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Architecture Without Content 9: The Difficult Double

The culture of architecture is based on misunderstandings and tweaked stories. Bad reading, simplification and superficial interpretation of something far away, both in space and time, has been the engine of quite many of the avant-gardes of the recent past. Perhaps, one could argue that only silly minds, and simple souls are able to head forward in a preposterous act of bravery, without fear, without hesitation, with the danger and the doubt at arm length. (or that architects in general are not the brightest of all people, blinded by personal ambition) As problematic as this all may sound, I believe we should allow ourselves a bit of stupidity, as long as this bluntness coincides with a deep interest or at least a profound fascination for the expressions of cultural production that are appropriated. Perhaps, it is possible to argue that this phenomenon is not exclusive to architecture, and that the culture of the arts, of customs, or even culture in general is based on outer expressions and the remnants of them, often in complete disconnection to the actual context in which they came about. Misinterpretation thus, is the way in which culture travels. Amidst an increasingly politicized ‘context’ of architecture, defined by rules and engagements, often translated in simplified expressions of political goodwill - eg ecological, sustainable, transparent.. buildings-, we have to caress the bit of culture we can find and accumulate it. Our limited erudition should not paralyze us. It should facilitate us in the development of our counter narratives to the context in which we operate. From Bramante’s biased understanding of ancient ruins, over the Independent Group’s surreal interpretation of the Advertisements of early American Consumerism (and back to Warhol and Pop) to the silly simplification at the base of Venturi’s Complexity, misunderstanding had never stood in the way of conviction and completeness. What one lacks in science, one compensates in devotion, perhaps. And why not? We do not need more surfers on our contemporary phenomena, the simple appropriation of these did not turn out very fruitful. Perhaps picking up some traces of things, principles and elements of an architecture and a culture we don’t quite understand will give us tools to deal with any of these phenomena in an oblique way. The tools of the frontiersman, were not similar to the context he found, but inevitably rooted in the culture he came from. In all this, we should not understand the seductive power of ambiguity. It is one of the virtues of the culture of architecture that its products - its projects - never fully explain what they are after. In many ways they only reveal fascinations and fixations over a long stretch of time. This course wants to introduce a new generation of cultural producers in Europe. Each of the authors was asked to show an appropriated fragment of cultural history. Often the practice presented is not reduce-able to this simple point of reference, but the way the historical counterpart is accumulated and appropriated, perhaps misunderstood, reveals doubtlessly a lot of the fixations of the author invited. Both author and fragment compose a ‘double portrait’, a ‘difficult duo’ that tells more about the project of the one invited than a simple office presentation would do. The totality of these micro stories will inevitably create an alternative history, an accumulated set of cultural knowledge.

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