How will migration influence architecture and the city?
Photo courtesy of Renato Rizzi
The celebration of the indomitable
By now we have learned about only one side of the pandemic. The health related one. The other, the cultural side, is equally tragic. It directly involves our responsibilities as architects. The virus broke out suddenly, but its incubation is remote. Its embryos developed in the fertile ground of contemporary technical-scientific-digital thought. We could, however, intercept the symptoms of the disease. Time ago. Even though our minds are still shaped that way. But in what way? Well! It wouldn't take a lot of speeches. It would be enough to dwell on one, extraordinary, word. Unfortunately, we are impatient (for Kafka, man's worst sin). Anyway, here it is: Architecture. Its epistemic structure is as clear as the sun: arché + téchne. Two thousand years ago Vitruvius had already identified the law of the signifier (arché) and of the signified (téchne). The law remains intact, although we can now add another pair of synonyms equally important to our impatience: the indomitable (arché) and the domitable (téchne). Architecture keeps us anchored in the gravity centre of its name, where the fields of forces collide: the indomitable of the limit (archè) and the domitable of the limitless (téchne). Unfortunately, our couples are not oxymorons. The powers of both converge in form. In the formless, on the other hand, only the (pre) powers of technique act. The difference between form and formless is therefore enormous. The shape (arché + téchne) is an expression of differences: of singularity. The shapeless (téchne) is an expression of indifference: of arbitrariness.
The theoretical assumption of technology leads to the idea of an unlimited world: globalization. By fate, homogenization. Unfortunately, we are bewitched by this spell. Consequently, history always finds us unprepared (E. Severino). As now! The task of culture would be however quite another. It would be to keep us awake, always on the alert. Be ready and prepared for the unpredictable. But this condition implies, as we eagerly try to say, the existence of the indomitable.
Let us also return to the initial question on migration. Since the world began, peoples have always divided, met, clashed between nomads and settlement dwellers. Between iconodules and iconoclasts. But at the same time, there were also migrations of thought, knowledge, experience. The spirit of Europe, its civilization, was founded precisely on this grandiose dialectical movement of opposites. This is the great privilege of our cultural heritage. If we forget history, we forget that art, in all its various shapes, and at all scales, is the only (social!) shape of civilization. Incivility, on the other hand, is the producer of the shapeless. The process of human thought is a long and troubled path, although we cannot forget its main stages.
1, knowledge, in itself, is an adirectional thought.
2, culture gives direction to that knowledge.
3, civilization shapes that culture.
In the end, an insurmountable point is always reached: the shape. Let's repeat it: the shape. Unfortunately, we are in the opposite time of the shapeless. We are downgraded to point 2. That is, in the time of the negative shapes. Which, in turn, do not remain mute or inert or harmless. Indeed, without warning they overwhelm us. Haven't our lives plunged into this pandemic time? Other than migrations and national borders. Other than illusions of virtual worlds without borders. Il-limited! We are condemned to stay indoors, and if we go out, the “maximum” space we are allowed is no bigger than our open arms: 2x2 m. A 4 square meters cell. Stop! This is the irrefutable fact. Where has the spell of the infinite world gone? The illimited of the technique has fallen into the infra-world of an incredulous, frightened man. Are we re-awake? The vanished dream became a nightmare. Real and tangible, unfortunately!
However, we persist in not wanting to see. The cultural vaccine has always been contained in the indomitable of architecture. Which then moves into the indomitable of our lives, of the world, of things. Certainly, all of this requires a radical shift in our point of view. With consequences that entirely affect the understanding of culture in general, of history, of our responsibility, of the project.
Above all we should understand that the limit of the indomitable corresponds to the aesthetic plane (masculine noun) of the shape, beyond which we cannot go. Because the extremes of the shape correspond to the extremes of life: birth and death. The shape celebrates both: the feast of birth and the mourning of death. The presupposition of the indomitable: solemnity (of the world, of things, of ourselves). The aim of the indomitable: their celebration.
Full professor at IUAV, Venice. Currently, he’s working on John Hejudk’s poems,“Bronx: poesie 1953-2000”, in two volumes. Vol. 1, Antichissimo testamento; Vol. 2, Nuovissimo testamento.