Performing architecture

May 16, 2012


Brunelleschi, for the dome in Florence, was one of the first to use a model to convince his customers. History of architecture, and especially religious architecture is full of representations of architects showing models to get supports from the priests or kings. This act of performing to convince is not new. But the evolution of our post-industrial society, as claims Jan Verwoert, tends to go further in that direction. “One thing seems certain: after the disappearance of manual labour from the lives of most people in the western world, we have entered into a culture where we no longer just work, we perform.” (Jan Verwoert, tell me what you want, what you really, really want. p.13) In his essay he portrays how we are producing performance, as an artist, an intellectual but also a businessman for instance. Lots of parallels could be done with architectural production. Indeed a important part of the architect’s work is to sell his projects and not to erect buildings.

Some concepts could be easily applied to architect’s way to produce. At least, those are feelings that I encountered several times in my architecture student’s life. This relation to time: the architect as I know it has a tendency to work always until the last minute available. “We live and work on the concept of just in time production” (idem, p.35). Then after finishing an important project you have this gap, floating feeling, between the satisfaction of accomplishment and the restart of a new project: “time is up and you are finally relieved from the pressure to perform” (idem, p.55). And still this question that you are never completely relived: “Still, you can never be sure whether the free time you gain is not just the time you need to restore your energies to be fit to perform again on the next day so that you never escape the cycle of compulsive productivity.” (idem, p.58)

It’s interesting to see how difficult it is to get rid of this performing act. As states the author, the simple fact to try to make it differently, or to protest, is already a way of performing. Not being normal is a norm. Furthermore you are always competing with your own intentions and the public or client’s needs: “this inextricable ambivalence between what you want and expect from yourself and what others want and expect from you is probably one of the hardest puzzles for anyone who works both creatively and on demand to solve.” (idem, p.62)




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