Jean Baudrillard: Can we speak of truth in architecture? No, at least not in the sense that architecture would have truth as its goal or culmination. There are things an architecture wants to say, things it claims to accomplish, signify.... Where is the radically of architecture? What is it that constitutes the radicality of architecture? That's how we should pose the question of truth in architecture. That truth is to some extent what architecture is trying to achieve without wanting to say it—which is a form of involuntary radicality. In other words, it's what the user makes of it, what happens to it through use, when in the grip of an uncontrollable actor. This leads me to introduce another aspect of things, which is their literality. To my mind, literality means that aside from technical progress, aside from social and historical development, the architectural object as an event that has taken place is no longer susceptible to being completely interpreted or explained. Such objects express things literallyj in the sense that no exhaustive interpretation is possible.
What does "literally" mean? I'll use the example of Beaubourg again. OK, we have Beaubourg. So what does it express? Culture, communication? No, I don't think so. Beaubourg expresses flux, storage, redistribution, and Piano and Rogers's architecture expresses those things literally. What it expresses literally is almost the reverse of the message it supposedly expresses. Beaubourg represents both the fact of culture and the thing that killed culture, the thing it succumbed to, in other words, the confusion of signs, the excess, the profusion. It's this internal contradiction that translates Beaubourg's architecture, which I call its "literality." Similarly, we can say that the World Trade Center alone expresses the spirit of New York City in its most radical form: verticality. The towers are like two perforated strips. They are the city itself and, at the same time, the vehicle by means of which the city as a historical and symbolic form has been liquidated—repetition, cloning. The twin towers are clones of each other. It's the end of the city, but it's a very beautiful end, and architecture expresses both, both the end and the fulfillment of that end. That finality, which is both symbolic and real, and situated well outside the project that the architect's drawing embodied, far beyond the initial definition of the architectural object, is expressed literally.
Jean Nouvel: It's worth asking if Beaubourg really signified culture. When you look at Beaubourg from within the world of architecture, you realize that it's one of the first attempts to concretize the theory of Archigram's city-as-machine. In a way, Beaubourg is the culmination of functionalist theories, where architecture translates the truth of the building, which is a kind of hypertruth. The skeleton is visible, with all its guts on the outside, and the nerves, everything is exposed to view, to a degree that's never been surpassed. English high-tech reached a peak in the seventies, but Beaubourg is the only building that took so much of a risk, aside from the Lloyds building, perhaps, which shares the same sense of exhibitionism. Richard Rogers extended the movement to factories. But the most interest- irig thing in the Beaubourg concept, originally, was the freedom within, in the way the space was conceived. We felt that this machine for housing art—or hopefully for manufacturing art—was going to work. Completely unpredictable events were supposed to take place within the building, the floor areas were supposed to coexist with added sections, supports, movable extensions, everything was supposed to be optimally organized within a dialectic of support-supply. Beaubourg was primarily a support. But the space, subsequently made "functional," completely altered its initial meaning. It's worth pointing out that in January 1999 an ad was designed—while they were working on the restoration—which for the first time completely covered the facade with an enormous photograph on canvas that was more than two hundred meters long and thirty meters high. Beaubourg's mission is to capture these exterior and interior events, events of all kinds, which are supposed to be free or of limited duration. The implosion you spoke about occurred in a completely unexpected way. The thing that was killed before it even got off the ground was the exposure to other possibilities, the play inherent in the possibilities of space, its total vacuity. The fact that they reconstructed the interior space using ordinary partitions, turning it into a space that is completely conventional, meant that Beaubourg would become the opposite of a simple architectural support, to the extent that they've now put G-strings on the beams so they appear more dignified, so they can erase any industrial or mechanical reference! Every freedom that existed within the space has been wrecked by the fire department, which insisted that the floor area, which was 150 by 50 meters—which is huge!—be divided by a wall. The space was simply cut in two. This alteration alone removed the necessity, and therefore the meaning, of putting the ducts on the outside—they could just as well have been stuck inside the service core or between two walls. But in the beginning it was much more relevant. Everything that was supposed to interact with this support and change rapidly didn't happen, and Beaubourg is experienced as if it were a building made of dressed stone. Because it was overconsumed, because of the incredible number of visitors every year, its enormous size, the building has been exhausted very quickly. This accelerated aging is also a characteristic of the building. But it's interesting to see the enormous discrepancy between the architectural intentions and the reality. At the same time, it was Renzo Piano, one of the two architects who designed Beaubourg, who is responsible for the building's restoration—if you can call it that— in its current, rather than its conceptual, state. It's difficult to imagine the energy of the seventies today.
