by Carlos Romo-Melgar. Originally published in Oripeau exhibition catalogue by Atelier la Casse, Nantes.
At the very beginning of my training as an architect, I remember studying a list of definitions of what architecture has meant throughout history; definitions that implicitly foregrounded the social acceptance of architects as professionals who were entitled to comment or influence matters outside of their own field. Architecture was taught as a discipline defined by its results. While the notion of process was loudly asserted in many other parts of my education, the history of Architecture (with capital A) was always led by the final outcomes, even in unbuilt or utopian examples of architecture. The history of architectural labor, means and tools was never told. In that context it was easy to see the architect as a one-man-band who was capable of solving almost everything that they aim for. The power that was given to these ‘brave’ characters, blackboxing all the complexities and struggle to achieve results, set the perfect environment for a top-to-bottom definition of architecture. These streamlined messages diminish certain aspects of the field for the sake of a clear narrative. Still, the process bears the intentions behind a particular end, the humans involved in the design with the tools they use, the negotiations with counterparts, legislation, the political system where it sits (or which they unwittingly reproduce), among other factors. I always made the wrong questions like: ‘How do they divide the work in this studio?’; ‘How do they know that this is the final stage?’, ‘Have they talked to the neighbours?’, ‘Why don’t they say what they want?’, ‘Why the way they describe things sound so universal?’, ‘Who is the architect addressing this to?’, ‘How is the user like?’.
Architectural discourse many times happens as a post-production device, making a list of effects, rather than making the most of the intermediate stages. It was right after I finished my studies, along with a couple of short experiences in the professional side, that I realised that architecture (lowercase ‘a’) work for me didn’t resemble much what I was taught; it rather was a caricature, or extracted detail of all the possible things I thought we were ready to do. While my colleagues started accepting the situation — probably many of them were considerably more happy than I was with that scenario — doing repetitive tasks in large architecture offices, or working extenuating unpaid extra-hours in small studios, I decided to look out to something that had already accompanied my work for a long time, and which gave me a bigger control over the whole project: graphic design. Having, at that time, few literacy on the technicalities of graphic design, but well trained eyes and hands from all the worked hours in the field, I got into a much quieter discipline. Graphic design seemed a field that was one with its own techniques, pure process. It is a discipline that clearly answers those wrong questions that Architecture only answers off the record. It was easy to trace back to intentions, or to foreground the intermediate stages of any project. While architectural objects (let’s say buildings, although they are not the sole example of architects production) were proxies of their design — detached once they are accomplished — graphic design objects foreground techniques and methods. Graphic design, as many other professions, after embracing the digital, and more recently with the advent of automation, has reduced the time spent in technical practicalities. Being liberated from it’s technicalities, the prosaic processes seem to be very close in terms of methodology and matters of concern to architecture. At this point it seems right to ask: ‘What if we are, in the end, doing the same?’, ‘What if we are looking at the same thing from different angles?’. I have been making these questions to myself for years, having many difficulties discerning issues such as working materials, techniques, authorities or scope that could be exclusive to graphic design or architecture. Having done extensive research, interviews and putting into practice many ideas of possible connections between graphic design and architecture, the dots are still difficult to connect. For this reason, and out of the most sincere naiveté, here follows an open list of provocations to encourage a bottom-up bridging between architecture and graphic design processes:
‘By invariably emphasizing the parts played by architects and their patrons, he [the historian] has obscured the talents and achievements of the anonymous builders, men whose concepts sometimes verge on the utopian, whose aesthetics approach the sublime. The beauty of this architecture has long been dismissed as accidental, but today we should be able to recognize it as the result of rare good sense in the handling of practical problems.’ (Rudolfsky, 1964)
‘There is a change as to the importance of “meaning” and “effect”. Architecture affects. The way I take possession of an object, how I use it, becomes important. A building can become entirely information — its message might be experienced through informational media (press, TV, etc.). In fact, it is of almost no importance whether, for example, the Acropolis or the Pyramids exist in physical reality, as most people are aware of them through other media anyway and not through an experience of their own. Indeed, their importance — the role they play — is based on this effect of information. Thus a building might be simulated only.’ (Hollein, 1967)
