Architecture and the Establishment: Why Architecture cannot perform like the Fine Arts.
Many argue the main difference is Architecture's primary need to satisfy a function: shelter. This post takes a different track though. Instead, the argument shall be that Architecture's position in society severely restricts it from questioninging or uprooting shared conceptions, as advances in sculpture and painting have been successfully doing for generations.
These other arts subvert by questioning established concepts, but there is a problem with expecting subversion through architecture. By its very nature of participating with the built environment, Architecture inevitably becomes part of it. The built environment is inherited and all participants, by that nature, it becomes the establishment. Literally. Architecture shelters all the functions that are required for a society of operate, (the following statement is extreme,) but only by abandoning a culture’s buildings can you truly shed its values. Corb, Loos, and even Wittkower all found words to say this.
A big part of this predicament stems from how Architecture is realized. Of all forms of art, Architecture is the hardest with which to achieve subversion because it is commissioned, not patronized. Those with the most power, those with the most money, dictate intimately how functions are arranged in a building. This is true of capitalists, corporations, or whole cities. Of course it is in the best interests of those with power to maintain or insure their power, thus the built environment, being controlled by the powerful, is most likely to reinforce the status quo.
This last observation is not new. Manfredo Tafuri abandoned his participation in Architecture because of similar frustrations decades ago. The challenge is still just to engage at level where one can effect this situation. Here is Peter Eisenman, from the 1992 interview in Cities of Artificial Excavation. It’s a shame he’s talking about something completely different…
“Any architecture is subject to this total loss of control any time you
begin to realize a building whether it is because of cost, or because the client
is not interested in ideology or conceptualization, or because of zoning.
Every time you challenge the condition of authority, of what is realizable in
whatever kind of project you do, it becomes an enormous problem. And
certainly my architecture pushes the limit of what is realizable.”