critiqued as an activity of the old regime of history and theory. Here, the editors seek to replace reading with a form of scanning that gives us a scent of the multiplicity of arguments that collectively constitute the contemporary condition. One does not read Crib Sheets as much as take a whiff of it. The Dada-esque ordering of the quotes, meaningless relative to their content, allows Crib Sheets to avoid what Lavin identifies as the Modernist responsibility to function as well as the Postmodernist responsibility to meaning. Empty of both purpose and narrative, Crib Sheets is thus, in its own terms, contemporary. Instead of employing the methodology we would expect from the last forty years of architecture theoryordering evidence to construct a cogent, critical argument about what architecture is, isnt or should be, the book is primarily a collection of raw material of architectural discourse at the time of its publication in 2005. If we can think of the book as an archive, the reader then becomes

a researcher, culling material that is useful in the creation of her own narratives, imposing her own meaning on the books concatenation of non-sequiturs and its skillfully and purposely indeterminate language (which Lavin even acknowledges, pre-empting its criticism), both of which result from the intentional exile of any context for the quotes. Thus the books organization, chosen in an attempt to subvert fixity of meaning, offloads the act of producing critical history/theory to its reader. Elsewhere, Lavin has called the new type of theory proposed by Crib Sheets post-critical. Perhaps though it might be better understood as pre-critical, providing historical material for the next generation of historians and theorists to synthesize. Regardless of what it is called, one must ask if Lavins theory of the contemporary is any more contemporary than the attempts to theorize architecture that preceded it. Her litmus test for contemporariness comes up positive when something is so new that it is a mere flash in the pan. Paradoxically, that something is contemporary only when it is so new that it is in fact, almost immediately old. Crib Sheets thus succeeds wonderfully on these terms, as what could be more necessarily old, both in content and format, than an archive? But perhaps more important than evaluating Crib Sheetss success in achieving contemporariness on its own terms is to ask why architecture needs a theory of the contemporary. Lavin notes that while architecture has managed to take contemporary phenomena as its object of studyciting examples of Corbusier taking up cars, Venturi taking up the suburbs, Eisenman taking up Derrida, and Koolhaas taking up Conde Nastit has yet to be a contemporary phenomenon itself. For the majority of the book, the necessity of being contemporary seems self evident to Lavin, and frustratingly, anything but for a reader who refuses to purely trust Lavins wisdom. At the very back of the book, in her extended quotation under the Criticality heading, she finally hints at what architecture has to gain from being contemporary. Lavin imagines a new criticism that will capitalize on its engagement with commodity culture to make history and theory contemporary and to give architecture more value, not less, thus advocating the contemporary as a means by which architecture can secure itself a larger role in culture at large. If that is the goal of being contemporary, the causality between 63

being a flash in the panthat which the editors have identified as the index of contemporariness, and gaining greater territory for architecture seems dubious. Lavin incisively picks up on a general anxiety about architectures loss of relevance for those outside the field, as automated design and fabrication technologies, construction management, outsourced drafting, and increased use of infinitely repeatable, generic design in the built environment all seem to be impinging on the domain of the architect. But it is difficult to see how the content and format of Crib Sheets stake out larger ground for architecture in contemporary culture. Rather than expanding architectural discourse to claim new territories of operation, it republishes what has already been said. Rather than making the discourse accessible to a larger audience, it perpetuates the type of jargon laden language that re-appropriates terms from other disciplines, inventing new meanings for them within architecture that are rarely explicit. Quotes such as extreme form is a peak register of formal singularity are inaccessible to academics in other fields and the lay public, existing as mere tautologies to anyone but the extended circle of the selected contributors, their friends, and students. To engage the contemporary, the editors have included quotes from their favorite figures of contemporary culture, but it is hard to see how the book entices anyone from a culture outside of architectural academe to engage with it. The aim of Crib Sheets might be to expand and diversify the guest list for the architecture cocktail party of the future, but one wonders if anyone else will show up aside from those who have been coming for years. Ultimately, as a new form of theory, the book ends up contributing to the very solipsism that Lavins notion of contemporariness aims to overturn; however, as an archive, Crib Sheets, offers a useful snapshot of a particular strain of academic architecture culture at the beginning of the 21st century.


The State of Architecture at the Beginning of the 21st Century

Bernard Tschumi and Irene Cheng, ed. Monacelli 2003 Paul Morel Rice University

In the last century, modern architecture was debated and formalized, in part, through great participatory gatherings. Beginning with CIAM in the 1920s and continuing with the meetings of Team 10, the Situationists and others until the last quarter of the century, conferences were an important way for groups of like-minded architects from around the world to meet, develop shared knowledge and objectives. Although these meetings were contentious affairs, fraught with recriminations and delegations leaving in protest, they aspired to produce some degree of consensus about the mission of modern architecture. When successful, they announced their accord to the world by issuing manifestos. These were heady, partisan things, and they spoke boldly of the future; consensus, however provisional, meant progress. How strange to look back at the 2003 conference at Columbia on The State of Architecture at the Beginning of the 21st Century in terms of those raucous assemblages. Whereas groups like the Situationists had the scrappy camaraderie of street gangs, The State of Architecture crowd is a heterogeneous mix of the most influential and well-known practitioners. If architectural gatherings of old were caucuses in which the future was debated and invented, the assembled views of The State of Architecture at the Beginning of the 21st Century read like the chatter of financial analysts: everyone has a hot tip; everyone has a talking point. No ones information agrees with anyone elses, so that everyone has an angle. Consensus is not on the agenda. 65

