This Type is Mine!
Copy, Concept and Architects in the question of the contemporary type and the architectural practice.
By Santiago Sánchez Rodríguez M.Arch.T · Model & Type Model and Type II · WiSe 19/20
In the search of the new type.
In his essay On Typology, Rafael Moneo tackles the question of type from several fronts. At first, he proposes a definition, and then immerses himself in a critical journey through the history of typological studies; a state of the art that allows him to assert that already in 1978 (the year when the essay was published) typological studies were in crisis, fragmented, so he questions the sole idea of talking about type based on definitions that were already anachronistic for the concerns of that time. From the beginning, Moneo insists that "to raise the question of typology in architecture is to raise a question of the nature of the architectural work itself"(1). He also clarifies in the end that despite the crisis, the question of type is implicit in the nature of the architectural object and it is impossible to avoid it.
As Moneo exhorts, it is up to each generation to rethink the type and deepen its answers, so I consider that 40 years after his postulate, it is urgent to have several reviews of the role of type today, when the nature of the architectural object "it seems, has been swallowed up by external forces and put in the service of the smooth functioning of the city and of flows of capital" as the collective Adjustment Agency stresses. "Formalism is a dead-end, form is just a means to produce new terrains for the expenditure of surplus capital. We have little control over program since we're beholden to patronage. Meanwhile, criticism has no bite; speculation, no value; theorization, no impact. Academia and institutions defang all thought."(2) Form, use and theorization are 3 fundamental aspects in the study of the types that purely incidental when the importance of architecture lies more in its excessive media coverage than in its spatial quality, in exalting the individual creator and his "unique ideas" instead of understanding design as part of a process, that is not only historical but also social, economic and cultural, and focusing it on individual needs over the various problems we face as a society. Architecture is now part of an economic monoculture that now "thinks and acts like businesses, adopting management philosophies and marketing techniques"(3), transforming the practice completely, now framed in that logic, where the typological approach is either plagiarism or a product of the conceptual genius of an individual increasingly concerned with public relations and communications than with architecture itself.
1 Moneo, On Typology, 23.
2 Adjustmen Agency, Refusal after Refusal.
3 F.S. Michaesl, Monoculture, How one story is changing everything, 71.
Copy is the new type or, I am guilty of the crime of typology.
In the first part of his text, Moneo makes one of the clearest approaches to the understanding of type, endowing the architectural object with two paradoxical conditions: uniqueness and repeatability. The object is an entity itself, stylistically comparable with other objects, but unique and unrepeatable in terms of scale, context, or physical properties impossible to reproduce. At the same time, the architectural object is endowed with repeatability, belonging to a category of objects that share certain attributes. In this way, the type allows the architectural object to be grouped according to certain characteristics inherent to its formal structure and at the same time, it is capable of being transformed, destroyed or respected by someone else to create a new object, related in the same way with its predecessors.
And it is precisely in this capacity of the architectural object to be used, appropriated and modified by others, where lies perhaps one of the main typological problems of these times: the taboo of copying in architecture. In a big effort to be original, the western human being tries to repeatedly exalt that which makes him or her unique. And it is perhaps for this reason that in the practice of contemporary architecture the pretension of uniqueness seems to be valued more than repeatability. By not admitting the use of typological references (now understood as plagiarism) and trying at all costs to prevent the use of their own proposals as references for others (being plagiarized), architects then believe that they can break the chain that ties the present with the past, with the Origin -stated by Quatremère de Quincy-(4), to become the new original link, the new paradigm of architecture, ignoring that in some disciplines (usually the so- called creative ones) the idea of originality is quite diffuse(5).
The ambition to be unique has turned the typological approach of architecture into a copyright problem; the nature of architecture itself is now an ethical problem with legal complications (Fig. 1-3). The entrepreneurial logic that governs today's architecture has been responsible for generating this transformation to sell unrepeatable objects to governments, companies, or human beings who in turn consider themselves unique in their species. However, in practice the situation is different; "The design process is a way of bringing the elements of a typology-the idea of a formal structure-into the precise state that characterizes the single work"(6).