J.B. Yet in its flexibility, Beaubourg did reflect its original intent.
J.N. No, it hasn't played its role; the building is static. Maybe it will happen one day.... But no one wanted to play with that flexibility; it was too dangerous, too spontaneous. Everything has been reframed, resealed. Imagine a building with large windows built in 1930. The same thing would have happened then, assuming there was a large flat roof with a beautiful belvedere. Of course, its status as an urban artifact remains. Beaubourg functions as a cathedral, with its buttresses, a nave, a "piazza." It's a call to the public to come inside, to consume the views of Paris and the art. A call to consumption.
J.B. Yes, it's also a draft of air pulling things along in its wake. And locally it's still a kind of hole, an air inlet As for sheltering or provoking culture, I'm skeptical. How can you recapture the subversiveness that the space seemed to call forth as it was originally designed?
J.N. Can the institution accept subversion? Can it plan the unknown, the unforeseeable? Can it, within a space as open as this, provide artists with the conditions for something that is oversized, an interference; can it agree to not set limits? Architecture is one thing; human life another. What good is an architecture that is out of step with contemporary life?
J.B. Still, even though we can effectively express the relationship of architecture, or a given building, to culture, to society... how are we going to define its "social" impact? It's precisely the lack of a possible definition of the social that should produce an architecture of the indefinable, in other words, a real-time architecture, characterized by randomness and the uncertainty that drives social life. Architecture can no longer "monumentalize" anything today.... But it can't demonumentalize anything either, so what role does it play?
J.N. Some people have tried to provoke this real-time, random architecture. We're trying to do this in an industrial building that everyone finds hideous, although it's absolutely remarkable: a group of derelict buildings that no one wanted, a Seita factory. It's an abandoned factory complex, located in one of the most popular quarters of Marseilles, known as "la Belle de mai." Eighty thousand square meters of empty space! The place was empty and unsafe. The city was handling security, and people had begun to squat in the buildings, until one day, quite spontaneously, the artists got involved—people from theater, choreographers, painters and sculptors. So now there was a clear desire to create a kind of open cultural space, based on a living culture, just the opposite of the kinds of buildings that are usually reserved for culture, with scheduled hours, and designed for conservation. The place would be open day and night, the artists would live there, some would be invited as a group by producers and would have an opportunity to continue their work jointly. There was a clear mandate for the project to initiate new work, giving preference to younger artists, creators, students, the unemployed, with a very clear intercultural dimension. But this type of approach and this type of architecture have the greatest difficulty obtaining financing, and funding for maintenance and development. The contradiction is difficult to resolve because the people who start the project would prefer not to get involved in some sort of institutional operation, but they're required to ask for approval, for permission from institutions, whether they involve the city or the government—which reject such radicality. Nonetheless I think the project is part of the dynamic of what must become a contemporary cultural space. The hypercentralized, hyperinstitutionalized places we're surrounded with are sterile.
J.N. I think the debate going on about what I call "modification" is essential. We built heavily throughout the century, very quickly, very badly, anywhere, anyhow. We produced and reproduced a number of things in record time: spaces, buildings, suburbs, and nonplaces as well. Now we're in a situation, in all the northern countries, where growth is just about over. But urban and suburban spaces, the rural landscape, et cetera, are subject to constant modification. We find ourselves with a body of architectural material—things that were built, abandoned, rebuilt— which have to be modified or demolished; in any case, that's what we have to work with. It's not a question of any prior intention to conserve a certain number of signs of the past, nor of "rehabilitating," in the conventional sense of the term, some sort of "refined bourgeois taste, the essence of the picturesque." It's about creating architecture, meaning and essence, from some raw, unworked material. If we look at what's going on in Marseilles, we see an industrial building that could be considered a cultural facility that is 80 percent complete. The simple fact of changing its use and sticking a certain number of objects inside, applying a few finishing touches, various architectural signs, alters the meaning of the place completely. To give you an example, there were large rooms 150 meters long and 40 meters wide. Before, the space was saturated with machine tools; now that it's empty, it's sumptuous. It would be impossible to create a cultural space like that from scratch today. It would cost too much. We chose to consider this interior-exterior urban ensemble as a piece of the city. People live there as if it were a small city. And we feel that the architectural act revolves around settling into a repurposed architecture. This could involve something that's built inside or on the roof or even on a terrace. Nonetheless this process of sedimentation is a form of creation and a complete qualification of the space. It's not only a modification; it's a mutation. The space is no longer experienced the same way, there are different things inside; we play with scale differently, change the meaning, and starting with what was a large, poorly defined, purely functional volume, we've gradually managed to produce a regenerative recreation that no one would have thought possible. This process of fabricating cities today should be encouraged. It allows us to escape dimensional standards, to obtain this sense of "excess," this superfluity that is essential and unplanned. It provokes a sense of excess: too big, too high, too dark, too ugly, too stiff, unforeseen, radical.
