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Tectonic Acts of Desire and Doubt (Architecture Words) Paperback – November 1, 2012
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Tectonic Acts of Desire and Doubt, Mark Rakatansky, Architecture Words 9, Architectural Association, London, 2012.
"I'll put this another way: the tectonic acts of desire and doubt that I will refer to here are only the precipitate of many other acts of desire and doubt - political, ideological, social, biographical, formal, institutional, disciplinary. It is impossible to separate these issues from each other, but it is also impossible to imagine that these issues will ever neatly line up or synthesise or resolve, without some lack or some excess".
We could identify multiple moments of crises in our short disciplinary history, but the one inherited from the (abused) postmodern period has left us with high levels of ambivalence, ambiguity and anxiety. This book is about those disciplinary anxieties, a foraging of the multiple traces left by our history that form the raw material of architectural knowledge. Is a book of dispersed thoughts; dispersed not as unrelated, but as a compilation of texts written over time. It offers a wide variety of concerns in dialogue with an ample set of bibliographical references; as such, it is also symptomatic (historical) evidence of the time when it was mostly written, the decade of the 1990s.
Tectonic - Acts of - Desire and Doubt, could be read as a play in three acts. Like a play the book - as a textual narrative - is a cultural artifact sustained across a wide spectrum of essays and articles. Typically a play is not as much about the tectonic (as the set design may be), and this is something the book reflects. Tectonic here acts more like props than as actor or script. The collection is a play also because it is a performance, it discusses architecture as performance, as act, but it is an Act of Desire and Doubt in itself. It is a reflective act upon the uncertain motivations and imaginaries that were raised on during the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s. From "Tectonic" to "Doubt" there is an all-inclusiveness that encompass the architectural dichotomies of theory and practice, with open references from philosophers to buildings alike, bridging and un-bridging common assumptions.
The "Tectonic", featuring examples from Andrea Palladio, to Louis Kahn, to the turn of the century concept of the envelope, illustrates a genealogy for developing parameters for thinking and acting upon architecture. Here, the "Tectonic" is not just the material composition of elements with defined parameters, but an enquiry into this material (i.e., fabric or brick) and what lies beneath, in social and even ideological terms.
"Acts of", presents what could be described as the rhetorical aspects of our field; architecture is discussed through institutional stereotypes that demonstrate how the discipline is replete with repressed narratives. The essay "Spatial Narratives" is particularly explicit in this regard, but this tendency is also evident in the brief reflection about Robin Evans where the author highlights Evans's intent to not just revise disciplinary knowledge, but "to dismantle, some of the most fundamental and cherished notions held by historians and architects" while acting upon it.
The book itself, as suggested above, lies largely in the realm of "Desire and Doubt". While exposing the importance of the singularities in the gest of architecture, the author discusses Bertolt Brecht's A Dialogue About Acting and its relation to knowledge. In the text one of the characters responds to the question "Knowledge of what?" and, "How are they to demonstrate [the knowledge]?" The other character responds, "Consciously, suggestively, descriptively." What is key here to perhaps explain the nature of this section of the book, is what the author offers as a lesson after Brecht, noting the importance of challenging the provisional and socially constructed accommodations of the body through architectural knowledge. The author suggests that "revealing the social gests already within conventional accommodation, of interrogating the interpellative instrumentalism of these gestures, practices, narratives, events, even if the result must itself be instrumental in some manner - cannot, as architecture, not be instrumental - but might in its own instrumentality examine, thematise, problematise this instrumentality". The desire and doubt are precisely located in the question of the apparent instrumentality of architecture itself.
It is a book that shows an embrace of the dichotomy between what was then called theory and practice that consumed architectural culture during the 1990s, knitting both in a play of desire and doubt, of opportunity and uncertainty. It provides no solutions nor clear paths to follow; on the contrary, its reflexive nature offers a didactic tool to revisit the ambivalences, ambiguities, and anxieties that had prominence a few decades ago and are retroactively presented here. The book's ambiguities are not unconscious, they are a condition embedded in the ghosts that still haunt our discipline. In reality, the acts of desire may have been overshadowed with doubt, perhaps, with too much certainty in tectonics.
Note: Published originally for Columbia University GSAPP's CC online publication 1.29.13