Fig. 1 D.Chipperfield, Hong Kong University, competitiion, 2003 https://www.torredebabel.info/plagio-y- moral/
Fig. 2 G..Mazzanti, Santo Domingo Savio Library, 2007 https://www.torredebabel.info/plagio-y- moral/
Fig.3 Broid y F.Assadi: Performing Arts Center Guadalajara, 2009 https://www.torredebabel.info/plagio-y- moral/
This means that such unprecedented new unique objects do not exist since every new architectural object is a part (consciously or unconsciously) of a previous one, which is susceptible to be respected, transformed, destructed, or simply adapted to specific local conditions(7).
Although Moneo considers it as one of the first crisis in the traditional idea of type, this concern for "originality" that originated at the beginning of the 20th century(8), was valid insofar as architecture (and art in general) was restrictive, imposed and anachronistic in the face of the new dynamics of that time; not in vain was the motto of the Vienna Secession "To every time its art. To art is freedom". Nevertheless, the formal freedom that exists today, not only technically but idiosyncratically, should open the way for us to understand that architecture is not an instant of individual genius, but a process of collective knowledge(9) in which the architectural object is molded and adapted to the conditions of today's world, which would allow us to focus more on judging architecture, not by its value as a precious object, but by its performance as a building in a given context(10), thus giving more practical and evident value to the study of the types.
4. Moneo, On Typology, 28.
5. Fish, Plagiarism is not a big moral deal.
6. Moneo, On Typology, 23.
7. Brower and Kuijpers, Originality is a Waste, 100.
8. Moneo, On Typology, 32.
9. Brower and Kuijpers, Originality is a Waste, 100.
Concept is the new type or, my building is the “Stacked Books”.
Throughout his review of the history of typological approaches, Moneo highlights the aspects that relate type to architecture: the form in Quatremere de Quincy, as a natural response to the needs and use of objects that generate a link with the past, with the origin; the program (or genre) in Durand, which allows the basic elements of architecture to be arranged according to their use; the search for the new style in the modern movement, where type was replaced by concerns about space, adaptation, or functionalism. From the 1960s onwards, an interest in type was reborn; authors such as Carlo Argan, Aldo Rossi, and Robert Venturi tried to give it a certain relationship with reality, to make it quite more practical(11).
In this search, Argan, Rossi and Moneo agree on one point: type is implicit in architecture. "type is thus a constant and manifests itself with character of necessity; but even though it is predetermined, it reacts dialectically with technique, function, and style."(12) says Rossi, while Argan assures that it is the "interior structure of a form or as a principle which contains the possibility of infinite formal variations", which "will always fall into three main categories: the first concerned with a complete configuration of the buildings, the second with major structural elements and the third with decorative elements"(13) which are indeed basic aspects of any architectural project. Type is so implicit in architecture that it is possible to relate any of these three categories to all the aspects reviewed by Moneo: form, program, style, space, adaptability or function, are all aspects that are so inherent to any architectural process that few people stop today to reflect seriously on them. However, if there is one question that is reiterative today in architectural practice, it is the question of concept.
Ideas, of course, are inherent to architecture. They are the way to solve any problem, from the general configuration of a building to the detail of drainage of its gutter. Somehow, we architects are dedicated to solving problems through space and matter, which gives rise to the form. Nonetheless, the contemporary tendency to exalt the idea above architecture, becomes again that search to turn the human being and his unique intentions into the center of the architectural problem. It is a new attempt to skip the typological approach, to look for spatial ideas in everyday objects, literature or metaphysics, allowing us to show how inventive we are and how unique our architecture is.