In the companion book to the conference, the organizers, Bernard Tschumi and Irene Cheng, note that the intervening influences of poststructuralism and feminism which followed the first wave of Modernism cautioned against categorical proclamations. Few today would have the audacity to proclaim, as the Situationists did in 1960, To those who do not properly understand us, we say with utter contempt: The Situationists, of whom you perhaps believe yourselves to be the judges, will one day judge you. That is no doubt true, but then the organization of the meeting seems designed to reaffirm that hesitation. Divided into eight categories, conference participants were invited to speak on a pair of issues, one relating to architectural practice and one to discourse. Thus, a category like Form + Influence has such varied company as Frank Gehry, Alejandro Zaera-Polo, Karl Chu and Peter Eisenman offering commentary. This organization doesnt produce much friction, as each speaker tends to favor one of the paired terms, and each invokes them in radically different registers. Gehry, who delights in turning around an idea rather than addressing it objectively, uses the topic to explore the progression of his own ideas about form. Although they both work with biological metaphors, ZaeraPolo discusses formal typology in terms of speciation, whereas Karl Chu discusses the potential of genomics to dissolve anthropocentric models of form. Eisenman, drawing on 9/11 and the then-recent start of the Iraq war, discusses disaster and the limits of formal language. Rather than produce contentious debate, the claims of these authors approach each other before turning gently away, like parallel streams of traffic on a knotty freeway interchange. The pervasiveness of this kind of frictionless discourse did not go unnoticed by the conference participants. In his article From the Oedipus Complex to the Organizational Complex, Reinhold Martin examines the way the new economy of the 1990s, which architecture rode to greater prominence than it has enjoyed in decades, works by coopting and neutralizing differences in order to maximize organizational efficiency. He notes that whereas earlier power structures were characterized by the succession of regimes (of the sort that, for instance, a manifesto was supposed to announce), the dynamic assimilation and incorporation of difference itself is ... a hallmark of the new networks of 66

power. But perhaps the most intriguing theory about architectures current aversion to conflict is Sylvia Lavins How Architecture Stopped Being the 97-Pound Weakling and Became Cool, in which Lavin uses the disparate aesthetic sensibilities of Charles Atlas and Elvis Costello in order to make sense of the present architectural milieu. The goal of cultural criticism was to assess the fitness of the object of critical attention vis--vis an agreed-upon model. As Lavin sees it, Modernism attempted to overcame the deficient, the ugly, the uncool through design-asreordering. Under modernism, the ninety-seven-pound weakling sought to rebuild his body to correspond with the image of the ideal body, as represented by Mr. Atlas. Post-critical architecture, on the other hand, recasts and recuperates the uncool through design-as-special-effect.
Charles Atlas literally incorporated modernism into a perfected body. The appeal of Elvis Costello, on the other hand, lies not in some authenticating body but in his provisional cool, which resides in his surfaces, in the curating of his look. Cool is a matter of design rather than of birth or hard work. It is an effect, and effects are conditions that are detachable from the logic of causality.

Consensus (or the attempt to have an authenticating body, as she puts it) is beside the point when it comes to cool: you know it when you see it. It is the result of an unstable cultural calculus, and cannot be produced through discourse. Instead, the new architectural discourse seeks only to identify and understand cool where it happens. Fascinating as her argument is, I think that discounting consensus as the goal of discourse creates some real problems for the profession, particularly regarding one issue that was almost uniformly ignored by the participants: sustainability. No other issue today has more resonance with architectures audience, and yet none has been more resisted by the contemporary avant-garde, such as it is. I have no idea why this should be so. Perhaps it is just resolutely uncool. Certainly the most well-known practitioners of green design are uncool. Yet the idea that humanity may have reached the limits of its resources, which may in turn constrain development in all fields of human endeavorthis possibility, whose impact on material culture could be as great and long-lived as the industrial revolution, finds no purchase in these pages. Cool or uncool, thats a shame. Architecture produces cool effects, but it also produces 67

waste, carbon emissions, consumes great amounts of energy, and so on. Though, like special effects, the origins of phenomena like global warming are elusive, they are also concrete, the result of social behavior like building. To study design-as-special-effect is to ignore the material effects of building. The coming environmental crisis promises to be all too real, and causality is the very crux of the matter. So heres my prediction about the near future of architectural discourse: I suspect that sooner or later the dam is going to burst, and a torrent of repressed idealism will be unleashed. Partisanship will return; this frictionless bubble cannot last. Times have been good for the profession and so sparring over the relative value of abstract concepts like emergence and genetic design has been the only real source of discourse. But the great architectural conferences of the 20th century took place against a backdrop of war and revolution. When the hammer comes downthat is to say, when we start feeling the limits imposed by environmental conditionswell all be reminded of the importance of discourse and producing consensus. And when someone looks back and asks what the state of architecture was at the beginning of the 21st century, it will be clear: times were good.


An Overview of Post-Criticality in the Last Five Years of Architectural Discourse

Jason Nguyen Drexel University

For the past half-century, prevailing academic architectural discourse focused primarily on the issues of formal autonomy and disciplinarity, promoting an avant-gardist agenda known as Criticality.1 Quite recently, this school of thought has come under fire. Contemporary Post-critical architects and theorists claim that Criticality promotes an architecture of stunted creativity, retrogression, and tireless critique. The Post-critics instead suggest that architecture investigate intelligence, projection, innovation, provisionseemingly anything but social critique. Here, we will review the key architects and theorists who have played major roles in this discussion, starting with K. Michael Hays and continuing to a set of Post-critics including Michael Speaks, Robert Somol and Sarah Whiting. K. Michael Hays 1984 essay, Critical Architecture: Between Culture and Form serves as one contraposition to Robert Somol and Sarah Whitings seminal Post-critical decree. In it, Hays argues for an architectural meaning that lies neither in mass culture nor in silent form but in the mediating space between the two. Eschewing the view that architecture must choose between cultural dependence or formal autonomy, he argues that contemporary architecture should be resistant to the self-confirming, conciliatory operations of a dominant culture and yet irreducible to a purely formal structure disengaged from the contingencies of place and time.2 Terming this architecture critical, Hays continues, Critical architecture pushes aside other kinds of discourse or communication in order to place before the world a culturally informed product, part of whose self-definition includes the implication of discontinuity and difference from other cultural activities (this difference from other cultural activities is what constitutes the paradigm of disciplinarity that Somol and Whiting later set out to 69

