Realism

Architecture since the Second World War has come to be strongly associated with inhumanity, desolation and devastation. The mere mention of post-war urban design invokes images of asphalt deserts and mean streets, nightmares of bureaucratic and technocratic know-how, 'anomic', 'atopic' graveyards of urbanity. Although these apocalyptic generalizations are not wholly accurate, they capture the way many architects- and non-architects-of the post-1968 generation feel about post-war planning and construction in European cities, a devastation often judged worse than the war itself.

It was this devastation that the post-'68 generation of architects tried to arrest, by giving power to the users to decide their own architectural fate, by recourse to architectural tradition, or through the attempt to create an architecture of community. By the mid-1980s, however, none of these efforts seemed to be fulfilling their promise. Even worse, they had, occasionally, been used as fronts, alibis behind which technocratically and bureaucratically minded business was transacted as usual. The cult of the political as much as the cult of the cultural and the precious, the cult of fabulism as much as that of beautification, the cult of 'place', but also the cult of 'chaos', often seemed ineffectual, particularly in areas of urban obsolescence. It was in this context that an architecture of new vitality began to appear in the mid-1980s. It coincided with a number of projects of considerable scale emerging all over Europe after a period of relative economic recovery. They were located in a specific class of sites which suddenly became attractive because of their low land value and privileged location. These were mostly forgotten pockets of urban areas that had previously been occupied by industrial, transportation, distribution or institutional facilities of the pre-First-World-War industrial era. They were factories, railway stations, slaughterhouses for the mass food market, warehouses, control complexes, 'machines to govern', to use Foucault's expression, and occasionally military structures. Technological and socio-economic developments, combined with the ageing of the structures, had made such facilities obsolete. Similarly, many parts of inner cities, 'bombed out' through so-called urban renewal schemes of the post-war years, were also obsolete. Their obsolescence and their subsequent piecemeal cannibalization by opportunistic commercial developments had led to anomic, atopic, irredeemable no-man's-lands, what Lewis Mumford called the 'anti-city'. It seemed impossible that any planning intervention or architectural ordering could give such areas any aesthetic appearance in the traditional sense, any character of 'place'.

The character of these sites was negative: hardness of materials, harshness of texture, roughness of shape, industrial colour, fragmentation of space. The realist architects made a world which represented the very negative, 'dirty' attributes of these sites. Indeed, they made them appear even more intense in projects such as Rem Koolhaas's Netherlands Dance Theatre (The Hague, 1984-87, pp. 182-85), Myrto Vitart's ONYX Cultural Centre (Saint Herblain, 1987-88, pp. 214-17), Jean Nouvel's Némausus (Nîmes, 1986-87, pp. 178-81), Matthias Sauerbruch and Elias Zenghelis's Apartment House at Checkpoint Charlie (Berlin, 1983-90, pp. 236-37), Héctor Fernandez and Vetges tu i Mediterrània's Production Centre for Valencian Television (Valencia, 1986-89, pp. 234-35), Miralles and

Pinos's La Pista at Hostalets (1987-91, pp. 260-63), Gilles Bouchez's social housing on the Boulevard Vincent Auriol (Paris, 1987-90, pp. 242-43). They implied that there was actually something intriguing in these negative qualities.

The selective representation in a project of characteristics drawn from the context of its site, even if these characteristics are considered 'negative' or 'lowly', has strong affinities, if not an underlying continuity, with the 'angry-young-man' brutalist architecture of the 1950s, such as James Stirling's Preston Infill working-class housing project (England, 1957-59) and with later buildings such as Alejandro de la Sota's masterpiece, theColegio Maravillas (Madrid, 1961), not to mention Venturi and Scott Brown's pop realism of the late 1960s and early 1970s. There are further parallels with the 'adhocism' of the early 1970s, a term used by Charles Jencks and Nathan Silver with reference to architects working in a manner recalling the process of waste reclamation.26

But perhaps more than any other cultural tendency, these new architectural works bear similarities with a movement in American literature which in an issue of Granta magazine, its editor Bill Buford called the 'dirty realist' school of writing.27 Like their architectural counterparts, this generation of writers, disenchanted with their seniors' 'post-modern', 'deconstructionist' stance, set out to take a hard, critical look at everyday life in a world cluttered by the oppressive details of modern consumerism'.28 In a mood reminiscent of many of the post-war neo-realist writings and films, this fiction, 'informed by a discomforting and sometimes elusive irony', is 'so spare in manner that it takes some time before one realizes how completely a whole culture and a whole moral condition are being represented'.

What was the meaning of this return to realism in architecture? Was it created by an attraction to the negative qualities of hardness, harshness, roughness and incompleteness? Such an attraction can be found as early as the Renaissance in the notion of non-finito, and then later in that of the sublime, a concept that was perhaps associated with the beginnings of the crisis of confidence in the possibility of a perfect world of urbanity. Or was it because, to quote Kant's famous passage from Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime (1764), this 'portrayal of the infernal kingdom arousefs] enjoyment, but with horror'?29

To some architects, such as Hans Kollhoff, the answer is the latter. In his interview with film director Wim Wenders,30 he appears to agree with Wenders, who - metaphorically, of course - calls Berlin 'a murderous city... but that's the way a city should be'. The 'excitement is really only created at the cracks, where suddenly everything goes wrong'. 'Where it all perfectly fits together, there is nothing left,' Wenders observes.

