Is the work of architecture futile or useful?

On one hand, continuous polemics against iconic architecture, if subject to capital, seem to shift the problem and muddle the discourse. The decadence of the formal research within commercial dynamics must not be read as the ineluctable destiny the work of architecture is forced to submit to.

On the other hand, non-figurative spaces and objects cannot be the only answer to accumulation and financial acrobatics; they even risk losing themselves in utopian aporias.

I believe in the neutrality of form. It is not determined by a priori meanings. Its autonomy does not allow it to be the referent for an ideology. For this reason, it can be used. It can be used by the market, as well as by a form of resistance against the market.

Form, syntax, abstraction are available. Other design strategies too. I do not see why they are the exclusive right of a wicked spectacle, in a Debordian[1] way, with accumulative aims. The autonomy of architecture can be used when it is necessary, when it is useful, where the violent and predatory dynamics of urban transformation carried out by global finance destroy lands and communities.

Nowadays modalities of resistance in the urban realm already exist: I am thinking about conservative practices (often toward processes of gentrification), occupatory strategies (the Occupy movement, MST and MTST, tactical urbanism… which are unfortunately characterized by a certain fragility and temporariness), micro-colonization projects (micro-urbanism, urban acupuncture, weak! architecture), non figurative projects (weak city, stop city…). This topic is crucial. François Roche[2] says as much in number 25 of “Log”, launching an appeal in order to stimulate the world of design for resilience and resistance. And I say the same in the test-number of ArcDueCittà, in which I define the apparent contradiction between urban profit and urban not-for-profit, an actually coexisting condition, even mutually active in the transformative urban dynamics of our times.

In addition to the above-mentioned experiences, I believe that, in facing the topic of resistance against the aberrations caused by certain dominant or compelling forces, the world of design cannot avoid the use of form, syntax and abstraction. It is urgent to search for and experiment with new architectural forms, based on the punctual installation of built objects (inhabitable works of art), to form constellations, formalized structures capable of being garrisons both against “creative destruction” as defined by Harvey[3] and against the formless and unlivable spontaneous urban migration of large masses in search of success.

I am thinking in terms of points (works) of resistance that, against homologation, standardization and flattening of any difference and diversity, which are destroying the contemporary city, are capable of permitting gradual and shared transformations, which communities can identify with and even help to build, in a logic of mutual defense. preventing these communities from being brutally expelled and their housing torn down in order to construct model estates, built and sold by debt.

Les bijoux indiscrets of Tafurian memory, nihilistically read as futile, should instead be bijoux discrets, useful because separate, distinct, discontinuous, but at the same time existent and resistant.

I imagine a (f)utile (r)esistence[4] which enables the architect to operate outside the dream of utopia and outside the mercantilism of financial speculation. I am thinking of works of architecture which, in their concreteness and iconicity, separateness and discontinuity, will resist the degeneration of the urban transformations and the urgency of mass urban migrations, in order to restore the contemporary metropolis as a hospitable place.

To go back to the initial question, futile and useful are not in contradiction. The use of the futile in a useful way could destabilize the common sense which these words are fixed in, towards new possibilities of meaning, thought and action, for the common good. The work of architecture… futile and useful.

Notes:

  1. Guy Debord (1967), La Société du spectacle, Éditions Buchet-Chastel, Paris.
  2. François Roche (guest editor), LOG#25 Reclaim Resistance/Resilience, New York, Summer 2012.
  3. See both David Harvey (2012), Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, Verso, and David Harvey (2010), The Enigma of Capital: and the Crises of Capitalism, Oxford University Press.
  4. In Italian, “futile” means futile and “utile” means useful, while “resistenza” means resistance and “esistenza” means existence.

I thank Elisa Cristiana Cattaneo, Ernesto d’Alfonso e Peter Eisenman for their help in the definition of the present topic.


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