attack).3 Thus, Hays criticality is an architecture integral to its culture, yet one that, through the language of its form, resists the economy that this same culture poses in efforts of becoming something disciplinarily unique. Using the work of Mies van der Rohe, Hays offers examples of an architecture that mitigates the chaos of the modern metropolis with a formal language of resistanceresistant in its refusal to reduplicate or represent this same chaos in the architecture. In Miesian surface glazing, for example, the curtain wall offers transparency, reflection and refraction. The world is absorbed, mirrored and distorted, thus eternally relating the architecture to its surroundings. Further, the architectures volume is read by its surface composition, and thus its context, and not by the internal workings of the building. Therefore, with the buildings internal logic remaining perceptually ambiguous from the exterior, the overall functioning of the architecture resists outside cultural complexity while relating to it. Such Miesian maneuverings manifest Hays call for architecture as a critical entity in an ironically contextualized autonomy. Robert Somol & Sarah Whiting dismantle Hays stance along with Peter Eisenmans well known aspirations toward formal autonomyin their 2002 Notes around the Doppler Effect and other Moods of Modernism. In the piece, Somol and Whiting deconstruct the distinct critical agendas conceived by Hays and vivified by Eisenman in concluding that, despite its original assertions, Critical architectures primary concerns are limited by their preoccupation with architecture as an act of cultural resistance. Of Hays and Eisenman, the authors state, one could say that their definition of disciplinarity is directed against reification rather than toward the possibility of an alternative to the critical projecthere linked to the indexical, the dialectic and hot representationthis texts develops an alternative genealogy of the projectivelinked to the diagrammatic, the atmospheric and cool performance.4 This sentiment leads to their assertion that for architecture to be projective it must employ something similar to the Doppler Effectthe perceived change in pitch between the sound of a train as it approaches and then moves away from a listener.5 In other words, both the process and practice of contemporary architecture must perform in a manner which accelerates the discipline, 70

refusing to look back for cues or critiques. In their attempt to transcend a critical architecture, they look to for a projective oneone which is more concerned with the visionary as opposed to the commentary, the innovative as opposed to the reactionary and the natural as opposed to the methodical. Somol and Whiting reference Rem Koolhaas as a long-time poster child for this new paradigm. They point out that while Eisenman was reacting to pre-established Corbusian concepts of the grid in the 1970s, Koolhaas was addressing emerging issues such as American mass consumerism in creating a projective architecture of new forms, events and behavior. Koolhaas, Somol and Whiting assert, concerns himself not with the negative or analytical critique of methods past; instead, he works toward formulating a new architecture which addresses the constantly changing world in hopes of discovering new formal and cultural possibilities. Somol and Whiting conclude with a metaphor from cinema, in which they compare the acting styles of the late Robert Mitchum, representing the projective, with Robert DeNiro, representing the critical. Mitchum, they claim, does not act but performs. His cool and plausible style contrasts with the scientific laboring of DeNiro. They state, Mitchum architecture is cool, easy, and never looks like work; its about mood or the inhibition of alternative realities...With Mitchum, there are scenarios, not psychodramas. The unease and anxiety of the unhomely has been replaced with the propositional alternative of the untimely.6 Michael Speaks has contemporaneously emerged as one of critical architectures most vicious critics. Through a series of short essays, the most noteworthy of which appeared in late 2002 in A+U entitled Design Intelligence, Speaks repudiates the critical agenda, pointing to its supposed irrelevance in a world no longer functioning according to philosophy or theory. For Speaks, architecture should rely on intelligent problem solving instead of intellectualized critique as a means of advancing the field. With a possible aim of dismantling architectural discourse as a whole, Speaks advocates for an architecture of intelligence, the inner functions of which are rooted more in business management than in philosophy or critical theory. An agenda propagated by avant-gardist philosophical ambitions, Speaks argues, is 71

doomed for stagnation and eventual failure. Just as critical architects and theorists tore asunder the Modernist project and its predication on uncovering absolute social, political and aesthetic truths, Speaks argues, they too dissolved architectures own progressive capabilities through negativity and constant self-critique. He furthers,
No longer dictated by ideas or ideologies nor dependent on whether something is really true, everything now depends on credible intelligence, on whether something might be true. In architecture as in other fields we have witnessed a shift in intellectual dominance from philosophy and its search for absolute truth, to theory and its retreat into the truth of negative critique. 7

It should be noted that Speaks opens this A+U piece by examining the early proposals for the new World Trade Center in New York. For Speaks, the natural reaction among many to erect a symbol heroically expressive of American power and resilience points to the fragility and un-intelligence of much of architecture today. Instead of turning to what Speaks terms vanguard theory, with its truths given in advance, as many WTC proposals had done (pointing explicitly to proposals by three members of the New York Five, among others), contemporary architecture must instead embrace a new directive for innovation in practice, process and design in achieving valuable and intelligent progress. Speaking more broadly, Speaks embraces practices such as Greg Lynn FORM and Bernard Cache of Objectile for their use of vectorbased prototyping in creating a generative architecture which directly addresses a series of socio-physical problems on varying scales. Despite his embrace of formally inventive practices such as these, though, his proposition is concerned not necessarily with strict formal leanings but with a strong commitment to innovative and generative solutions void of preconceived theoretical positions. Since the independent yet inherently inter-related interpellations on Criticality by Speaks and Somol and Whiting, several others have joined the fray. Sylvia Lavin, for example, has formulated a body of work focusing on the provisional and ephemeral in her analyses of Modernisms psycho-analytical considerations. A re-examination of these, she claims, could offer fresh ideas and opportunities for contemporary design. Stan Allen, too, has emerged, with commentary 72

on the lack of creativity in a setting obsessed with critique. He, like Speaks, calls for the dissolving of established avant-garde models in favor of those employing popular culture and the creativity of the marketplace as tools for progression.8 Amidst the ongoing flurry surrounding critical and post-critical architectures, we must pause to evaluate the recent proposals as they directly affect the future of architectural discourse. Must projective architectures jettison all traces of critical thought in their effort to accelerate the discipline? Today, as sweeping technological advances promise possibilities for numerous design agendas, we should remember what was eventually lost in previous architectural movements blindly guided by the rhetoric of advancement.

