El Lissitzky, Self-portrait of the builder, 1924
Is architecture logical or ideological?

L u c a   O r t e l l i

Architecture should be both logical AND ideological.

Such a statement is probably ideological and it is also logical in my opinion, even if it is clear that the meaning of the word logical, here, it is not the same than in the title of this text. Furthermore, the disjunctive term “or” implicitly argues an opposition between logic and ideology.

Architecture is logical because there is no other possible way to produce it. Eventually, one could speculate on the role and the weight given to “logic” in design and construction. According to this fundamental meaning, architecture can’t be non-logical or irrational. In its two components – design and construction – architecture is an activity based on a rational sequence of choices and selections/eliminations. From this point of view, it would be possible to affirm that all the buildings, nowadays and in the past, are logical, but such a sentence is clearly false. This is due to the fact that logical and rational approach doesn’t represent a universal and absolute value.

Nowadays, architecture is supposed to respond to many different, often contradictory, logics: economy, energy efficiency, social impact, density, sustainable urban development, aesthetics, public and private expectations, architectural discourse and so on. Beyond the passive a-critical acceptance and celebration of supposed or pretended “masterpieces” (as described in Koolhaas’s Junk Space) it is possible and easy to criticize buildings and projects non-responding to specific “logics”. Such a criticism is mainly supported by quantitative analysis, technical factors, urban considerations, social evaluations, just to mention the main ones. As already stated, these parameters are often contradictory: economy versus social needs, energy efficiency versus ancient buildings, new complexes versus the existing city, ethics versus aesthetics (actually reduced to a fashionable slogan), densification versus well-being and many other oppositions. In this disorienting situation, an ideological approach is useful and even necessary, if we give to ideology the task to select and hierarchically organize the impressive number of items and topics architecture has to satisfy. An ideological vision is fundamental from this point of view. In its noblest meaning, ideology is an idea about the city and its architecture, an idea about the world and how it could or should be. In this sense, ideology is a general principle, the adaptation of an idea to reality, the formalization of a specific possibility among many. Architecture without an ideological dimension transforms itself in a technical act – and in spite of its pretended or supposed neutrality, technology is ideological as well.