It seems, however, that a different reading can be made of the intensification of 'dirty real' characteristics in these new buildings. Once again, one can recognize in their architecture the technique of defamiliarization. But this use of strangemaking' is uniquely strange. It does not resemble defamiliarization as applied by critical regionalism or any of the other movements of the past twenty-five years. Instead of making the world appear unfamiliar by inserting within it highly contrasting elements, pricking consciousness by confronting geometries, as Rafael Moneo did in his Museo Nacional de Arte Romano (Merida, 1980-86, pp. 148-51), by confronting different spatial schemata as did Coop Himmelblau in Rooftop Remodelling (Vienna, 1983-89, pp. 220-23), or by confronting the rectangular with the biomorphic internal court in Cruz and Ortiz's housing block on Dona Maria Coronel Street (Seville, 1974-76, pp. 82-83), realists make strange the characteristics of an area by carrying them over into the building and intensifying them in a mirror-like way. They hold up a convex mirror whose lens emphasizes rather than covers up reality, or, to use the expression of Schklovsky writing about Tolstoy, they 'make the stone stony'. Thus, architecture seems once more, as in the 19th century, to be responding to what the art historian Linda Nochlin referred to as 'the call for truth, honesty and sincerity'.31 These concepts, however, have lost their 19th-century foundation on claims of absolute objectivity. What realist architecture is doing is responding, again, to the demand for 'contemporaneity', to be 'of one's own time'. This does not necessarily imply only the use of industrial products, the colours, materials and images of industrially produced desolation. The conflicts of our time go much deeper. On the cognitive and on the moral level, this deeper realistic portrayal of the world recognizes and tries to represent what occurs when ideas about well-formedness' and 'worldmaking' lead to not one but multiple possible worlds. Thus, the representation of this reality might employ Corinthian motifs together with plain commercial brick walls as the context requires, as Venturi's multi-faceted Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in London demonstrates (1986-91, pp. 272-75). The building as a composition of incommensurable parts is not an endorsement of post-war urban disintegration, of the destruction of the sense of place or of belonging; it is rather a means of questioning them and an argument, if not always a means, for overcoming them.

The eighth tendency

Building in Europe since 1968, like building in many parts of the world, has witnessed an explosion of variety and individuality. Perhaps never before in history have so many alternative approaches to architecture been proposed and so quickly implemented simultaneously. There has been a plethora of morphologies, a cornucopia of typologies. For an era of proliferation of the technological means of production of buildings, for an epoch of triumph for the rights of the individual and freedom of expression, this should come as no surprise. The question still remains as to what, and how successfully, has been achieved in this architecture in the face of the new constraints that confront all people in their everyday lives in Europe today.

Undoubtedly architecture as a form of cognition has reached an extreme degree of sophistication: the buildings of the last two decades all over Europe implement intricate models of space organization in complex problem solving. They carry meanings, make statements about the world and about themselves in an unprecedentedly rich fashion. As we have seen, the endowment of memory and the competence of invention, apparently antagonistic, have reinforced each other and thus have soared in contemporary architecture. Parallel to this development runs the growing sophistication in discussing architecture as a cultural expression, as one can conclude from the essays which follow by Fritz Neumeyer and Jean-Louis Cohen, as well as from the architectural projects themselves which we have analysed.

On the other hand, what limits these dynamic tendencies of the last two decades, seven of which we have identified here, is their propensity to bypass existing questions in their anxious effort to respond to fresh ones. Moreover, in several instances, the new questions have not always measured up, in terms of challenge, to those left unanswered, a point that both Peter Rice and Lucius Burckhardt make in their contributions on the current situation with regard to technology and ecology respectively.

Certainly, this is how history has always worked: most conflicts are never resolved; they are simply transcended. Yet the conflict between individuality and efficiency that populism addressed, between tradition and change that the rappel a I'ordre struggled with, between true and apparent functionality that neo-rigorism confronted, between community and globality that critical regionalism tried to overcome, and between coherence and completeness that adherents of chaos in architecture and urbanism were engaged in, has proved particularly tenacious. It would seem that the 'end of history' is still a long way off in architecture. Thus the concern with reality by a younger generation of architects indicates the need to use the successful experiments of the last twenty years, but it also indicates the need to move beyond exclusive, insular, fragmented tendencies towards a more inclusive, coherent, global one. This is not to advocate a return to bygone totalistic simplicities in a world so clearly made up of a multiplicity of human beliefs, a world in which the integrity of each should be respected, in which the imperative of accepting the 'Other' - an imperative embodied in Daniel Libeskind's deeply moving design for the Department Jewish Museum in Berlin (1989-, pp. 290-93) - should be followed. It is rather to argue for a new tendency which recognizes the question of morality as central to an architecture which will have to grow rationally in a world made up of multiple worlds.