1. The negotiation of a critical architecture, and the terms disciplinarity and autonomy, stem from a broader historical-theoretical context, the extrapolation of which would require an extensive revisitation of contemporary architectural thought. We begin this discussion with the assumption that readers are familiar with these terms, but for those who are not, a host of further readings can be suggested. 2. Hays, K. Michael. Critical Architecture: Between Culture and Form, Perspecta 21: The Yale Architectural Journal, 1984. pp. 14-29. 3. Hays. p. 22. 4. Somol, Robert & Whiting, Sarah. Notes around the Doppler Effect and other Moods of Modernism, Perspecta 33: The Yale Architectural Journal, 2002. p. 74. 5. Ibid, pp. 75. 6. Ibid, pp. 77. 7. Speaks, Michael. Design Intelligence, Part I: Introduction, A+U, 2002. p. 12. 8. Baird, George. Criticality and Its Discontents, Harvard Design Magazine, 2004. p. 4


John Rajchman MIT Press, 1998 Nicholas Risteen, Rice University

Paul Virilios introduction to John Rajchmans book Constructions posits a philosophical moment interested in a kind of informational feedback loop, a philosophy concerned less with Nietzsches eternal return that its ultimate velocity. The insight is apt, as Rajchmans project seeks to develop not just a methodology of philosophical practice, but to display that practice in motion through the eight essays brought together to form his collection. Drawing heavily on the work of Gilles Deleuze, and in particular the notion of the le pli developed in Deleuzes study of Leibniz and the Baroque, Rajchman unfolds that philosophy into a multiplicity of venues. That notion of the multiple, and indeed just about every etymological variation on pli readily at hand, permeates the contents of the book to startling effect. Rajchmans second essay, simply titled Folding, undertakes a study of Eisenmans Rebstock Park Masterplan and posits the fold as more than a technical device [for Eisenman]: it is the central Idea or Question of the project. Whether one admires Eisenmans formal technique in Rebstock Park is rather irrelevant, even for Rajchman, for as that initial line continues: But then, what is a questionwhat is the Questionin architecture? Of course, no grand Question can truly be drawn from this, but thats hardly the point. Rajchmans interest in the provocation (and in the fold in general) is the means by which it propagates itself, how it multiplies and complicates and fold, unfolds, and re-folds in and on 74

itself, folding into folding to infinity. That second essay may only be one of eight, but it acts as the grounding idea behind all of them. While Rajchman organizes each essay around a simply titled topic Lightness, Abstraction, Grounds, Other Geometries, Future Cities, and The Virtual Housewhat the book accomplishes overall is an engrossing example of the fold in practice, as the introduction of each new topic complicates the ones that came before and actively informs the ones that follow. None of them would stand up on their own (except, possibly, Folding), but taken as a whole they offer a startling method, explicating and complicating in equal measure, arguing for a practice in abstraction where the aim of the game is not to rediscover the eternal or the universal but to find the conditions under which something new may be created. For Rajchman, that condition entails searching for a more operative design approach, an engagement with the formless where one can embrace the impurity of design and its process by recognizing that the issue is not what forms mean or represent but what they do, what they can do. This, in turn, is precisely what Rajchman sets out to accomplish in his eight short essays, providing a kind of rhizomatic philosophy in practice that concerns itself less with a problem to be solved than with a problem to be problematized anew. The answer becomes, by necessity, the next question.


Questions of Perception: Phenomenology of Architecture

S. Holl, J. Pallasmaa, A. Prez-Gmez William K. Stout Publishers, 2007 Rachel Alliston Pratt Institute

Questions of Perception: Phenomenology of Architecture presents three essays, each by different authors, one philosopher and two practicing architects, who argue for the sanctity of phenomenology in varying degrees. The book opens as the most fervent believer, Alberto Prez-Gmez, chronicles the origins and development of the phenomenological tradition, beginning with ancient Greece and concluding with the contemporary architecture of Steven Holl, another of the books authors. Following is Juhani Pallasmaas essay, which argues for the physical processing of architecture over theoretic historicity, and opines the loss of sensitivity in technologys handling of material. Lastly, Steven Holl expresses the least convinced of the analyses, confirming phenomenological effect but questioning its importance to architectural meaning. Certain themes, particularly duality, are allpervasive throughout the book; in the authors considerations of Being and Becoming, technological advancement and generative theory, and phenomenon versus intention, the question of complement or contradiction is never far from hand. In his essay, The Space of Architecture: Meaning as Presence and Representation, Alberto Prez-Gmez delineates an intellectual lineage from ancient Greece to present day, outlining the development and transgressions in thought that have come to form contemporary architectural theory. Proclaiming early Athens the cousin of contemporary formalism, he contextualizes the work of architects such as Pallasmaa 76

and Holl in terms of their theoretic heritage. Central to Prez-Gmezs discussion are two concepts. One is the Platonic chora and its development as idea through to the end of the twentieth century. The second is that of the architecturally theatrical. In both veins, the mythology/philosophy of ancient Greece is argued to have surprising parallels in the architectural practice and theory of Postmodernity. The historical path that relevant thought has tread through the intermediary periods is also considered, with special emphasis placed upon the importance of generative theory, or the philosopher as architectural engine. Throughout his essay, Prez-Gmez distinguishes between two realities: existences, which are intellectual and intangible, and objects, which are physical and thus comprehensible. The first is dubbed Being, the object of thought, and the second is Becoming, its physical object; both share the same form and idea but are experienced, or grasped, very differently. These terms first appeared in Platos Timaeus, in which the philosopher also presented the idea of chora, what Prez-Gmez describes as the receptacle and nurse of all Becoming and chance. Chora is both cosmic place and abstract space, the space of chaos. An invisible ground that exists independently of Being and Becoming, Plato argued that chora could and should act as generator of a pure, geometric architecture. He suggested that mathematical structure alone could ensure a work meaning, promoting what he called the order of the real. Prez-Gmez roundly rejects any such primacy of mathematics in architectural theory, arguing instead for the more emotionally cognitive. He thus looks to the dithyramb as one model for architecture. Literally the leaping, the dithyramb was an inspired dance practiced in Platos time. With an aim to conjure up life, it took on the form of dromena, physical performance such as dance or song. Mimesis, another tradition emanating from ancient Greece, was the expression of feelings through the bodys movement. Practitioners attempted to manifest experiencerather than to mimic it- through dance, music and rhythmic speech. Mimesis was the public acknowledgement of the bodys existence located somewhere between Being and Becoming. Appropriately, Daedalus is offered as the archetypal personification of the Western architect, and his labyrinth as the simultaneous embodiment of path and space. It is this architecture as petrified dance, 77

