Reply to Kati Blom, by Christophe Bruchansky

It seems that the history of the skyscraper and their relationship to commerce is overlooked or ignored. Is there a reason why these aspects do not come into play in your work?

I wrote my study on verticality while I was in Hong Kong in 2010. The history of skyscrapers from the Chicago of the late 19th century seemed far away from the boom that Chinese cities are currently experiencing. However, both have in common the phenomenon of concentration. Skyscrapers are impressive in scale, but what is more impressive is what they represent: the value that citizens give to urban concentration. New skyscrapers are built mainly because of the proximity of other skyscrapers. Thousands of people want to take the same lift and cross the same door only because many other people do the same nearby. In the case of Hong Kong, concentration is driven by its port and commerce, followed by its financial institutions. Banks and the port still play an essential role in the city, but I am not sure that the density of Hong Kong is justified solely by commerce anymore. It has become self-sustaining, and the mere density of its population attracted new businesses, which then attracted more people. I wonder then if commerce still sustains the current density or if it is the density itself that maintains the commercial activity. After all, do we still need urban density to fulfil most of our commercial goals, especially in an economy of information and services? Is concentration becoming a value in itself and skyscrapers its monuments to worship?

Augé’s non-place describes a highly commercial global environment (e.g. airports, petrol stations, etc.) with one-dimensional and straightforward appropriation making it easy to ‘travel’ or ‘eat’ or ‘get petrol’ in a non-individual way, not a physically unpleasant place, nor historically shallow place per se. How is this taken into consideration in your work?

According to Marc Augé:

If a place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity will be a non-place (1995: 77).

Historicity plays thus an important role in what differentiates a place from a non-place. The definition doesn’t involve commerce, but supermodernity and its advertisement are encouraging the emergence of non-places:

Supermodernity produces non-places, meaning spaces which are not themselves anthropological places and which […] do not integrate the earlier places: instead these are listed, classified, promoted to the status of ‘places of memory’, and assigned to a circumscribed and specific position (Augé 1995: 78).

A characteristic of non-places is that they allow the execution of a task for which the visitors are willing to lose their identity:

A person entering the space of non-place is relieved of his usual determinants. He becomes no more than what he does and experiences in the role of passenger, customer or driver […] he obeys the same code as others, receives the same messages, responds to the same entreaties (Augé 1995: 103).

I think however that this characteristic is only subjective. Some drivers feel that motorways are their true home, and some business people feel less anonymous in an airport than in their home town. At the same time, some residents barely take any time making their house or flat a home, and are more than happy to apply a pre-packaged home identify using IKEA furniture for example, which they can apply again wherever they go. These different methods of appropriating space are natural in my opinion. And Marc Augé describes them marvellously well. But I do not think they are characteristic of our times. What is new is the reshape of space by supermodernity.

Your reading appears to be post-modernist, believing that we are free to choose whatever reading we like. This raises the question as to whether place has got any say in the discussion. If this is the case, then it does not make sense to use the distinction place versus non-place, if any place can become a non-place, re-readable for a nomad or a meaningful place for a ‘sedentists’.

I am a postmodernist and I have at heart to demonstrate that it does not necessary lead to nihilism and inaction. Yes, any space can be perceived as a place or non-place depending on the context and the perceiver. But that does not mean the distinction does not make sense. It manifestly does, if not, we could not speak about it. We cannot classify objectively space into places on one side and non-places on the other. But we can debate it. The concept of non-place is a conceptual tool among many others to negotiate our environment. Seeing ourselves as pure ‘sedentists’ reduces our perspectives. Sure, most of us feel attached to certain places and organise their life around them. But we are also nomads, we are mobile, we can probably make any place our home and can change it the next day. We are willing to do so if it fits our ambitions, either in terms of career, freedom or cosmopolitan ideals. I believe that urbanism and architecture would benefit in recognising more often the ‘sedentist’/nomad duality of our human condition.

Would you agree that your work suggests Augé is reactionary?

