Architecture as Verb and the Ethics of Making
Director, History & Theory Graduate Program
School of Architecture
815 Sherbrooke Street West
Montreal, PQ, CANADA H3A 2K6
Advocates of computer generated
processes in architecture, all based on algorithmic languages,
usually claim that these applications allow designers to bypass
the questions of cultural specificity and ground design in scientific
or natural principles, finally "closing the distance"
between theory and practice. This is the right concern, but built
upon wrong assumptions. The artistic imagination, issued from
Romanticism, can be indeed dangerous or irrelevant. It should
be condemned when it is abused as a vehicle for power, oppression
and exploitation. Respect for the other and political correctness,
however, is hardly assured by instrumental processes that operate
in a historical and cultural vacuum. Only by engaging our own
imagination (with its inescapable horizon of language, and despite
its dangers) can we be truly compassionate. It is our imaginative
faculty that allows us to identify with the other, and truly
understand her suffering. This entails a very real, yet opaque
connection between words and deeds.
Following this line of reasoning, I have argued in my work
on representation for valorizing architectural work as process,
rather than as a neutral means towards an end, driven by technological
values. As embodied making, architecture is not only a means
of formal discovery, it is also a vehicle for ethical production.
This form of relationship between theory and practice, between
words and process, is obviously not unprecedented in art, but
has traditionally been less prevalent in architecture during
the transformation of Western culture into modernity.
In my written contribution to this conference I offer two
examples, from the fifteenth and twentieth centuries, that illustrate
this relationship. The examples, the theories of Luca Pacioli
and Le Corbusier, are intentionally far apart chronologically,
and my use of them is unusual in contemporary scholarship. My
aim is to draw a map of the vicissitudes of architecture as verb
during the modernization of Europe, issuing not from a simplistic
Platonic application, but from a realization of the affinity
of architecture with Aristotle's middle sciences. Both theoreticians
were interested in the Golden Section, geometry and mathematics,
yet never as prescriptive tools, but rather as a discovery, accompanied
by the self-consciousness of the "autonomy" of geometry
as being ultimately "not of this world."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alberto Pérez-Gómez obtained his undergraduate degree in architecture
and engineering in Mexico City, did postgraduate work at Cornell
University, and was awarded a Master of Arts and a Ph.D. by the
University of Essex in England. He has taught at universities
in Mexico City, Houston, Syracuse, and Toronto, at the Architectural
Association in London, and was Director of the Carleton University
School of Architecture from 1983 to 1986. He has lectured extensively
in North America and Europe. In January 1987 Pérez-Gómez
was appointed Saidye Rosner Bronfman Professor of the History
of Architecture at McGill University, where he is currently Director
of Post-Professional (Master's and Doctoral) Programs, and chairs
the History and Theory of Architecture division. From March 1990
to June 1993, he was also the Director of the Institut de recherche
en histoire de l'architecture, a research institute co-sponsored
by the Canadian Centre for Architecture, the Université
de Montréal and McGill University.
His numerous articles have been published in the Journal of Architectural
Education, AA Files, Arquitecturas Bis, Section A, VIA, Architectural
Design, ARQ, SKALA, A+U, Perspecta, and many other periodicals.
He is the author of Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science
(MIT Press, 1983; winner of the Alice Davis Hitchcock Award in
1984), Polyphilo or The Dark Forest Revisited (MIT Press, 1992),
and together with co-author Louise Pelletier, Architectural Representation
and the Perspective Hinge (MIT Press, 1997). He is co-editor
of the book series entitled CHORA: Intervals in the Philosophy
of Architecture (McGill-Queen's University Press) At present,
Dr. Pérez-Gómez is engaged in a project to redefine
the very nature of architectural education by revisiting its
historical sources during the Enlightenment and the early nineteenth
century, an urgent task after the failure of globalization which
has become patent after September 2001.
The correct citation
for this article is:
"Architecture as Verb and the Ethics of Making", pp.
35-46 in Nexus IV: Architecture and Mathematics, eds.
Kim Williams and Jose Francisco Rodrigues, Fucecchio (Florence):
Kim Williams Books, 2002. http://www.nexusjournal.com/conferences/N2002-PerezGomez.html
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