The Critical Problem

24Feb14

Peggy Deamer, February 2014

The contemporary infatuation with authorial form-generation on the one hand and image reception on the other–precluding production at their center–is weird. It forgets that late 19th- and early 20th-century theory was primarily focused on process, labor, construction, and assembly. John Ruskin’s concern for the autonomy of the worker, Gottfried Semper’s discourse on the tectonic origins of architecture, the Werkbund’s attempt to integrate craft and the assembly line, Adolf Loos’s refusal to draw because it constrained the logical work of the builder–all explored the cultural implications of changing modes of construction. The current anti-production ideology also truncates a 10-year love affair with parametricism as it finally yields (some very good) buildings. The seven to ten year gap between conception and execution that most of the architects’ projects exemplified is precisely the maturing of parametric design from computer-screen form, to CAD/CAM panels, and now, to building envelope.

It surely would be beyond that panel of critics [at the “In Pursuit of Architecture” conference] to discuss the transformation of parametric design in terms of Building Information Modeling and other contemporary means of managing information, which in many cases enable these complex buildings to be produced, and which have transformed the profession. This does not look like “theory.” But it should not be beyond such critics to acknowledge that something significant has happened here. One could observe, for example, that practice is currently more innovative than theory; or that the move in architectural theory in the 20th century away from concerns for production and the worker/builder to concerns for the user/occupant (modernism’s interest in the “new man”) might now have cause to reverse again; or going further, that the deeper cause of the architectural transformation from production to consumption is not just architectural but economic–a result of capitalism’s own transformation.

The loss of production discourse in architecture also says something about our isolation from other disciplines that are examining the productive forces, new and old, that constitute the armature of their disciplines. . . .

While it might seem that the examinations of production conducted by these disciplines is of a different theoretical order than ours (would be) of building construction, this is not the case. All of them analyze the links between the mechanisms of technology, procurement, management, and personnel in a contemporary world shaped by late capitalism. Architectural production and construction surely have a stake in this analysis.

Excerpt from Log 30, Winter 2014
Read the full article here
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