as choreography in a narrative form, that Prez-Gmez espouses. It is architecture as chora, the in-between, half-Being, half-Becoming. As the characterization of embodied existence, architecture should not attempt to be the bearer of meaning, because the meaning of the work lies in the fact that it exists. Architecture allows meaning to present itself. What it says is not independent of what it is. Its presence underlines that ours is a world of things, and in so doing transforms those things into objects. Architecture is the event of Becoming-intoBeing, demonstrating how the things become things, how the world becomes a world. It is due to this that architecture can be separated from other technological achievements. The question of an ethical employment of technology in architecture is an important one, and its responsibility is compared to those attached to global pollution and genetic engineering. He argues that architects must find a balance between the technological world and generative theories for their practice. The traditions of the artifact and the work of art, both of which are clearly valued, must be reconciled with the utilitarian, constructed world. Ironically, the architect must develop a language of technology in order to preserve architectures poetic discourse. Prez-Gmez insists that such dilemmas- technology and poetry, Being and Becoming, perception and logic- must be considered complementary, and not contradictory, in order for architecture to successfully identify a meaningful order for human life. But can one order be representative through its presence alone? Through the contemplation of past and future, it can be, he insists. Ethical postmodern action stems from historicity, and though it may consider itself a new beginning, it cannot claim to be unaffected by past development, whether recent or distant regardless. Juhani Pallasmaas essay argues for a more physiologically based phenomenology, and a multi-sensory approach to architecture. Notably, it is one upon which Aristotle also dwelt. Pallasmaa considers the way in which we perceive built environment through our own physicalitythrough our senses and through our bodys interactive movement. Focusing on the connection between our physical experience of a building through sound, scent, touch and sight, he describes a process which renders the viewer the central figure in his subsequent reactions. Like Prez-Gmez, Pallasmaa considers the continuous 78

improvements in technology on our architecture, but here elaborates on the detrimental effects they inevitably have on our senses readings. He believes that as matter exists in time, it is enriched by its experience and thus by its age. Natural materials (e.g. stone, brick, wood) do show wear and age, but materials of today, those more technologically demanding to manufacture such as sheets of glass, enameled metal and synthetic materials, do not. Likewise, the sound of an architecture is essential to the rapport between space and inhabitant. However, Pallasmaa laments that the contemporary has lost its echo. This idea of a private dialogue between an architectural work and its viewer extends to senses beyond hearing, including scent, particularly in its strong association with memory, and touch- our ability to sense the temperature of space and the density and texture of surfaces. Perhaps more important though, in terms of sight, to this essay is its alternative perspective on the mimesis to which Prez-Gmez referred. Pallasmaa suggests two different incarnations- that of the body and that of the gaze: whilst touch determines nearness and intimacy, the eye recognizes separation and distance. A sweeping gaze enables an unconscious mimesis. Never under the strict control of an architect, it generates an individual perception. Equally, there is the thrust of ones body through a work of architecture, on no one pre-determined path. That architecture is not formed by the frozen choreography of design, but by the bodys explorative dance. Pallasmaa here argues that an appropriate tectonic language must therefore be made up of verbs rather than nouns. Thus, a window should instead be understood as the act of looking in or out; similarly, a door frame does not exist but to enter. Moving through a space is unavoidably a visceral experience: the passionate liaison that Bachelard once described is enacted between body and house. Measurement of architecture is understood in terms of the bodys scale, and we sense structure through gravity. We are made aware of the verticality of the world and the depth of the earth. And through architecture, we are able to place ourselves within the cultural flow. Philosopher Melanie Kleins concept of projective identification may be applied to the way in which an architect internalizes his building. Through said building, the architect projects fragments of the Self to the inhabitant or viewer. Architecture embodies memory and is integrated 79

into our self-identity. A successful architecture fuses space-matter and time, making us the basic substance of being. To Pallasmaa this means that such an architectures dimensions become the ingredients of our very existence, if we identify ourselves with its space, place and moment. The book closes with an essay by the architect Steven Holl, where he quotes Goethes statement that one should not seek anything behind the phenomena; they are lessons themselves. Such is the like of post-criticality to which Holl seems warily to subscribe. Though he fully acknowledges the importance of phenomenon in architecture, he is adamant that architectural perception depends on the understanding of intention. Nevertheless, as is evidenced in his own projects, Holl makes unmistakable attempts to predict and to manipulate the future phenomenological effect that his work will have on its eventual viewers. He moves to mold perception through the use of sound, color and light, which he controls through his choice of materials. Still, he does not support the idea of any purely phenomenological design. German philosopher Franz Brentano wrote, one century prior, that physical phenomena engaged outer perception while mental phenomena engaged the inner. Under Holls argument that mental phenomena are inextricably rooted in intentionality, it presents a substantive duality, like those of the objective and the subjective, and of thought and feeling. Architecture is initially understood as a series of partial experiences, rather than a totality. He likens the experiential qualities of architecture to the empirical, and the generative concepts behind them to the rational. Solitude enables silent analysis. To be conscious of ones sole existence in a space in a single moment is the only circumstance in which one may be conscious of ones own perception. In order for architecture to transcend its built form, Holl writes that it is necessary to create an equivalent linguistic space, but then goes on to say that words cannot substitute for authentic physical and sensory experience. It is for two reasons that this second space is enviable and, indeed, important. The first is to preface architecture, to make clear the architects intention. The second is to enable the communication of the reactions and ideas of viewers. In both cases, the private architectural event is made public. 80

