Do Good

Above is the video from a discussion between Jeff Kipnis and Reinhold Martin on agency, held at the GSD earlier this year. I know it's long, but it's definitely worth the watch. If you want a so-so canned version that's readable in 10 minutes, this is by a GSD student who was present, posted on Archinect.

Before I get into it though I'll throw something in for contrast, and that I think speaks to my last post:
"A sense of space is closely connected with purposes. Even when architecture attempts to elevate this sense beyond the realm of purposefulness, it is still simultaneously immanent in the purpose. The success of such a synthesis is the principal criterion for great architecture. Architecture inquires: how can a certain purpose become space; through which forms, which materials? All factors relate reciprocally to one another. Architectonic imagination is, according to this conception of it, the ability to articulate space purposefully. It permits purposes to become space. It constructs forms according to purposes."
This is from Theo Adorno's "Functionalism Today", where he addresses the false separation of purpose-free form purposeful in Adolf Loos' distinction between ornament and functionalism. Purpose implies practical effects or usefulness. As Adorno argues the inseparability of the two (purpose-free and purposeful), it becomes interesting to consider that purpose can also imply ends or goals...


I think Jeff Kipnis makes a strong argument and creates a kind of rubric to evaluate ones position in order to move forward (if one's goal is to develop a 'projective' approach to architecture). However I would have to take issue with an implication in his argument that is manifest in his answer to an audience member's question, roughly about accepting a capitalist mode of production in architecture (at around 1h37m). It has to do with the autonomy of different practices and the appropriateness of an instrumentality to a given issue. This is not necessarily a product of Kipnis' thought as much as an acceptance of the autonomy of disciplines:

"I don't see why we need a dialectic model of opposition when a model of speciation is the model, the diagram of response to resourses...  in almost every situation we analyze, whether its biological or economic... We don't accept it (the status quo) in a sense that if you really want to fight a particular kind of practice, like economic hegemonies, then go into economics. If you want to fight unfairness in totalitarian regimes, then join the army. There are instrumentalities for every possible practice but the idea that every practice in an ecology of practices would be obligated to one metaphysical ideal is wrong. And it's not what sustains the far-from-equilibrium stucture of productive ecologies."

The first and last points raises the specter of scientismthat Kipnis earlier suggests dropping from architectural discoursein what seems a problematic interpretation of social patterns using questionable biological models. Minor point. He proceeds with a stock response to those who seek a form of architectural activism. It reminds me of a story from a professor at Temple University about his interest in pursuing architecture to address the problems of the city. Upon graduating and entering practice he realized that architects didn't have the ability to address many of those problems, so he sought to enter the field of planning. Here he was also thwarted and concluded that the only way to solve the city's problems is to run for office.

Had he done so he may have concluded the same as Kipnis and become an economist instead. There he would have seen the conflicts of that field and it's relative lack of power. Perhaps he could changed peoples attitudes, say in entering PR or advertising. Finding that ineffective in such noisy media environments as we now have, he may attempt to change the knowledge set in academia, or in a policy think tank... Ad infinitum. We have a sort of disciplinary balkanization that allows for very little control over the practices Kipnis mentions. I think this gets to a point that Anthony Giddens made regarding the difficulty of directing the course of modern society. It takes something greater than an independent discipline operating in a narrow channel to affect outcomes. It takes a social movement directed towards a possible future.

This is where the approach advocated by Reinhold Martin begins to make sense. I respect the grounding of his approach to agency within disciplinary knowledge but wonder whether he should go further than he does in his call for a project. It is clear due to the reflexive nature of modernity, the institutions of which are ungrounded, that the ability to direct the course of these institutions requires a commitment from a wider set of agents. The financial crisis, the diffusion of the power of nation-states, the loss of control of information and surveillance (Wikileaks etc), and the indeterminacy of military power have placed us in a perilous situation that calls for strong measures. Of course, architecture cannot even begin to address any of these issues independently, but it may in fact be a necessary coalition partner in imagining future scenarios and outcomes.

I'll end with another quote from Adorno: "Architecture worthy of human beings thinks better of men than they actually are".

Update: By casting Kipnis' argument as concerning the autonomy of disciplines, I'm referring to a kind of exclusive/inclusive dynamic. Martin also advocates a kind of autonomy that opens out as well. As he puts it: "the further inside you go, the further outside you get".

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