"Concepts claim to translate architecture into an everyday language. As such, concepts claim to be democratic and therefore claim that they allow people with no architectural education to understand buildings"(14). This communicative freedom offered by the concept, helps the projects to be explained and easily understood by a client, a contractor, or the general public. However, there is nothing more restrictive than a concept. The need to remain aligned with a certain idea cancels out any possibility of typological exploration. A new form, a new spatial or functional solution to a determined problem given by the context, would annihilate the initial concept that must be immovable, therefore it annihilates that phenomenal idea that ends up converting that storyteller-businessperson, influencer of the contemporary thought, into a simple and mortal architect.
What is paradoxical is that any conceptual approach to architecture will be framed, whether we like it or not, in the typological field (Figure 4-7). On the one hand, there will be a certain number of buildings that share the concept of being "the M&M’s", being "Occupy Wallstreet" or being "the Stacked Books", giving different formal result associated with one specific idea. Meanwhile, these concepts will come to materialize in a building with form, program, space, and style, which can be associated with previous and future types, no matter how unique the original idea is. After all, the concept is no more than the "inner formal structure"(15) of which Argan speaks. It was always there, linked to the form or the program, it is the solution to the problem disguised as innovation.
Fig. 4 The Concept - Stacked Books Cobe: Northwest Library, Copenhaguen, 2011 https://cobe.dk/place/the-library
Fig. 5 The Library Cobe: Northwest Library, Copenhaguen, https://cobe.dk/place/the-library
Fig.6 Juan Pablo Ortiz, Cinematheque, Bogotá, 2014 http://juanpabloortiz.co/portfolio/cinemateca-distrital/
Tatiana Bilbao, Bioinnova, Culiacán 2012 https://tatianabilbao.com/projects/bioinnova
11 Moneo, On Typology, 28-40.
12 Rossi, The Architecture of the City, 41.
13 Argan, On Typology of Architecture, 244.
14 San Rocco Editorial Board, Fuck Concepts! Context!
15 Argan, On Typology of Architecture, 243.
Bjarke Ingels is the new type or, will I always be a CAD monkey?
"Sometimes the invention of a new type is the result of an exceptional personality, capable of enter into architecture with its own voice" assures Moneo. The architect creates a new type and comes out of anonymity when "he is able to describe a new set of formal relations which generates a new group of buildings or elements"(16). Concerning this quote, I only believe in the first half. Today architects (and I am referring mostly to starchitects) are related to this image of smart-cool-fashioned-intellectual-charismatic-mysterious pro-man (Yes, sadly men. Try to name more than 5 real women in this top level of architecture). These characters are often commissioned with large projects that serve as a reference (or are copied?) for other architects, making the typological discussion of contemporary architecture revolve mostly around them and the imagery they project.
No matter how exceptional my personality and voice could be, Google would never commission me to design their headquarters, Virgin to develop the Hyperloop, or Toyota to design their new city. If these were my ambitions, it would not be enough for me to strive to be a good architect. I would have to make even more of an effort to think about my business model, my public relations, my communications, and my image; only then I could start to aspire for commissions of that magnitude. If I don't get into this game my chances to demonstrate "my own voice" will be quite limited; meanwhile, the hegemonic development of architectural practice will continue, the same firms will keep being commissioned and they will inherit their power in a pyramidal fashion to those who have the know-how of the business (Fig. 8). Why is this problematic in terms of type? Behind these sorts of projects I mentioned earlier, there are several questions and challenges in terms of how we are going to communicate, work, or move in the future. It is in the answer to these challenges and questions which did not exist before, where new schemes and spatial configurations can be conceived; it is in this solution to the new concerns of the human being where new types are generated. If the search for such specific answers is handed over only to those firms, which from time to time stand out more for the image they have created than for their architectural quality, the creation of new types is limited to the signing of a contract rather than a collective effort as a discipline to delve into contemporary concerns, making the architect (and its patron) once again the center of architecture.