Holl also questions whether the advancement of technology augments our perceptual capabilities or stunts them, and wonders if we are able to truly experience the phenomena of a world of things if we are born into it. He believes that mass media distracts us from our experiential aims and exhausts us before we can achieve them making us passive receivers of vacuous messages when instead we would do better to focus on the tangibly present. Holl thus calls for an activism of consciousness. The remedy to anxiety caused by the fragmentation of time through media saturation might well be architecture as, in architectural space, time is distended. The Bergsonian dure reel stands in relation to architectures space, just as its dimensions are measured in relation to human scale. Mallarms argument that the force of the negative is one of architectures greatest powers, feeds Holls inclination towards the flattening of foreground, middle ground and background. In order to consider the urban implications of this, Holl suggests the computer as a representational tool. Though he does not perhaps agree with the soundness of a phenomenological definition of a building, he acknowledges the worth of studying the phenomenology of cities. The computer enables multiple perspectives and so an understanding of the physical context of an architectural object in terms of voids, streets, and other solids. He concedes that in digital design, qualities of material are lacking, and justice is not done to the phenomena of sound, color and light. Ultimately though, he defends that which allows a fuller enmeshed experience. Prez-Gmez embraces duality and spurns totality, arguably the role of anyone operating in the realm of philosophy, but champions equally the technological. Pallasmaa jettisons the all-important architectural object, his own, in favor of the reaction of his subjects to it, delegating architecture as physical entity to the second tier in promoting architecture as the art of mediation and reconciliation. Holl takes up the importance of the extra-architectural idea, the concept interwoven throughout the different parts of a single project, not pertaining to the theory behind the phenomena he employs for effect but rather to the heuristic, symbolic or metaphoric. The intermittent overlappings and discordances between the writings of the theorist and the architects are interesting, but what 81

prove most compelling in the reading are the less obvious acceptances and denials inherent to the Phenomenological arguments. This book is most impressive for the comparison that it makes easily accessible between three disparate methods of approaching the interpretation of the historical model, and the balancing of antithetical poles.


Atlas of Novel Tectonics

Reiser + Umemoto Princeton Architectural Press, 2006 Nicholas Hollot, University of Pennsylvania

Atlas, while not as exhaustive as the word might imply, provides a series of interlocking concepts and models for architectural design. It proposes that architecture need not rely on historical references, but is capable of producing its own history. In contrast with Postmodern buildings, these are never reducible to the fleeting interpretations, or, for that matter, practices, that are projected onto them.1 The necessity for over-codification and semantic criteria are viewed as a failure of architecture to present its own honest qualities. Meaning within this new architecture does not come from the outside in terms of context or theory, but from within the behavior and effects of the material assemblies of the buildings themselves. Working strictly with objective factors, we may continue to have hallucinations of meaning, but they no longer bother us.2 Structure and ornament are no longer separate design ideas, but spring from the same seed as byproducts of a single systemic logic. Drawing from the materialist philosophies of Manuel DeLanda, Atlas proposes that design space can be seen as comprised of gradient fields from which specific geometries may emerge (like contours on a topographical map) rather than projecting unrelated geometries into the field as material containers. The three central chapters of the book: Geometry, Matter, and Operating, explore these ideas in greater depth. Take the example of a skateboard ramp. As a form it is both highly specific yet general and open to use.3 It can only operate at

scales that are directly connected to the height and weight of the human body, though the human body is never represented or symbolized within its design. It merely provides affordances for its use. Matter is connected as well: a small ramp might be cast in concrete while a larger one must be fabricated of discrete steel or wood members upon which a surface is draped. An entire skateboard park thus provides both a repetition of form (the ramp) and variations in size, orientation, and materials in multiple combinations, directly correlating to performance (tricks). The density of the park is tied to both its geographical size and the types of tricks able to be performed, a symbiotic relationship between material and use. The questions can then be posed: how do performance and architectural design modulate one another, and what new tricks can be produced between the two? Fortunately, modern computing and fabrication technologies (sadly not explored within this book) have greatly expanded the range of design flexibilities. Classic Modernist architecture was limited to standardized units deployed within a uniform or hierarchical field in order to maintain cost control and ease of construction. It is now possible; however, that units are repeated within a non-uniform field, and the unit itself may be non-uniform: non-repetitive tiling, fractal geometries, branching systems, and unstructured grids are among the new geometries available for use.4 Such logics can be seen as being transmaterial, i.e. able to accept multiple or differentiating material systems, and thus highly adaptable. Critical thresholds define where scale and material become wed to geometry.5 Through such differentiation architecture may approach new levels of richness and complexity. Atlas documents a series of projects, drawn from the work of Reiser + Umemoto, that display how such concepts might play out architecturally. The strongest excerpts draw from the firms experiences interfacing with other disciplines such as engineering as projects pass from conception to reality. Unfortunately, none are shown as reaching a final state of completion, the ultimate test of any work. The seeds have been planted, but in what manner will they grow?