J.B. But this mutation, as you call it, is often part of a cultural plan. In fact, what we call "cultural" is ultimately only a bunch of polymorphous or, who knows, perverse activities!
J.N. When the mutation isn't really a mutation, it becomes perverse; it becomes rehabilitation. Rehabilitation, in the legal sense of the term, is the process of providing something with qualities that had been denied to it previously. In fact, all the public housing built during the sixties and seventies has now been "rehabilitated," which means that they're maintained—something that had been overlooked for years—that someone applies a little color to the facade, a couple of awnings, and that"ghettoization" is perpetuated by allowing the urban social fabric around them to degrade and violence to spread. We continue to promote an approach to housing that we know doesn't work, and we solidify and perpetuate all the problems we have. Moreover, to reduce costs, we contract the work out to companies who cap expenses as much as possible. The building is insulated on the outside. We pretend to make a number of improvements, when all we've done is patched things up: we touch it up here and there, and it's good for another twenty years, even though the buildings were only designed to last twenty years when they were built.
J.B. The large urban spaces that have sprung into existence without any preliminary planning, like New York's Lower East Side or Soho, have been taken over by the middle class over the past twenty years, often artists, who have changed the lifestyle and appearance of those neighborhoods: is that rehabilitation or mutation? It's easy to see that this kind of mutation is most often accompanied by a gentrification of the neighborhood, which was also the case in Salvador da Bahia, in Brazil. They saved the facades, but behind those facades, everything changed.
J.N. Look at Paris, for example. This city has been characterized by what I call "embalming." This consists in preserving a series of facades that have some historic value and building new structures behind them—this happened in Rue Quincampoix, and in the Marais, near Saint-Paul. It's obvious that this served only one purpose: to get rid of the poor who lived there and replace them with people who had the means to pay. We're well outside the framework of rehabilitation when we radically change usage and move in the direction of greater space, increased pleasure, the conquest of new qualities. Embalming is the opposite. We break up small apartments, cut the windows in two with new floors, et cetera. New York isn't exactly the same. There the industrial spaces were turned into dream apartments, unique spaces three hundred square meters in size. You can live in a building that's thirty meters deep. Once you have good lighting at either end, you can accept the fact that there are darker areas in the center, contrary to the hygienic theories favored by modernity. But what's happening in this case is more than a rehabilitation; it's also a mutation, and that mutation initiates a real shift in the way we understand a place aesthetically. In such spaces, a table, three chairs, and a bed are sufficient to create a poetics of space that differs from what it was when it was saturated with merchandise and machinery.
J.B. The modification you describe is an interesting approach to the situation. Can it be generalized? Could it politicized?
J.N. To politicize it, you would need to create an awareness on the part of "politicians." Can they understand and accept that every transformative act, every modification, is a cultural act as essential as creating something from scratch? Can they accept the fact that architecture is expressed and must increasingly be appreciated from within, a privileged space of enrichment, of nuance?... History provides us with beautiful examples of architectural forms that culminated in sedimentation, complementarity. The most convincing demonstration, a brilliant proof of the theory, maybe the work of Carlo Scarpa. The first political question becomes: "What do I destroy? What do I preserve?" As a foil we have the memory of two grotesque periods of utter dreariness: the "destroy everything" period of the sixties and seventies, bulldozer renovation, followed by the "embalming" period—"Let's keep everything," let's create a pastiche, let's try to economize the architectural act.
J.B. Today things are designed for change; we have mobile, flexible, open-ended devices. We need to design an architecture based on computer logic, which is happening everywhere anyway. Then there's multiculturalism, the possibility of changing one's identity, of putting a number of computer avatars into play, which is supposedly an essential aspect of modernity, or trans- modernity, I'm not quite sure.