Fig. 8 Makovsky Paul, 2011. Baby Rems. In https://www.metropolismag.com/architecture/baby- rems/ It is unfair to generalize. Although the star-system has clear control over architecture on a global scale and quite a few followers willing to continue it, we find in the emerging architecture more critical approaches, which through a discourse of purely political connotations are defining what can be a new variable for the understanding of types. In The Political Compass of Global Architecture(17) (Fig. 9) Alejandro Zaera-Polo defines a series of categories in which he identifies these possible positions that seem to "be detached from their lineages or historical purpose to become aesthetic positions" that can take form, program, scale, style, space. These respond to the context with different strategies but always aligned with the architect's ideological approach. The forms are born in response to a specific problem, which may be contemporary or not, but they also begin to share a political origin that transcends the types of regimes to which we are accustomed; the communist, the Nazi, the imperial.
Fig.9, Zera-Polo Alejandro, 2016. The Political Compass of Global Architecture. Croquis 187 In this scenario, all architects are participants in the creation of multiple voices, all polyphonic, which do not necessarily intend to "enter into architecture with its own voice" as Moneo said. The creation of type becomes then into a collective exploration to understand the problem of contemporary living through architecture and our vision of the world, creating new forms and elements that do not belong to a single human being, which can be the starting point for other projects without any recrimination, where the value is not found in the authorship.
Therefore, is there something such as a new type?
Is it really in crisis? The idea that type will always be present is undeniable; type is implicit in architecture. As it is inherent in the architectural object, it would only be in crisis to the extent that architecture at a global level is also in crisis; that there is no need for new buildings, that our life dynamics are static and our needs do not evolve. What changes in type is its understanding. It is not static, its definition is adjusted to the times and to the concerns of each era, where new variables quickly come into play. As we understand it, it becomes more complex, as we evolve as a society new unknowns arise in the technological, economical, or political spheres stimulating architecture's evolution. Unknowns that will become normalized, redefining our way of inhabiting the world and therefore demanding a redefinition of the spaces where we live as individuals. If type is to architecture, evolution (and I do not say in biological terms) is inherent to the human being, to its inhabiting of the earth which changes from time to time, it takes the form of crisis, of habit or discovery. To deal with this you don't need a building. A building doesn't change the world, but a type does. And has done so several times already. The agora hand in hand with the origin of democracy, the train stations with the industrial revolution, or the skyscrapers with corporate power, to name a few. One single building will never change the world because architecture is not an individual but a collective act, both in its creation and in its presence on the earth's surface, and that also is type about. Copy, concept or type. Who cares? Finally, the question of the contemporary type or its crisis is an open question about where we stand and where we aim to go as a society and what is going to be hand in hand with the booming pace of the current times.
16 Moneo, On Typology, 28. 17 Zaera-Polo, Well Into the 21st Century. The Architectures of Post-Capitalism?, 254.
Adjustment Agency. “Refusal after Refusal” Harvard Design Magazine No. 46, No Sweat (Fall/Winter 2018): http://www.harvarddesignmagazine.org/issues/46/refusal-after-refusal
Argan, Giulio. “On Typology of Architecture”. In Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture, An Anthology to Architectural Theory, 1965 – 1995 edited by Kate Nesbitt, 242-246. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996.
Brower, Petra and Kuijpers, Matteo. “Originality is a Waste” In Copy Paste, The Badass Architectural Copy Guide, edited by Winy Maas & Felix Madrazo, 96-103. Rotterdam: NAI010 publishers, 2017.
Constanzo, Mateo Et Al. “Editorial” San Rocco No.4 Fuck Concepts! Context! (Summer 2012): 3-6
Fish, Stanley. “Plagiarism is not a big moral deal.” New York Times, August 9, 2010. https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/09/plagiarism-is-not-a-big-moral-deal/
Michaels, F.S. Monoculture, How one story is changing everything. Canada: Red Clover, 2011
Moneo Rafael. “On Typology”. In Oppositions No. 13 (Summer 1978): 22-45
Rossi, Aldo. “Typological Questions”. In The Architecture of the City, 35-46. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1982.
Zaera-Polo, Alejandro. “Well Into the 21st Century. The Architectures of Post-Capitalism?” El Croquis No.187 Serginson Bates Architects 2004-2016 & Alejandro Zaera-Polo (Winter 2016): 252-287