1. Reiser, Jesse & Umemoto, Nanako, Atlas of Novel Tectonics (Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006) p. 19 2. ibid, p. 180 3. ibid, p. 85 4. ibid, p. 132 5. ibid, p. 68


K. Michael Hays: On the Post-critical

Izabel I.S. Gass Rice University

GASS: That the inaugural issue of our student journal on architectural theory must ground its own purpose by first defining what constitutes theory speaks to the winds of change and ambiguity that are sweeping the contemporary philosophical landscape in architecture. Post-Criticality has, in the last five or so years, become a common term within architecture for a philosophical project that rejects the legacies of disciplinary autonomy and economic resistance handed down from the 1970s, instead seeking an architecture that adapts to its socio-economic conditions, complies with capitalist logic (Michael Speaks), and produces moods and effects rather than formalist rigor (Robert E. Somol and Sarah Whiting, as well as Sylvia Lavin). What do you make of the Post-Critical project, and what does it signify for the history of ideas in architecture? HAYS: As soon as one recognizes that to think at all requires a mediumbe that language or religious ritual, or architectureone is already doing theory. As soon as one thinks about the boundaries and limits of a discipline or a practice, or about the ideologies necessary to engage that discipline or practice, one is thinking critically. So much of the anti-theory, post-criticality argument should be recognized as rhetorical flourish. No problem. Nothing against rhetorical flourishes. Moreover, critical theory is distinctly designed in such a way that it must constantly update itself. In other words, the practice of critical theory must continually think its own historicity as part of the very work which it purports. In contrast, thus far many aftertheory positions have ignored their own historical determinations. Alternatively, being post-critical in the sense of more-than-critical would mean working through and exceeding the critical, calling into 86

question the very grounds of the criticalits conditions and contexts, its histories and forms of authority. The insistence on the historical contingency of any position is an important negative function of theory. On this, I think the projective intention wants to be cutting edge but it does not go far enough. In particular, the abandonment of the categories of ideology and resistance does nothing so much as to insure the perpetuation of an ideology that does not know itself as such. There has to be a provisional ground of ideology from which to project. From a certain perspective, the projective intention represents just the latest iconoclastic upsurge of the very neo-avant-garde impulse it wishes to squash, with its confounding of old hierarchies and categories, taboos and imperatives, its debunking of intellectualism and elitism in favor of the smooth, slick, and cool. Except that, unlike earlier avant-gardes, it is also consumerist and complicit in its abandonment of critique and commitment; it is also managerial and instrumentalist in its blank and reified technologism. This contradiction necessarily exists, I believe, because of an ambiguity in the economic and cultural structures of our time. I will give just a quick example. Though the rejection of theory was well underway before 9/11, that and subsequent related eventsthe dire straights we find ourselves in perhaps especially in the United Stateshave made it much easier to denounce theory as slow and cumbersome, an oldfashion ornament to real-time technocracy. Moreover, it is difficult to continue to preach resistance when a critical social counterimaginary seems absolutely unavailable, and when we seem to have no vocabulary to distinguish between resistance and conformity. In some ways the projective intention is born out of such mauvais foi. From my perspective, its single biggest shortcoming is its lack of a theoretical mechanism for working through its own historicity and its own determination by the larger social ground. GASS: In the editorial mission statement of the inaugural issue of Assemblage, architectural theory was characterized as oppositional knowledgeknowledge that continually questions received ideas, 87

that challenges entrenched institutions and values, that strays from possible terrain. It seems that current architectural discourse seeks to jettison the critical, or the oppositional, with the assumption that criticism is destructive, or at least unproductive. Examples of this anticriticality would include Somol/Whitings preference for the cool (operative compliance) over the hot (analytic resistance); Michael Speakss disdain for anti-capitalist rhetoric; or John Rajchmans Constructions, which is implicitly a projective, Deleuzian rebuff to Derridean Deconstruction. In the face of all this, critical theory is called upon to answer a question: what is the continuing value and productive potential of criticality, or oppositional knowledge? HAYS: Critical thinkingor theoretical negativityis not just handwringing and nay-saying; it is just ignorant to think that. Critical thinking is thinking to a higher power; it is a slow step back from actual conditions to future possibilities. This productive power of negativity is well rendered by Adorno and Horkheimers famous comment, Not Italy is offered, but evidence that it exists. The post-critical critics want to simply offer architecture, unmediated. I am rather interested in all the complex conditions of its existence and its effects. Projective vocations are inseparable from negative practices; both are part of the critical project. The presumably new projective intentionwhich I refer to as an intention because I do not believe it is yet a project - as proposed by academic colleagues such as Stan Allen, Robert Somol, Sarah Whiting, and Michael Speaks, should not be pitted against the critical, because the critical has always been projective. What seems to be at issue, rather, is what is perceived as a purely formal approach to architecture versus an alternative that pays attention to issues such as mood and sensibility. This one versus the other stance in itself constitutes a false problem, for the critical was never about form only. Rather, what the neo-avant-garde recognized was this: Form is one side of architecture; the other side is the effects produced. One side is a structure; the other side is that which is structured, but its content is not formless or undifferentiated. The neo-avant-garde recognized that we had to move beyond form as one problem and its effects as another to the abstract machine from which both are unfolded. 88

GASS: That said, what is the continuing significance of the 1970s neoavant-garde, or of critical architecture, today? HAYS: I believe that the moment of the neo-avant-gardeby which I mean the early works of Hejduk, Eisenman, Tschumi, and others was the last moment when architecture had philosophical aspirations. It would seem important to try to figure out why architecture since has taken such an empiricist, realist turn. But more important, we should think through the implications of philosophical aspirations for present practice. For example, it allows us to account for the volatilization of the object in contemporary practice. Architecture should no longer be understood as an object but rather as a condition and construction. Architecture exists not as a practice of object making or even as a process of design in a conventional sense, but as a frame for thinking specific artistic problems such as authorship and production, the abstract calculations endemic to contemporary space versus the sensuous particularity of spatial experience, and sociological representation versus individual expression. The implication is that architecture is a particular kind of activity but also a particular frame of mindan impulse, a conscious decision to think in this way rather than some other. The only model we have so far of interpreting the material of the neo-avant-garde is a linguists-based or analytical model. What I want to suggest is that we rewrite the analytic model of architecture into something that I have called architecture desire, or in a zone that we might call the architectural Imaginary and Symbolic, on a Lacanian model. An architecture modeled on desire marks the sharp edge of intellectual passion that opens up what you cant control; it welcomes the risk of formlessness, the unpredictable consequences of ideas. That is what critical theory does too, at least when it is done well. It is analogic thinking, not digital thinking. Truisms are cut into, things come undone, and provisional generalizations make new contexts for knowledge. Maybe in considering again the neo-avant-garde, we might stumble upon a genuinely new architecture. 89

