Truth, Power and Knowledge by Daniel Lauand
Dear Mr. Schumacher,
Today, I read the article that you wrote two days ago for The Architectural Review and I felt the urge, the necessity to send you a response as such rebuttal would almost constitute a manifesto since your discourse seems the exact opposite of the one I am defending on this platform. I won’t insist too much on your heavy undelicateness as a professor to attack on a very specific level a certain amount of students’ project, students who, I hope, are careless enough not to feel personally affected by your attacks. Orienting your discourse on your pairs, other professors would have been more diplomatic, but, once again that does not constitute the main reason of my reaction.
I will not take too much time either to underline the irony of having you complaining that the students’ work is not oriented enough on the ordinary life, I think that everybody did not miss to smile when reading you while considering the work that you have been developing along the years in the various schools that you have been teaching for.
Before going truly to the argument that is important to me in my reaction to your article, I would like to say that, despite some problematic attitudes (nowhere is a perfect place), I believe that what breaks the ambition of many young architects in the United Kingdom is not their exploration and production of fictions but rather the hyper-reality of professional exploitation that the Behemoths firms practice on many of them when they leave the Academic world.
That leads me to the main argument of this letter, which goes far beyond from the architecture education. In fact, in your article you claim for a – self declared – subtle realism and write:
” I also doubt that architecture could be a site of radical political activism. I believe that architecture is a sui generis discipline (discourse and practice) with its own, unique societal responsibility and competency. As such it should be sharply demarcated against other competencies like art, science/engineering and politics. Architects are called upon to develop urban and architectural forms that are congenial to contemporary economic and political life. They are neither legitimised, nor competent to argue for a different politics or to ‘disagree with the consensus of global politics’ (as David Gloster suggests).”
By affirming that architects are not legitimized, nor competent to argue for a different politics, you are, in fact, calling yourself for a different regime, an aristocratic one, in which experts owning a sacred knowledge have the exclusive legitimacy to debate and rule cities and nations. Architects, to the very same extent of bakers, workers, bankers (sic), waiters, lawyers, unemployed people etc. are absolutely competent and legitimized to argue for a different politics for the good reason that they are concerned by it as citizens and share with other the res-publica (the public thing). Politics etymologically comes from the Greek word Polis (πόλις) which translate by city. Of course, city, here, signifies the immaterial society constituted by humans living together and sharing a somehow restraint territory, but I am not convinced that you would actually argue against the fact that the physical dimension of this city has an influence on the immaterial one.
As a matter of fact, I have been claiming often on this blog that architecture needs to be thought as being much more part of the problem of this polis than the solution. Architecture directs, oppress, hurts our bodies whether it has been conceived as such or not. You believe that architecture cannot be a site of radical political activism; I would argue, on the contrary, that each architecture is actually a site of radical political activism. Most of them are indeed a radical embodiment and a violent implementation of the dominant power. However, some of them manage to transgress the rules of this same power, not by liberating themselves from the system, but rather, by operating and creating in the folds of matter of this very same system. Architecture is indeed a political weapon and it is never as effective as such -in favor for the established relationships of power- as when it is not thought as such.
My conclusion would therefore be that I agree with you about the fact that Architectural education has to be questioned and re-questioned; however, your realism that declares architects as non legitimized nor competent to address the political debate is a direct invitation to inhibit any critical attitude towards the relationships of power and of production that structure our society. I would therefore argue for the perfect negative of your project, whether you call it irrealism, idealism, utopianism or any other ‘isms’ that we thought we got rid of in the past.
[following Patrik Schumacher's responses, this letter has a sequel that can be read by following this link]