rooms + cities

madrid placa mayor

The city has an inner surface and an outer surface. It is as crucial to give the city an inner surface as it is for it to have an outer one, especially when the outer surface is losing its clarity under the continual pressure of urbanisation. These surfaces are urban scale structures and structures of experience. There is also a question of institutions and enclaves. For Tafuri, the problem of architecture is how to understand or position architectural ‘ideology’ within the context of capitalist development (economics, production, planning, its history). For me, the problem of architecture is how to understand architectural ideology – i.e., architectural thought, principles, values, its many and varied discourses – within the context of an ecological crisis. The difference between our approaches has to do with what we regard to be the determining context for architecture: capitalism and the environment. Architecture is a tool for acting out our desire upon the surface of the earth. We can ask, why do we want to poison our habitat, destroy our own house? We do it in capitalist and socialist societies. The economic/political neutrality of my thesis is a function of the nature of the beast (both regimes are heavy polluters), and a function of the hegemony of capitalism (Zizek has argued that there is now nothing outside of capitalism, we are all capitalists, there is no choice anymore, and no class consciousness. These two contexts manifest differently for architecture. For Tafuri, capitalism as the determining context for architecture seems to be the hand that drives it. For me, the ecological crisis as context is the challenge confronting architectural thought, the problem it has to solve. The former pushes and the latter pulls. They are not exclusive of each other. If humans are fundamentally exploitative, if work is a process of exploitation, there may be an historical shift in our thought and labour. Man exploiting man. Man exploiting nature.

Google Earth image of Plaza Mayor, Madrid (598–1621) from 877 metres. See also Manfredo Tafuri, Architecture and Utopia: design and capitalist development (MIT Press 1979)

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