‘It is the editorial quality of the designer that determines whether the design enables the recipient of the message to make meaningful connections with the information culture of which the message is, whether we like it or not, a part. One important aspect of these connections is that they are unaffected by traditional borderlines between disciplines.’ (Bruinsma, 2014)
‘Innumerable confusion and a profound feeling of despair invariably emerge in periods of great technological and cultural transitions, such as our own. Our Age of Anxiety is, in great part, the result of trying to do today’s job with yesterday’s tools — with yesterday’s concepts. With yesterday’s ideals.’ (McLuhan and Fiore, 1967)
‘Design has become the creation and management of virtual assets attached to objects (like tags, or services) or existing within objects (like worlds, or doorways).’ (Metahaven, 2009)
‘A true architecture of our time will have to redefine itself and expand its means. Many areas outside the traditional building will enter the realm of architecture, as architecture and “architects” will have to enter new fields.’ (Hollein, 1967)
‘Intentionally or not, architecture is the physical manifestation of societal will, an enactment of the intentions of government, policy, capital, social convention and so on. It articulates this social political and economic vision into the environmental frame within which society operates–the spaces in which we live. […] It defines what is acceptable and what is not. […] To quote Churchill again, “we shape our buildings and our buildings shape us”. In highly specific ways, buildings embed socio-political codes into space. […] It is in this sense that architecture acts as a form of law, governing behaviour within its jurisdiction. We are subject to architecture in the same way that we are subject to law.’ (Jacob, 2012)
‘If architectural history ignores the kinds of theoretical explorations undertaken by other disciplines, it runs the risk of doing something that, while perhaps perfectly enjoyable, will be meaningful only as a self-referential exercise and thus irrelevant to anyone else’. (Borden and Rendell, Jane, 2000)
‘Architecture’s organisation of signs and symbols in space generate readable meanings, dramatic effects and narrative, but its enactment does not happen on a stage. […] Its performance places the fictional (the imaginary, the idea) into the real space of the city. It is the real space of the city’. (Jacob, 2012)
‘That basic realisation that we are not absolute agents, making utterly autonomous choices, becomes a lens for viewing contemporary practices in critical ways.’ (McVarish in Sueda, 2014)
‘To challenge the norms of professional behaviour is not to dismiss the role that professional knowledge may play, but it is to argue that the deployment of this knowledge should be set within other ways of acting.’ (Schneider and Till, 2009)
I’ve tried to further develop this open list in Expanding the Field of Architectural Publishing (EF — AP) with the use of speculative experimentation to test these propositions. EF — AP invites professionals to exchange the way they work in architecture, design and publishing. It aims to create public spaces where their work is able to resonate, where the discourse questions established practices and professional labels. EF — AP encourages the collaborating and sharing practical knowledge that could lead to ground-breaking definitions of post-disciplinarity. This open list aims to provoke a discussion, to encourage dissonance, to unblock the authoritative quietism.
Expanding the Field of Architectural Publishing. London, February 2018.
● Borden, I. and Rendell, Jane (2000) ‘From Chamber to Transformer: Epistemological Challenges and Tendencies in the Intersection of Architectural Histories and Critical Theories’, in InterSections: Architectural Histories and Critical Theories. New York: Routledge.
● Bruinsma, M. (2014) ‘An Ideal Design is Not Yet’, in Sueda, J. (ed.) All possible futures. London: Bedford Press, pp. 30–43.
● Jacob, S. (2012) Make It Real — Architecture As Enactment. First edition. Moscow: Strelka Press.
● Hollein, H. (1967) ‘Everything is Architecture’, in Ockman, J. and Eigen, E. (1993), Architecture Culture, 1943–1968: A Documentary Anthology. Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, pp. 459–462.
● McLuhan, M. and Fiore, Q. (1967) The medium is the massage. London: Penguin.
● Metahaven (2009) ‘Surface’, in White Night Before a Manifesto. Self Published.
● Rudolfsky, B. (1964) Architecture Without Architects: A Short Introduction to Non-Pedigreed Architecture. London: Academy Editions.
● Schneider, T. and Till, J. (2009) ‘Beyond Discourse: Notes on Spatial Agency’, Part of a special issue: Agency in Architecture, pp. 97–111.
● Sueda, J. (2014) ‘The Farther Back you Can Look, the Farther Forward You Are Likely To See. Jon Sueda in Conversation With Emily McVarish’, in Sueda, J. (ed.) All possible futures. London: Bedford Press, pp. 14–29.