No. I do not know about the author himself but I do not think that his book Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (1995) is reactionary at all. His description of historic places is far from being consensual. Cities have been turned into museums: restored and exposed areas, listed monuments that are illuminated like Christmas trees and pedestrian precinct. As Jean Baudrillard describes it in Simulacra and Simulation, disneyfication transformed our cities into theme parks ([1981] 1994). Marc Augé does not defend either places or non-places. The reactionary movement on the other hand insists on the supposed authenticity of places over non-places. They appeal to the authentic in order to preserve the market value of their real-estate assets, and the touristic attractiveness of their monuments. The paradox is that they also need non-places such as airports and motorways to maintain the attractiveness of their assets, yet still denigrate them.

The point about the ‘narrative’ architect is a reaction against Augé’s supposedly reactionary idea of anthropological place, and being is composed as an opposition to ‘places impose a strong narrative’. Isn’t it so that the difference is rather quantitative?

As explained earlier, I consider myself a postmodernist and do not think that we can classify objectively spaces into places and non-places. The distinction is artificial, subjective, both qualitatively and quantitatively. I have found however that the concept is useful in our negotiation of space. There is a widespread believe in architecture and urbanism that people need to be given places. Often the lack of identity in buildings, such as skyscrapers in Hong Kong, is perceived as being a kind of failure. The concept of non-place helps us to reconsider this assumption. I would like to see sponsors, urbanists and architects argument more explicitly the ‘placeness’ of their projects. Did the population express a desire for strong identity and placeness in a project? Or does it come from other considerations such as economic attractiveness? Would inhabitants prefer an unfinished urban environment in which they could construct an identity, or did they ask for the help of a narrative architect to build a turn-key story of their vicinity? What is the political intention behind the project: encourage sedentism or nomadism? All these questions arise thanks to the concept of non-place. They can inform the architectural practice even though it will always be impossible to tell if a space is objectively a place or non-place.

Do you consider yourself an artist, a writer, even a philosopher?

Gaston Bachelard demonstrated in The Poetics of Space ([1958] 1994) the distinction between these practices is arbitrary. There is tremendous value in connecting art, architecture and philosophy. I feel comfortable being in-between. I take a pragmatic approach and change my role depending on the context and social expectations. Being a philosopher seems to raise the expectations that correspond the most to what I intend to do. But it can only be partial.

References:

Augé, M. (1995) Non-Places- introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity. London: Verso.

Bachelard, G. ([1958] 1994) Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press.

Baudrillard, J. ([1981] 1994) Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Harvard Citation Guide: Bruchansky, C. (2011) Reply to Kati Blom, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 27 Jan 2011, Available at: https://isparchitecture.wordpress.com. [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

Questions for Christophe Bruchansky, by Kati Blom

Christophe Bruchansky invited ISPA to comment on his essay “Welcome to My Place: a philosophical paper on the appropriation of space” which presents an analysis of non-place simply and subtly conceived. Exploring ideas regarding verticality, Bruchansky describes the signification process in all types including markets, restaurants and playgrounds. Bruchansky’s video work filmed in Hong Kong further compliments his study of verticality and is exhibited here along with questions for the philosophically inclined artist.

1. It seems that the history of the skyscraper and their relationship to commerce is overlooked or ignored. Is there a reason why these aspects do not come into play in your work?

2. Auge’s non-place describes a highly commercial global environment (e.g. airports, petrol stations, etc.) with one-dimensional and straightforward appropriation making it easy to ‘travel’ or ‘eat’ or ‘get petrol’ in a non-individual way, not a physically unpleasant place, nor historically shallow place per se. How is this taken into consideration in your work?

3. Your reading appears to be post-modernist, believing that we are free to choose whatever reading we like. This raises the question as to whether place has got any say in the discussion. If this is the case, then it does not make sense to use the distinction place versus non-place, if any place can become a non-place, re-readable for a nomad or a meaningful place for ‘sedentists’.

4. Would you agree that your work suggests Auge is reactionary?

5. The point about the ‘narrative’ architect is a reaction against Auge’s supposedly reactionary idea of anthropological place, and being is composed as an opposition to ‘places impose a strong narrative’. Isn’t it so that the difference is rather quantitative?