I've been thinking a lot about this lately. There must be a difference between things that change and things that become. Yes, there's a fundamental difference between change and becoming. Things that "become" are rare, exposed to misunderstanding, and possibly disappearance. Becoming is not the same as importing change, initiating it, wanting it at any price, imposing an imperative of change on people—which is the credo of fashion, for example—from which they never escape. That's not necessarily how things become something. Can a city change before our eyes? Of course we can transform it, modify it, but does it "become" something, then? We can say that cities have "become" things over time. It's not a question of creating nostalgia, but cities, in the past, ended up acquiring a kind of singularity, while here, now, before our eyes, they change at top speed, in a state of confusion. We're watching their characteristics erode. Even modification may be a way of reintroducing things into the process of change, where they would have risked being either destroyed or purely and simply "museified," which is another miserable fate. Can we counteract change with another kind of need? Maybe we can go further: What will the city become?
J.N. Working on what a city will become implies having a heightened awareness of its identity and requires that we help direct change. Change is fatal, automatic, inevitable, and many of our leaders, including city mayors, demand change because it's a sign of vitality, a form of growth that can excuse a range of absurdities. What a city becomes is decided on the basis of what came before, not some hypothetical future designed by a long- term planning effort. What it will become provides opportunities for the expression of a contextual and conceptual architecture that is both anchored and enriching. Change for the sake of change provides all sorts of excuses for just about anything; in that sense, it's part of the lapse of architectural reason. It can come about through the automatic reproduction of market models, as well as from a conception of the future based on the cloning of preexisting buildings.
J.B. The lapse of architectural reason would be clone architecture.
J.N. The historical development of cities, their evolution, has always bothered architects. It's a strange paradox. Architects are constantly modifying the urban fabric, yet they resist its evolution. They generally reproduce the previous period. They want to continue to build the city that was, and every time the city changes, they say, "It's no longer a city, it's a suburb, its shameful...." The evolution of the city in the twentieth century is supposed to have resulted in violent upheaval. Yet we've witnessed an architectural caste that has clung to the twentieth-century city, the reconstruction of the European city; they still want to build streets and squares as they did before But they're streets and squares devoid of meaning.
J.B. Yes, but that's not cloning, if you look at what happens
J.N. It's a form of reproduction, duplication. Architects always stick to earlier forms used in the past; they're terrified of seeing the city move in ways they've worshiped, ways that they reproduced themselves. The evolution of the city—I'm being somewhat anticipatory—will continue to cause them anguish because a process of complete deterritorialization is taking place.
We are all urban. What characterizes a city today is a space shared by a certain number of people in a given period of time: the time it takes to get there, move around, meet other people. From the moment we—many of us—can access or share a territory, we belong to that territory, and that territory becomes urban. We belong to a city. We're going to end up urban even if we live in the country, on our little farm twenty kilometers from the nearest village. We will also be part of the "city." Time, not space, will determine our being a part of urban life in the future.
J.B. Only in the vision you've just given of the city to come, the city is no longer a form in the process of becoming; it's an extended network. That's fine, you can define it as you have, but that urban life is no longer the life of the city but its infinite possibility: a virtual urban life, like playing on the keyboard of the city as if it were a land of screen. I saw it as the end of architecture ... by pushing the concept to its limit and primarily by using the photograph as a point of departure. This is reflected in the idea that the great majority of images are no longer the expression of a subject, or the reality of an object, but almost exclusively the technical fulfillment of all its intrinsic possibilities. It's the photographic medium that does all the work. People think they're photographing a scene, but they're only technical operators of the device's infinite virtuality. The virtual is the device that wants nothing more than to function, that demands to function. And to exhaust all its possibilities. Doesn't the same thing happen in architecture, with its infinite potential, not only in terms of materials but in terms of models, all the forms that are available to architects (postmodern or modern)? From that moment on, everything is arranged according to ... We can no longer even speak of truth, in the sense that there might be a finality to architecture, but we can't speak of radicality, either; we're in the realm of pure virtuality.
J.B. So is there still an architecture in the virtual sense? Would it still exist? Or should it exist? Can we continue to call it architecture? We can combine things, techniques, materials, configurations in space indefinitely, but will it produce architecture? I finally realized that the Guggenheim in Bilbao was typically the type of object made of complex compositions, a building established using elements whose modules are all exposed, all the combinations expressed. You could imagine a hundred museums of the same type, analogous, obviously none of which would resemble one another.