Notes

1. We are referring to Jean Jacques Rousseau's Les rêveries d'un promeneur solitaire (1776-78), so influential in creating a link between the new aesthetics of freedom associated with the pic turesque landscape and criticism of the Ancien Régime, and also to the Mémoire sur les hôpitaux by the philosopher Nicolas Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet (written 1786, unpublished until 1977). This was the first instance of an argument for participation of the users grouped in districts and of a multi-disciplinary team of experts in architectural design. Both texts are contained in our documentary history of architecture from 1125-1810, Origins of Modern Architecture (Nijmegen, 1990, in Dutch).

2. Le Carré Bleu was founded in 1958 by André Schimmerling. It published texts of members of Team X and its disciples and members of the Union International des Architectes. Among its collaborators were Giancarlo De Carlo, Shad-rach Woods. Alison and Peter Smithson, Arthur Glickson. A retrospective issue of the magazine was published in June 1989. It is still being published.

3. Founded in 1967 by Philippe Boudon, Alain Sarfati and Bernard Hamburger, among others. See our bibliography on Sarfati's housing project in Savigny-le-Temple (1982-86) for further reading.

4. See in particular Henri Lefebvre, Everyday Life in the Modern World, New York, 1971 (first published in French, 1968).

5. Particularly as influenced by the writings of the Frankfurt School, especially such works as Theodor Adorno's Against Epistemology, Cambridge, MA, 1982 (first published in German, 1952).

6. Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Venice, 1499.

7. Henri Lefebvre. op. cit.

8. See L. Lefaivre and A. Tzonis, In the Name of the People, the Populist Movement in Architecture', Forum, 1975, no. 3, for further reading on the history of the populist movement.

9. Vincent Scully, 'Postscript: Ideology in Form', in A. Rossi's A Scientific Autobiography; Cambridge, MA, 1984.

10. Gyorgy Lukäcs, The Historical Novel, 1962 (first published 1955); also his Studies in European Realism, 1950 (first published 1947).

11. See our 'The narcissistic phase in architecture', Harvard Architectural Review, vol. 1. Spring 1980, pp. 52-61.

12. The doctrines of Carlo Lodoli, who never published. were set down by his disciples in Count Francesco Algarotti's Saggio (1756), Francesco Milizia's Principi di Architettura Civile (1781) and Andrea Memmo's Elementi di Architettura Lodoliana (1786).

13. Galileo Galilei, Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences, New York, 1914 (first published in Leiden, 1638).

14. Servant' and 'served' are terms coined by Louis Kahn.

15. Hilton Kramer, The Age of the Avant-Garde, New York, 1973, pp. 244-46.

16. Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, New York, 1966.

17. See A. Tzonis, L. Lefaivre and A. Alofsin's 'Die Frage des Regionalismus* in Für eine andere Architektur (M. Andritzky, L. Burckhardt and 0. Hoffman, eds, Frankfurt, 1981); and 'The grid and the pathway' in Architecture in Greece, no. 5, 1981; and 'El regionalismo critico en la arquitectura espafiola actual' in A&V, no. 3, 1985, pp. 4-19. Kenneth Frampton has written perceptively about the movement in many of his articles and in Modern Architecture, a Critical History (London, 1985, 2nd ed.). See also S. Amourgis (ed.), Critical Regionalism, The

Pomona Meeting Proceedings, Pomona. CSP University, 1991.

18. See our Critical Regionalism' in S. Amourgis, op. cit., for further reading on the historical origins of regionalism in architecture.

19. Victor Schklovsky, 'Art as Technique', in Lee T. Lemon and M. Reiss, Russian Formalists, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1965.

21. James Gleick, Chaos, Making a New Science, New York, 1987.

22. Richard Sennett, The Uses of Disorder, New York, 1970.

23. Eugenio Battisti, L'anti-rinascimento, Milan, 1989.

24. Ludwig Wittgenstein. Philosophical Investigations, New York, 1958.

25. Sigfried Giedeon, Space. Time and Architecture, Cambridge. MA, 1959; Peter Collins, Changing Ideals in Modern Architecture, London, 1965.

26. Charles Jencks and Nathan Silver. Adhocism. London, 1972.

27. L. Lefaivre has written about this aspect of contemporary architecture in 'Dirty Realism in European Architecture Today', Design Book Review, Berkeley, Winter 1989, no. 17. pp. 17-20; and 'Dirty Realism', Archithese, Zürich. Jan. 1990 (special issue ed. L. Lefaivre with contributions by Richard Ingersoll, Fritz Neumeyer, Rem Koolhaas, Enric Miralles and Carme Pinös, among others).

28. Bill Buford, 'Editorial*, Dirty Realism, Granta 8, Cambridge, England, 1983.

29. Immanuel Kant, Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1960 (first published 1764).

30. Hans Kollhoff, Quaderns, no. 177, 1989.

31. Linda Nochlin, Realism, Harmondsworth, 1971.

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