I mean literally carrying it around — I tend to pick it up two or three times a year to dip into. I often take it on holidays or on long train rides. For those of you who know the book you may not think much of my holidays now. It is small — both in dimension and total pages — and I always have the impression that I will read it all the way through and understand it all.
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I mean literally carrying it around — I tend to pick it up two or three times a year to dip into. I often take it on holidays or on long train rides. For those of you who know the book you may not think much of my holidays now. It is small — both in dimension and total pages — and I always have the impression that I will read it all the way through and understand it all. I fail each time. But that is the beauty of this little book.
This is a book that still has scholars and theorists scratching their heads. So it is worth warning you that you need a fair bit of knowledge of architectural history to make sense of this book. The reason for this is not that it written in philosophical or theoretical speak but because it is about the history of architecture over the last years. More than that, it is a challenge to that history is generally written.
It is, as such, a political critique, and a harsh one at that. When you start to understand this history, and specifically the ineffectiveness of avant-garde approaches, you are not left with much hope. This critique has been important to me because I have argued that architecture is de facto a utopian act.
That is, to design is to project into the future. You always build with the intention of resolving something or bettering a situation. I do not necessarily disagree with this idea. It is important to be aware of what is actually achievable rather than be under any romantic illusion that architecture can transform or even critique society, political or economic reality. The nuts and bolts of his work — steel frame construction, plasterboard on metal studs, suspended ceilings, window and doors details, and such — are exactly the same as the most conservative and corporate work.
The only thing that differentiated an Eisenman building from one by SOM was its outward appearance. Having practiced in the US I understood very well the limitations on architecture imposed by the way it was financed, by local regulations, health and safety laws and zoning guidelines. It was this realisation, first experienced in practice, which got me started asking questions and eventually led me to Tafuri and others.
Ask yourself if you ever had cause in your education to discuss the relationship between real estate and architecture. Were you ever asked to qualify if the land your project was on was privately owned or publicly held? And if so, did your tutors discuss how that would affect the possibilities of what you could design?
Before the capitalist transformation in how land is managed bought, sold and owned as a commodity the relationship between these two was intimate. The treatment of the urban territory as commodity means that larger structural relationships become a hindrance to the exploitation of individual plots to their maximum. What architecture loses its connection and ability to form and contribute to the actual functioning structure of the city each act of building becomes an isolated incident and an individual expression.
Hence, you get a building as sophisticated as OMA Seattle Public Library — in terms of its internal programming and spatial organisation — sitting and expressing itself as a completely alienated object in the cityscape.
This is not to say that OMA could not have tried to mediate their building to its surroundings the streetscape, its pattern, the surrounding buildings and their character.
However, any attempt would be nothing more than nostalgia and doomed to fail. Given that option, OMA will never choose the nostalgic option, and in a way they have done what is most honest. Does that make it alright? Does it make the specific resolution a good one? That is, we are now in the midst of an economic situation that Tafuri could not have foreseen, at least not in its specific manifestations.
Tafuri is writing about the way that capitalist development up to the early s affects architectural production. It still made sense in the s, s.
Where ever we stand today, it is on the shoulders of what has come before. That said, parts of the book seem like they could have been written yesterday.
During my first readings in the early s I thought about how the work of Peter Eisenman, Richard Meier, Aldo Rossi, and others fit the pattern so perfectly. Grim reading indeed. Yet I believe in the concept of utopia and the idea of projective architecture see my entry on Mondrian when it appears.
My view is that the conceptual framework does not describe how everything works at every level, hence my interest in the everyday see my entries on Lefebvre and de Certeau when they appear. The book is a kind of inoculation against naivety. I believe that we should all be aware of the larger conceptual frameworks within which we exist — like them or not.
Tafuri did not believe that architecture had the ability to be revolutionary any longer but he did allow that individuals still had the potential. Notes: I re-read chapters and skimmed the whole book looking at underlined passages for useful quotes and nuggets I could put into this entry. However, the book and even its parts, indeed individual sentences, resist easy summary.
Little tidbits seemed to require extensive discussions and I thought that would make things tedious. So as always, if this interests you, read it for yourself and see how you get on. In any case, this was a difficult book to discuss, but an essential one.
I will probably refine and edit this entry from time to time — probably each time I pick it up and find that I see something different in it, yet again. Related This entry was posted in Books , Readings and tagged city , history , ideology , marx , politics , theory. Bookmark the permalink. Post navigation.
Manfredo Tafuri (1935-1994)