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The Buzludzha Monument, Bulgaria, arch. G. Stoilov, photo by Timothy Allen (2012)
Is architecture logical or ideological?

H o r i a    M a r i n e s c u 

Architecture cannot be logical and shouldn’t be ideological  

Whereas current conceptual fixations lead to a pseudo-logical justification of architecture, which is also a convenient strategy for delivering to the client a credible and apparently "unique" story (discourse) about the prospective architectural object  (since this is derived "logically", thereby allaying anxieties to do with the artistic vacuousness of our era and with the lack of firm reference-points in a pluralist world…), architecture can in fact only be art.  

Why? Because the mechanism of decision in architecture resembles (if we are to stay within the realm of logic) that of finding solutions to a system of equations in which there are more indeterminates than there are available equations. As any mathematician can immediately envisage, such a system is "indeterminate", which is to say that we cannot find for it a unique or unequivocal solution. We can only find for it, through trials, various solutions, about none of which can it be said that it is superior to another, for they depend on the premises from which we start. These solutions presuppose the intervention of the architect as an arbiter and thus imply decisions that can only be of an "artistic" order (unless they are ideological!) as they are made in accordance with aesthetic criteria (the other criteria  ̶ functional, rational, economical, optimising ̶  being already included in the system of equations that is used as a metaphor for the solution provided by architecture to a problem). A look at the history of architecture, at the great variety of responses to the same eternal themes and demands, is enough to make clear that a purely logical architecture is impossible; just as an art that is detached from its context, from the fact that it is created by human beings, is impossible (whereas the existence of logic is conceivable even on a planet devoid of life in which the laws of physics hold perfectly!). Art, in essence, is opposed to logic in the sense that it is the manifestation of the artist's personal, profound and sensitive discernment in relation to his era (thus to his absolutely personal time and himself!). But to dis-cern is not necessarily a logical operation (as we might be tempted to suppose, thinking for example of Eratosthenes' sieve) but only one of attentive selection, yet relying 
upon non-eternal things and thus unjustifiable using pure logic. Aesthetic decision especially (ever present, impossible to eliminate even by the most "rational" of architectures) is non-logical par excellence, but all the more sublime for it and admirably-humane. It is for this reason that rationalism, having radiated from the enlightenment project, remains a form of architecture, transforming the theme of reason into a source of poetry of the constructed object. Poetry can choose any source, even reason itself, without a loss of the poetic, of its profound and surprising non-rationality, so important for human balance.  


Architecture shouldn't be ideological but it most often is. Ideology is, in politics but also anywhere else, a type of (most often crude!) simplification of decision-making processes that are much too complicated to be undergone routinely by ordinary man. Just as a politician decides to belong to a political party, thereby removing any doubt that he ought to have regarding the solutions that politics can provide at a given time in a society, so also the architect usually decides to adhere to a style, a fashion, a design recipe  ̶ be it that he does this consciously or in the unconscious which guides his aesthetic decisions. Those who can resist the temptation to resolve the problem of the “eternal return of doubt” through various recipes and simplifications are extremely rare. Only these few people can be regarded as not practicing architecture ideologically. They usually cannot reach a status of success, for the complexity of their response to the complexity of architecture’s problems can only rarely be singled out as interesting by all that trendsetters and architectural critique might mean, who in turn regard the world of architecture through the simplifying lens/gauge of their own ideology, be it even a very nuanced one. A perfectly non-ideological architecture should, probably, be perfectly invisible, but of good quality, thus serving imperceptively yet harmoniously the life that unfolds within it. The visibility of an architecture has often to do with the adoption of a radical stance in its design, which most often in practice means the ideologising of the design process. Radicalism is most often produced through simplifications proposed by various ideologies.   

Visibility has to do with the scale of the architecture and with its political alignment or to the mechanisms of any type of power. How could an architecture be visible (literally but also in the public conscience of its time) which does not build a cathedral, a 
skyscraper, an airport? The human being is only rarely capable of admiring the modestly small in the face of the condescendingly large. Nothing in the preserving mechanisms of artistic models in collective consciousness (in the past or in the digital age!) seems to indicate that humanity has the predisposition or the opportunity to preserve and perpetuate examples of “imperceptible, modest, nontriumphalist” architecture … 

Horia Marinescu is shifting between architectural design and its critical observation, searching in classical drawing or written word a balance between the poetics of space and the beauty of bearing structures. He regards, since over 20 years, the Romanian architectural world from Vienna (and vice-versa), noting his observations in essays published by the Viennese and Bucharest press. Studied architecture at Akademie der Bildenden Künste Wien(where he received his magister architecturae), at the Technische Universität Wien and at UAUIM Bucharest.

English version of the text by Vladimir Popescu, philosopher and academic of the University of Adelaide, Australia

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