Regarding the importance of the 1970s, I find it compelling that two of the periods most important commentators take dialectically related positions on the architecture of the time. With a certain leftwing melancholy, Manfredo Tafuri sees architecture as a very precise and efficient ideological agent of capitalist planification and the unwitting victim of capitalisms historical closure. What he called the return to language was proof of its inability to do anything more than reproduce in architectural codes the very structure of late capitalist society. The more conservative Colin Rowe saw in the same architecture the inevitable uncoupling of the highly developed formal techniques of Cubism and Purism from the socialist ambitions of architecture between the wars. Its just the flip-side of Tafuri. Both see a socially ineffective formalism, but with different valences. None of the post-critical critics have really gone beyond this model. GASS: What can contemporary discourse learn from this? HAYS: We need to develop a more truly dialectical approach. The interpretations of Tafuri and Rowe encode the premise that the neoavant-garde is symbolic of the torsions, contradictions, and closures of a certain historical and social moment; for this, we recognize that their interpretations are important. What is not sufficiently recognized by this received view, however, is the more dialectical fact that the architecture of the neo-avant-garde has already internalized the situation with which the critics intend to confront itthat is to say, architecture has already incorporated the annulment of its own social need and consequently recoded the object as the symbolic realization of just that situation. The neo-avant-garde introjections of loss and absence means not that the object is empty or lacking or freed of contact with the real, as Tafuri has it, but rather that the object renders its pathological content directly; the object is the very form in which a certain lack assumes existence, the form necessary to imagine a radical lack in the real itself. This second-level negativity, by the way, is also why we continue to think of this as a critical architecture. It seems to me that, while architecture in our own times has renounced 90

the search for what makes architecture different from other cultural representational domains and has looked instead for how architecture can be more like the dominant consumer-based practices (a process I have discussed elsewhere as ideological smoothing), the question of representation and ideology is still what we scholars have to think about. I mean this in Althusserean terms: architecture as an imaginary solution to real contradictions in social life; architecture as a socially symbolic domain and activity. And if current architecture expects to escape the ideological closures as analyzed by Tafuri, then it has to continue the search for its own differences and singularities, not just for identities and sameness. GASS: Can you expand on your idea of an architecture modeled on desire? HAYS: I have started to develop an alternative model of the critical practices of the 1970s that would take both sides into accounta model of architectural desire. Through desire, architecture is rendered eccentric to itself. And there are moments in the neo-avant-garde when an architectural experience itself produces that conception of eccentricitymoments of becoming, affects, events. These events are nonrepresentational modes of thought, moments when a sensation just barely precedes a perception and we glimpse very basic, primitive architectural ideas. Event is particularly operative in the work of Hejduk and Tschumi (the term event-space belongs to Tschumi); but many architects find ways to dislocate architectural experience, opening it up to the fact that all perception is partial and ideological. Critical is the label normally used for this work in recognition of this characteristic. But the concept of desire more adequately signals the corollary attempt to escape the ideological closures of the situation through the portals of the libidinal and the collective, whereas critical has come to imply a perhaps too cerebral asceticism of specialized elites. A more full account of architecture desire as a kind of energy field or, indeed, the Real of constantly connecting, unconnecting, and reconnecting architectural quanta, could make an important contribution to our understanding of contemporary architecture practice. 91


Contributing Faculty Voices and Assistance: The editors of Manifold would like to thank Christopher Hight at Rice University for his initial assistance and encouragement in our conceiving this project. (Chris, we were truly lost without you.) We would also like to thank Michael Hays for his generous contribution and hope to see his voice represented time and again in issues to come.


Izabel Gass, Editor-in-Chief

Izabel Gass is a student of Architecture and Art History specializing in Postwar theory and criticism. She approaches her research as an interdisciplinary study of the impact of post-1945 epistemological and technological advances on the formation of the arts, architecture, and visual perception. Gass has pursued diverse independent research projects including a comparative literature study, Notes on the Zero: Visual Perception in Postwar Literature (advised by Sanford Kwinter), canonical theoretical projects such as, Functional Irresolution: Jacques Derrida and Peter Eisenman (advised by Christopher Hight) and ...: Constituting Authorship through Elliptical Practices in Conceptual Art (advised by Nana Last), and is entering the third year of her ongoing research project, The Death of the Gaze: Perceptual Agency after Metaphysics, also currently under the advisement of Nana Last.

Sanford Kwinter, Faculty

Sanford Kwinter teaches the history and theory of form at the Rice School of Design. He is author of Architectures of Time and Far From Equilibrium: Essays on Technology and Design Culture and is founding editor of ZONE and Zone Books.

Nana Last, Faculty

Nana Last is Assistant Professor at Rice University in the School of Architecture where she teaches graduate courses in architecture theory and design. She received a Ph.D. in Architecture and Art: History, Theory and Criticism from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has published work in journals including: Any, Assemblage, Harvard Design Magazine, Space, Thresholds, Praxis and Art Journal. Her work has also been included in a number of anthologies including Theory in Contemporary Art since 1985. Her book Images of Entanglement: Wittgenstein, Architecture and Philosophy is forthcoming from Fordham University Press.

Etien Santiago

Architecture student Etien Santiagos design work investigates how non-architectural power structures and information networks influence and legitimate formal architectural production. Etien is currently completing his year-long preceptorship at Renzo Piano Building Workshop.

Joseph Lim

As a student of Postwar art and architectural theory and criticism, Joseph focused the bulk of his research on identity politics, specically the tripartite intersection of individual subjectivity, group identity, and cultural production.

Nicholas Risteen

Nicholas Risteen recently completed his masters thesis on mass tourism in Cuba titled Havana (After)Life: Touring the Entropics, advised by Albert Pope. Before design school at Rice, Nicholas studied architectural history and comparative literature at Brown University. After working at SOM and Field Operations, he plans to pursue design and research interests in New York.