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Between Extremism and White Noise: Constructing a New Real in Architecture

The most influential theories of architecture of the past three decades owed their success to their
ability to subsume threatening dichotomies in the name of a single disciplinary idea such as
critical architecture,1 or projective architecture2however, a credible theory with the same
unifying power is unimaginable today. As the discourse of the field oscillates between extreme
versions of autonomy and contingency that are increasingly far apart, incompatible, and
radicalized and as innumerable hybrid positions proliferate between those extremes, the
architectural object is at the same time atomized and insulated.
Far from operating as a discipline, architecture right now is more akin to a myriad of
bubbles or genres each of which represents a discrete subjectivity with regional and
exclusive concerns resisting global theorization. As Michael Meredith recently put it, the field
of architecture has become a landscape of archipelagos of smaller and smaller groups, mediums,
histories, etc.3 Instead of collaborating toward a unified discourse, each of these groups uses its
internal jargon to deny the relevance of other groups in order to sustain its existence. Reduced to
tendency, theory becomes a mere marketing instrument to justify the regional interests of
increasingly idiosyncratic milieus.
But if autonomy has turned to caricatured, genre-specific renditions of obsolete avatars
posing as disciplinary essence and if contingency is now synonymous with the complete
dissolution of discourse into something like architectural white noise, what alternative postures
are available in between? Can we avoid both fanaticism and infinite distraction while at the same
time conceive some form of architectural theory, and create some common ground to bridge
these widening gaps? Can we produce architectural meaning at all from this standpoint? And is
reverting to irony, once again, the only available option? These are some of the questions this
paper will set out to ask.
While acknowledging the impossibility of a fully non-ironic stance this paper will
nonetheless question the regained centrality of this trope in recent architectural discourse and
advocate an alternative realist position. This realism, which is not to be understood as magical4
or even speculative,5 is more psychological than philosophical and starts from the pragmatic
acceptance (as opposed the ironic dismissal) of the current situation. The brand of realism
advocated by this paper is much more concerned with teasing out, for instance, an architectural
equivalent of Thomas Demands construction of the authentic6 than engaging either the
dreamy narratives of Borges or the kitbashing inspired by the recent dalliance of architecture
with Object Oriented Philosophy.

See Hays, K. Michael (1984), Critical Architecture: Between Culture and Form, Perspecta, Vol. 21, pp. 15-29.
See Somol, Robert & Whiting, Sarah (2002), Notes Around the Doppler Effect and Other Methods of
Modernism, Perspecta, Vol. 33, pp. 72-77
3
Meredith, Michael (2015), Formula No. 5B, Project, Issue 4, p.4-8.
4
Magical Realism refers to the work and ideas of Jorge Luis Borges.
5
Speculative Realism refers to a branch of philosophy involving authors such as Graham Harman, Quentin
Meillassoux, or Ian Bogost.
6
Demand explains this concept in various interviews, one of which is available at the following web address:
http://channel.louisiana.dk/video/thomas-demand-constructing-authentic
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