theory about practice

Rod, knowing I’ve finally started reading Thousand Plateaus, flicks his del.icio.us wrist and points me towards the sweetest spot of the latest BLDGBLOG interview with Mark Wigley. It’s too good not to repeat at length here:

BLDGBLOG: There also seems to be a huge reliance today on extra-architectural theory, like Gilles Deleuze. But if students were instead locked in a room with some science fiction novels, or even a comic book, it might actually stir up some new ideas. At the very least, science fiction actually addresses architecture. So perhaps the problem is one of reference? Or even of genre? Or just specifically Deleuze?

Wigley: To cut to the chase, if it’s a choice between being locked in a room with a science fiction book or being locked in a room with Deleuze, go for the science fiction book, for sure. No doubt about it. But that’s not a choice against theory – because, in fact, science fiction is an incredibly important mode of theorizing about technology and about space, and the people who produce science fiction are often incredibly canny theorists.

So the problem in the current discussion about theory is that when people say theory they really mean a particular thing. For example, when you say: what do I think about the use of these extra-architectural theories? That makes sense only if we know what architecture is. In fact, what’s so exciting about architecture is that its limits are not clear. It’s a way of thinking; it’s not a fixed territory. In a way, you can reach what seems a long way away – to somebody like Deleuze – in order to get a feel for how those limits are moving. At certain moments in time, Deleuze might seem to be totally inside the limits; at other moments, he might seem a long way away – but that’s not necessarily a move toward or away from theory. Mies’s famous saying: build, don’t talk. Well, that’s a theoretical statement. He had a theory about practice. It’s amazing how many people quote him saying that – they quote a piece of theory against theory.

The more important question is: which theory, at which time, mobilized in which direction? I, myself, would like to be locked in a room with a science fiction book – but that’s just me. Someone else would like to be locked in a room with Deleuze, and generate some thinking for architects that seems much more urgent and seductive and accurate. And somebody can read science fiction and come up with trash – I mean, there’s a lot of junk science fiction out there, and there’s a hell of a lot of bad architecture out there, too.

But I think it’s great that people are reading different books now than they were reading five years ago. There’s no subject an architect won’t talk about. And that sort of restless promiscuity is entirely positive. What’s interesting is that architects have often been informed by a very precise theory, whether technological or political or scientific and so on; but we also learn a lot by just paying attention to the seemingly ordinary details of the city around us. And architects are fantastic at stitching ideas to objects. That’s what we’re really good at.

Architects are builders who theorize – articulate builders.

Which theory, at which time, mobilized in which direction?

This week I ‘ave been mostly constructing a 4 dimensional project program charting the route of the smooth space of the drawing as it passes through the striated space of tasks, people and landscape.

project-timeline

Next week I’d better reach for some science fiction.

2 Responses

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