“Architecture or revolution”, wrote Le Corbusier in 1923. It is a turbulent time, just five years before the world had seen the first workers’ revolution in Russia triumph. The revolution – like its twin rebellion and revolt – is a space for chaos, reverses the established order with a social mass intermingled and turned into a multitude. Le Corbusier, a lover of line and order, and still asking for the need for a design that improves the quality of life of the working class in his writings, offers only one alternative: architecture.
What was architecture for Le Corbusier?
That which should prevent the revolution. How? Achieving a new and comfortable environment for the requirements of the society that emerged after the industrial revolution. However, from a strictly material point of view, architecture can also be defined by walls – and gaps in these: windows, doors, etc. – and floors. Both define the way in which the body can move through space: limiting horizontal displacements, varying vertical points of view.
Was it the condition of architecture that could prevent the revolution, its imposition of limiting mobility?
Foucault warns us that, in reality, neither the architect nor the architecture really have authority over the body1: I can use tools to open walls, I can move between holes, etc … a thought similar to the one Geoff Manaugh exposes in his last book, A Burglar’s Guide to the City, in which he invites us to move around architecture as in a game of thieves and policemen.
Boris Groys points out The obligation of design itself that modern design focused on the appearance of things as the place where you could find the essence of them: it was the search for a pure design, which would eliminate the superfluous. This was true for bourgeois design as well as for the proletariat:
“the revolution should be a radical act that purifies society of all forms of ornament”.
The ornament is a crime, as Adolf Loos said, it is amoral, it is not characteristic of modern men. It was therefore a condition both aesthetic and ethical.
The modern design was also a total art, which focuses on designing each of the aspects of life from the qualities described above. “The ultimate form of design is the design of the subject.” Modern design was, therefore, an absolute design in which man (a “new man” who had to leave behind what Le Corbusier called the “human beast”) becomes another object.
“n a world of total design, man becomes a designed thing, a sort of object in the world, a corpse to be exhibited publicly”.
Faced with such a scenario, this new man is a prisoner who can only do one thing: to manage the image of his own body, of his own corpse.
In our society of spectacle, we are all spectators (consumers) who spend their time observing others as producers of a self that has become an image-simulacrum that constantly demands a second attention -to avoid the acceleration of time. Opaque us and leave us out of the world. That is to say, we spend our time always self-producing our appearance, we design on the surface and empty ourselves of content, because the content does not matter because nobody looks at it, since we do not have time to contemplate or reflect, so to speak.
“The content is completely irrelevant, because it changes constantly”.
My designed I, mine of me but for others, has become a superficial image that, despite its thinness, can be political. Perhaps the soul, as a profound thing, has become extinct, becoming, as Groys says,
“the clothing of its social, political and aesthetic appearance,”
in which one is designed in front of others as a political condition of being, in a performance of his own life. Mere appearance, mere surface that extends to all the design that surrounds us, as an extension of the image itself.
Interestingly, well, we have left the first idea about the architecture with which we started. Architecture is no longer an element that contains our power through its material conditions, its walls and ceilings, but it is inscribed on our surface as part of the we-image. So, we do not “inhabit” a place because it is comfortable or comfortable, we do it as an extension of our appearance, we design and decorate our interiors according to this idea, even if it forces us to live in a precarious economy. The architecture in Instagram will be the one that serves as a complement. Obstinated by – from our skin to our spaces -, now we can perhaps see why we no longer have revolution: because we have architecture – that of the ego – that can avoid it, one in permanent construction of our dead image and to which we dedicate all our effort . Hence we only have time for design, hence we do not have time for revolution.
Unless it’s Pepsi, of course.
Pedro Hernández · architect
Madrid. January 2019
1 “the architect has no power over me. If I want to demolish or transform the house he has built for me, install new partitions or add a chimney, the architect has no control. It is then necessary to place the architect in another category -which does not mean that it has nothing to do with organization, the realization of power, and all the techniques through which power is exercised in a society. I would say that it is necessary to take into account both him – his mentality, his attitude – and his projects, if one wants to understand a certain number of power techniques that are put into work in architecture, but it is not comparable to a doctor, a priest, a psychiatrist or a prison warden.” en RABINOW, Paul. Space, knowledge and power: Interview with Michel Foucault (online version)
Soy arquitecto por la Universidad de Alicante, pero mi interés sobre esta disciplina se encuentra alejado de su papel tradicional de diseño de espacios. Más bien, me interesa entender cómo las representaciones de la arquitectura, el paisaje, el diseño o el territorio construyen y materializan determinados discursos ideológicos, imponiendo posturas, subjetividades y formas de acción sobre los cuerpos que la habitan.
En mi trabajo edito estos discursos –sus imágenes, sus historias o sus restos materiales– y reelaboro comentarios críticos que ponen en evidencia sus controversias y contradicciones, formalizándolos en diversos formatos como textos, fotografías, vídeos, objetos o instalaciones, muchas veces entrecruzados entre sí.
He publicado artículos y ensayos en diversos medios de Estados Unidos, Italia, Croacia, España, Chile y México. Desde enero de 2013-2018 residí en la Ciudad de México donde trabajaba como coordinador de contenidos en Arquine. Actualmente resido en Madrid.