Established in May 2011, the AE Foundation provides an open independent forum for the discussion of architecture. The Foundation brings together an international community of practitioners, academics and graduates who wish to pursue architecture seriously with a view to contributing to and disseminating architectural knowledge and understanding. To, “promote the significance of the discipline, to encourage scholarship and foster an active architectural culture, in partnership with individuals in practice and academia – and to be a centre ‘par excellence’ for intelligent dialogue and debate in architectural theory, history and practice based in Scotland.”
One such discussion was undertaken during the Spring months of this year, 2012, under the general question: can we talk about fundamentals in architecture? Our exchange was at times flippant, at times philosophical, and at times biting of each other’s position. Some of us decided to formalise our thoughts in short essays. What follows is a summary. An extended version of the essay can be found on the AE Foundation website.
I started with Aldo Rossi’s rumination on the alternative title for his book A Scientific Autobiography,
“Forgetting Architecture comes to mind as a more appropriate title for this book, since while I may talk about a school, a cemetery, a theatre, it is more correct to say that I talk about life, death, imagination.”
It links the building types: school, cemetery, theatre; with their conceptual analogues: life, death, imagination. In this space of association type in architecture is both material and idea. In a theory of types, we can view the process of architectural history unfolding, treatise to treatise, manual to manual, and manifesto to manifesto. That is, from Vitruvius, De architectura, Serlio and Palladio’s books during the Renaissance, to Durand’s manual which codifies buildings, Venturi’s manifesto, and the pamphlets of Holl. In Rafael Moneo’s 1978 essay On Typology, republished in a 2004 edition of El Croquis he writes that typology raises the question of the nature of the architectural work itself. In my view, it is therefore legitimate to postulate type as one place to begin a discussion about fundamentals in architecture.
For the first part, type is a way of thinking in groups, which is, analysis through classification. In architecture, the most common theories of classification by type have been according to use: national monuments, town halls, prisons, banks, warehouses, factories, as can be seen in Nikolaus Pevsner’s 1976 A History of Building Types; and according to form: centralised plan, linear arrangement, courtyard. Aldo Rossi tell us that the former understanding is limiting because the use of a building is independent from its form. Buildings evolve over time, so a warehouse becomes an apartment block, an apartment block becomes an office block, an office block becomes a brothel. Or as, for example, Atelier Bow-Wow show us in Made in Tokyo, all of these can be contained as a hybrid, so that above the warehouse is an apartment block, which is below an office, and the building terminates with a penthouse brothel.
Rossi’s quote, “I would define the concept of type as something that is permanent and complex, a logical principle that is prior to form and that constitutes it,” is significant for its location within The Architecture of the City. It mediates between a quotation by the Enlightenment architectural theorists Antoine Chrysôthome Quatremère de Quincy and Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand. Both Quatremère de Quincy and Durand acknowledged, in different ways the relationship of memory and history in the idea of type. Quatremère de Quincy linked type with that which is archaic, elemental and primitive, and we could say to memory. Free from this metaphysical speculation, Durand’s technical understanding geometrised history. And as Rossi has said, history is the material of architecture. Thus in the adjacency of each quote we get the opposition between the conceptual and the material once more. Rossi’s quote then, mediates between the “permanent and complex,” which is archaic and elemental, something “prior to form;” and of the “logical principle,” which is that constituted by a reading of history.
And of forgetting, Rossi writes,
“In order to be significant, architecture must be forgotten, or must present only an image for reverence which subsequently becomes confounded with memories.”
Freud tells us that in forgetting, we commit something to the unconscious, where it is worked over during regression, which is an impulse to the archaic; and then to surface again when remembered, only now transformed, and reverent. The type is worked over within the collective history of architecture, to be transformed by a kind of temporal and formal regression.