Being there, seeing it, experiencing it. Architecture, no matter how many images you put in a journal, you don’t have a clue what it’s like until you really see it. So I always tell architectural students, you’ve got to travel. You’ve got to go and look at stuff. There’s no way you’re going to learn by just reading about it.

- Richard Meier

play it both ways

So I am reading a piece in the recent issue of Perspecta on Taboo, and thinking about what type of agency an architectural historian / theorist can have.  In the piece, the author visits India and wants to photograph monuments to the Maoist movement there.  Knowing the Indian government would not allow this, the historian hires a car and plans a route which will take him past the Maoist monument to one which is actually approved by the Indian government as a tourist site.  When asked by the guards along the street where he is headed, he plays the American tourist harmlessly headed to look at historical architecture leveraging a whole set of assumptions about how harmless connoisseurship of old architecture is. They let him pass, he snaps a few shots of the censored monument and then a few of the approved site.

As I often do, I wonder at this field which likes to play it both ways: stodgy, cultural elites on the one hand and engaged, revolutionaries on the other.  In what ways are these two modes structurally related, and in fact essential to the field?  And in what ways might scholars of architecture use that dual face to do interesting things, and expose ideas that might be hard to find reception for otherwise?


This is p. 112 from Perspecta #42 / ‘The Real’. Pages 108-125 are Spyros Papapetros’ article, MICRO/MACRO: Architecture, Cosmology and the Real World. I had the pleasure of listening to the lecture at the Cooper Union, on March 3rd (very special thanks to Katerina Kourkoula).

There seems to have been an attempt to construct a universal visual language at the Illinois Design Institute, under Chermayeff and Moholy-Nagy. Also, there’s a story that has been kept in the dark, around Brooklyn College and the Arts Department, from the late 1940ies to the 1970ies.