6. Do you consider yourself an artist, a writer, even a philosopher?

Harvard Citation Guide: Blom, K. (2012) Questions for Christophe Bruchansky, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 17 Jan 2011, Available at: https://isparchitecture.wordpress.com. [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

Concretism, by Kati Blom

This paper will suggest a paradigm shift in architecture, which is given the title Concretism. To support this argument the paper applies the phenomenological realism of Roman Ingarden. His ontology of art presented in his 1989 text entitled Ontology of the Work of Art, offers a solid system to identify the points of changing ideals in architecture. When applied to architecture, Ingarden’s phenomenological realism assumes a real, physical object as a partly independent object (an architectural work of art), and a cultural, intentional object (an aesthetic object). In his account concretization means an individual aspect or attitude in relation to the concrete, material object.

Paradoxically, Ingarden’s system of architecture uses the concept ‘concrete’ only in the connection with the individual perceptions of the physical object, rather than using the word ‘concrete’ referring to the concrete, physical object (as a concrete realisation of an architectural idea). His view of the system of architecture, as a system of intentionality, is more complex, and instead of using only the concept ‘concretization’, he uses idealisation, actualisation, realisation and concretization(s).

One must note that not all buildings in Ingarden’s system reach a point of highly ordered intentionality of an aesthetic object (concretization). This level requires persuasion, clarification, semiotic interpretations and conscious rhetoric. This paper will discuss the differences of socio—ethical concretists and immaterial concretists in the light of Ingarden’s system of architecture as a work of art. The difference with the previous paradigm is implied in the presence of a new hyper-value based on global interconnectedness.

Harvard Citation Guide: Blom, K. (2010) Concretism, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 25 May 2010, Available at: https://isparchitecture.wordpress.com. [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

Simulation and Architecture, by Jenefer Robinson

I agree with the premise of this conference that recent architecture has suffered as a result of putting its faith in various – often ill-digested – philosophical theories, but the latest philosophical fad in architectural theory promises to be different. In his influential essay “The Eyes of the Skin” Juhani Pallasmaa embraces the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty: he attacks “ocularcentrism,” and argues that architecture appeals not just to the eye but to all the senses, and he praises the work of Wright and Aalto because it is “based on a full recognition of the embodied human condition and of the multitude of instinctual reactions hidden in the human unconscious.” What’s exciting about Pallasmaa’s thesis is that many of his claims are borne out by recent research in cognitive science.

The appreciation of architecture relies on moving through spaces, touching surfaces, listening to sounds reverberating (or not), smelling materials and the captive air, and feeling with one’s body the ambiances of the places created. But the appreciator cannot be everywhere at once in a building. The recent discovery of mirror neurons that activate when one performs a certain action (grasping, raising one’s leg etc.) as well as when one watches another person performing that very same action suggests that when we remember a building we have visited, we simulate the movements we took maneuvering through it, as well as the visual, tactile, and auditory sensations we experienced. Philosophers have suggested that simulation theory can explain how we understand and empathize with other minds, including the minds of fictional characters in novels and movies, but it applies much more straightforwardly to architecture, where what is simulated are our own past actions and movements.

Once we understand architecture in this way, we can also see how it can arouse emotions or emotional feelings. It is generally agreed that emotions appraise the environment in terms of its significance to me or mine: as the psychologist Nico Frijda puts the point: emotional experience is the “perception of horrible objects, insupportable people, oppressive events.” But emotions do not just appraise the world; they also ready the person for dealing with the situation as appraised, to attack (in anger), to flee (in fear) to hide (in shame) etc. Architecture presents us with Gibsonian affordances that evoke appropriate actions, movements, postures etc. which in turn induce emotional feelings: this portal is for entering grandly and invites feelings of self-confidence, whereas this dark narrow corridor is for scurrying through surreptitiously and makes me feel uneasy.

Harvard Citation Guide: Robinson, J. (2010) Simulation and Architecture, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 23 May 2010, Available at: https://isparchitecture.wordpress.com. [Accessed: 01 June 2012].