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Architecture's Desire: Reading the Late Avant-Garde (Writing Architecture) Paperback – October 2, 2009

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Editorial Reviews


At the very moment when the death of theory by the victorious sword of the real has been loudly proclaimed, Michael Hays' lyrical return to the 1970s when architecture first fully realized its potential to become a conceptual practice is both welcome and much needed. His close attention to key works by Hejduk, Eisenman, and Rossi uncovers striking connections between this commonly repressed substratum and the instrumental turn recently taken by architects such as Bernard Tschumi and Rem Koolhaas and persuasively turns the 'reality' of contemporary architecture upside down to reveal our new 'real' to be driven by forces more mysterious and intangible than ever.

(Sylvia Lavin, Director of Critical Studies and MA/PhD Programs, UCLA Department of Architecture and Urban Design)

About the Author

K. Michael Hays is Eliot Noyes Professor of Architectural Theory at Harvard's Graduate School of Design. In 2000 he was appointed the first Adjunct Curator at the Whitney Museum for American Art. He is the author, among other books, of Modern Architecture and the Posthumanist Subject (1995) and the editor of Architecture Theory since 1968 (2000), both published by the MIT Press.

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Product Details

  • Series: Writing Architecture
  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (October 2, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262513021
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262513029
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #814,153 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Michael Hays of Harvard GSD has produced an interesting and thought-provoking take on the ways in which the architects Aldo Rossi, Peter Eisenman, John Hedjuk, and Bernard Tschumi sought to "negotiate the real"in their construction of concepts and "subject positions" (during the years roughly 1966-1983). The author is admirably clear in stating up front that this has little or nothing to do with the "making of things" (architectural objects). It is an historical compte rendu of the imputed philosophical aspirations of this (so-called late avant-garde) generation via their "inquiry into what is, what might be, and how the latter can happen."

The discussion is launched by way of the "received" views of the late critic and Renaissance scholar Manfredo Tafuri and the somewhat more recently deceased Mannerist historian and critic Colin Rowe, whose rather different yet coincident views are labeled "not so much incorrect, as... not correct enough" with regard to the impasse of post-modernist architectural ambitions. Instead, Hays would like to bracket Tafurian black pessimism and Rovian inquisitive skepticism with the question: "Where does architecture come from, and what authorizes its existence as architecture--- beyond the [largely Humanist-based] constitutions already in place?", a demand he specifies to have been the "query of the late avant-garde."

The author's "not correct enough" maxim hinges on full philosophical immersion in the "matrix of [Lacanian] desire", and the reader unfamiliar with Lacan's elaborate and not infrequently shifting terminology will make scant headway, especially in the opening chapter labeled "Desire", at the end of which Hays makes the suggestion that, after all, this first chapter should perhaps have been read last.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Cho on July 29, 2012
Format: Paperback
Around the 1970s to 80s when architecture was losing its immediate use value for representation with the advent of late-capitalism characterized by the development of media and consumer society, emerged a vanguard of architects who attempted not to miss architecture's 'autonomy' pondering on its subject position as a "socially symbolic production" (as Hays puts it after Jamesonian formulation of narrative as a "socially symbolic act"). Against the contemporary heteronomy of postmodern architects - say, Venturi or Graves - who unhesitatingly assembled bygone architectural lexicons affirming the main streets where consumer society's commodity fetishism prevailed, the autonomy for which the late avant-garde sought evolved from Rossi's 'meconnaissance (misrecognition)' of autonomy to produce imaginary 'analogy' aspiring for the City as the social symbolic, through Eisenman's autonomous 'compulsion to repeat' syntactic abstraction instead of semantics, and toward Hejduk's imaginary 'encounter' with the uncanny or the extimate, i.e. familiar but strange, figures of the real, and Tschumi's symbolic 'spacing' to metonymically trace the endless generation of unsubstantial events of the real - that is to say, "relative autonomy" in Althusserian terms, or "semi-autonomy" in Jamesonian. This series of takes by discursive architecture to remain as autonomous subjects in the material reality overdetermined by the capital was an inevitable project doomed to failure every time, which was nevertheless for the 'better failure' to resist the contradiction of history whose practico-inert operates all the time.Read more ›
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