Before starting this article, I would like to say that I am well aware that what might distinguish this blog from others is the fact that architecture is only rarely questioned directly but rather via indirect means and disciplines. Lately I have been writing much more articles which, on the contrary, deal with architecture more explicitly. My readings and research work by phases and the recurrence of certain topics is not revealing a deep change in my editorial line but should rather be interpreted as chapters of it.
From October 2011 to April 2012, the Canadian Centre for Architecture displayed the exhibition Imperfect Health: The Medicalization of Architecture. In parallel of it has been edited a book with the same name by Giovanna Borasi and Mirko Zardini (Lars Muller Publishers). This volume – and therefore the exhibition – explores the heritage of modernism which promoted the antic ‘mens sana in corpore sano’ (a sane mind within a sane body) and was undertaking to design architecture around it. Through the various essays of the book, two approaches seems to emerge:
The first one consists in the intelligent understanding of atmospheric conditions in order to integrate them as the essence of a given design. A paradigmatic example of such approach is brought by the ensemble of the work of Philippe Rahm and his office. Through processes of pressure, convection, evaporation, radiation, digestion and conduction, he investigate architecture’s immateriality as the catalyst for the body’s health and comfort. Such an approach is in direct affiliation with the modernist ideology characterized by a vision of the architect as an expert owning a knowledge potentially beneficial for architecture’s users.
The second approach does not have moral considerations for ‘agents of infections’ but rather use the latter as creative elements. This attitude is the one that has been developed for almost two decades by R&Sie(n) in their projects which are recurrently quoted in this book. In this case, the architect refuses his supposed expertise and prefers to propose expressive environments in which the human body is not the center but rather a part as many others which all interact with each others.
Although this book is a precious volume to have in one’s library, I personally regret that two additional paradigms have been absolutely eluded from this research. The first one was pretty obvious to me when I first saw the subtitle of the exhibition: the Medicalization of Architecture. I was then envisioning an approach of architecture, hygiene and sanity through a filter constructed by Michel Foucault. This chapter would have investigate the various processes of normatization undertook by such a historical movement as well as the construction of institutionalized spaces (hospitals, schools, factories, prisons) as mechanisms of control of the population.
The second lacking chapter/approach would have explored the life work of Arakawa and Madeline Gins in their ambitious manifesto which attempts to invent an architecture in which the human body does not die anymore. I already wrote many articles about their work and won’t reiterate here but their absence of this book/exhibition seems (sadly) symptomatic of the poor interest that architects have for them.
As an appendix, I would like to draw attention on the following drawing which was made by Gordon Matta Clark in 1978 as a representation of his own organism back then – he was suffering and eventually died from a cancer: Antibodies and cancer cells are fighting for the salvation/destruction of the body in a dramatic science fiction scenery.
Convective Apartments by Philippe Rahm Architects (2010)