Post Script to Rowe-Koetter's Collage City.
Considering the junction between day 8—Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter’s Collage City—and day 9—Gandelsonas’s “Linguistics in Architecture”—I feel its pretty critical to make a note in the style of a post script about Architecture Theory thusfar. Structuralism and Post Structuralism were, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, waging war across just about every humanity field that they could transfer themselves into, and it appears Michael Hays has begun his book in the middle of the battle for architecture. What’s more, he has done so without so much as a ‘heads up,’ and though I imagine doctoral candidates and theorists/critics/design writers would recognize this clash, the majority of the design world, I’m convinced, would not. So allow me to restate the current location of the 11 Weeks project in this tumult.
Structuralism grew out of the linguistic studies of Ferdinand de Saussure (who we came across in Baird’s essay) at the beginning of the 20th century as a way of interpreting all human linguistic phenomena in an overarching structure. This caught on and seemed to be the new jam into the mid-century. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, as Structuralism came under attack by fierce critics (Post Structuralists like Derrida, Althusser, Barthes, Baudrillard, Deleuze, and Foucault), Claude Lévi-Strauss translated linguistic structuralism into anthropology, thus discovering its applicability to general academia. Structuralism is fundamentally a theoretical mode, a method, an archetype of intellectual inquiry whose basic characteristic is the construction of a theoretical apparatus, usually along two opposing ideas (“binary oppositions” like good and evil, form and content, utopia and tradition, theory and ideology), capable of incorporating and explaining as many human phenomena as possible.
Post Structuralist discourse tagged along as an opposing archetype, one that believes academic fields cannot be interpreted in one single, meta, all inclusive overarching system. The struggle between these two modes of thought runs parallel to architectural theory as delineated by Michael Hays. In fact, let’s consider the possibility that the beginning of “architecture theory”—delineated and described by Hays as the incorporation, by architecture, of extra-architectural fields of inquiry—may have been directly instigated by the fashion of Structuralism—itself carrying out the reverse operation, applying its method to as many fields as possible. Graciously, Hays consistently declines to explain this, or even hint at this in the least. Instead, we are left to understand this ongoing epic, fundamental struggle is happening, we are expected to recognize Claude Lévi-Strauss and his gaggle as indicators of Structuralism.
Now, for the most part I’m out of fucks to give for Structuralism and Post Structuralism and academics keeping the keys to theory locked save in the ivory fortress. But it is important to note that these two methods are influencing the readings of this project, and, more pertinent, that Structuralism’s origins in linguistics (which will be the topic of discussion in Gandelsonas’s essay) can be seen in Baird, Scott Brown, and Rowe very clearly. Even Tafuri’s modernist narrative, which declines to be linguistic, is essentially Structuralist, evidenced by his framing artistic, social, psychological and architectural developments within the capitalist structure.
But let’s consider two examples specifically (and briefly): Baird and Rowe-Koetter. Baird gracefully transcodes semiotics (20th century linguistics) and historical architectural theory (17th century Perrault) to produce a gorgeous theoretical system by setting 3 binaries into equivalence—langue-parole, arbitrary-positive beauties, metaphor-metonymy—and thereby structures architecture, linguistics, and as many fields to which those pairings can be applied. Rowe-Koetter, alternatively, attempt the same kind of structure but in an aggressive, almost desperate inclusive sweep that is exhausting and confusing. Their binaries are multitudinous and, except for the emerging utopia-tradition pair, are multi-directional. None are quite set equivalent and, instead, we are caught in the ‘interstitial spaces’ between a huge variety of crazy.
As far as post scripts are concerned: from Collage City we must walk away with stage set v. exhibit, an odd binary byproduct of liberal formal heterogeneity within a city (Rowe’s goal, which is surprisingly repetitive of the Romantic city) and analogous to Rowe’s “museum city” metaphor. Then we must also know that collage is his way of resolving—or at least keeping in check—the multiple ongoing oppositions that he has set about discussing in addition to achieving the formal freedom discussed in the original post.
I’m not particularly concerned with whether or not this resolution makes Collage City a Structuralist or Post Structuralist proposal. After having read it I’m tempted to say that Collage allows them to be both and neither at the same time. What is the effect of this on architecture and design? Well, in terms of Structuralism-Post Structuralism, lots of harm and obfuscation. As Gandelosonas points out, the point (not the same as effect) was to help architecture survive the fall of Modernism. (As I’ve said, theory in general was a way to recover from the extreme changes in how architecture was reconceived as a medium by Modernism, paralleled only by the extreme collapse of that same concept.) The methodologies of Structuralism and Post Structuralism just happened to affect how that theory evolved.
Practically speaking, the inclusion of linguistics, of Structuralist inclusivism, altered the content of architecture and the various purposes it was assigned during the post-modern struggle. I’m not going to review that here because that is actually what each essay is about, the effect of the Structuralist-Post Structuralist debate on architecture. So stay tuned, damnit.