J.N. You can rely on Frank Gehry to surprise you!
J.B. He's wonderful—it really is marvelous—and I'm not making a value judgment about the object itself, but the structure of production and fabrication that made the building possible. As I see it, this architecture no longer possesses the literality I was talking about, that is, the presence of a singular form that couldn't be translated into another form. The Guggenheim itself is infinitely translatable into many other kinds of objects, as part of a chain. You get the impression that there could be a possibility of architectural evolution in this way. But let's say, to go back to my photography example, that the camera itself generates a nearly uninterrupted stream of images. If we accept this, the device could reproduce everything, generate images endlessly. And within that visual stream we can hope that there are one or two exceptional images that don't obey this indefinite, exponential logic of technology. But isn't this similar to the risk architecture is exposed to? At bottom, since we were talking about readymades, I would say that the Guggenheim is a readymade. All the elements are there from the start. The only thing we need to do is transpose them, permute them, play with them in different ways, and we've made architecture. Only the transposition itself is automatic, a bit like an automatic writing of the world or the city would be. We can imagine whole cities built on this principle In some American cities, this is already true. And it's no longer just an engineering question. In the past we could say that engineers constructed, generation after generation, based on minimal standards. But in the Guggenheim example, something else is going on that starts with a creative model that is already virtual. We descend from virtuality to reality, in any event toward real existence—with the difference that, unlike information technology or mathematical modeling, in architecture, we end up with an object.
J.N. In the Bilbao Guggenheim, we're witnessing a new computer revolution in the service of architecture. That is, a new computer- based approach that would give substance to the idea, would lock or fix the most fleeting things, regardless of their immediacy. What's great about Frank Gehry is that he will make a sketch, crumple the paper, start over, and connect the sketch on paper or the relief drawing to an enormous program. From that point, the computer takes over and will begin to weave it all together, constructing an image in space, materializing something that is instantaneous and unstable, opening a direct passage from desire to the built reality. With Frank Gehry, we're watching this shortcut as it takes place, which is quite rare.
J.B. Even so, he has an extraordinary playing field to work with. J.N. That's an optimistic assumption.
J.B. When you walk around the Guggenheim, you realize that the building is, as far as its lines are concerned, illogical. But when you see the interior spaces, they are almost completely conventional. In any case there is no relation between those spaces and the building's ideality.
J.N. Some of them are conventional because they have to obey museographical conventions. We haven't found a better way to exhibit Kandinsky, Picasso, and Braque other than on bright walls in quiet spaces. But there are also singular spaces: the lobby, the large hall, which is 250 meters long. Finally, there's also an attempt to adapt dream to reality, as always, but a very
beautiful adaptation However, where I do see a danger— and I'm talking about 90 percent of global production at this time, certainly for all the large buildings—is in this way of making architecture by recycling existing computer-based data and coupling that with an extremely curtailed design procedure for the building. We're currently experiencing a wave of architectural cloning. From the moment an office building is made on the basis of an existing typology, whose technology and price and the conditions for its realization are known, we can duplicate that building and have it constructed without having to pay for a new design. This has resulted in the introduction of well-defined technical procedures that enable companies to enter the international market. In Asia, South America—look at Sao Paulo, for example—buildings are going up where there is no sense of architectural intent at all. It's a form of architectural sabotage, prostitution. You used film and the world of politics as examples, both of which are also undergoing wholesale sabotage. Well, here I see architectural sabotage. You get the impression that architects themselves are going to produce the types of buildings that totally counter anything that could result in quality or a sense of nobility for a city. This type of architecture is proliferating at an alarming rate. The most efficient economic models are moving in that direction
J.N. Is there anything easier than reusing existing data, given the fact that the computer can modify that data so quickly? You change a parameter here, another there, and after a few hours, it's done. The system is ready for a new building. Consequently, buildings are not really thought out; they are based on immediate profitability and hasty decision making. This also involves the complete sacrifice of a dimension that many feel belongs to another time There is no further need for public spaces, no further need to compose; all we have to do is accumulate. I need to buy a building. This is the way I can have it for the lowest cost and as quickly as possible. The parameters are simple, there's no need for any equations.
J.B. Within that architectural space, does the possibility still exist for the architect to make his mark?
J.N. Most of the time there is no architect in the sense generally understood. There are engineers who are pretty efficient at working with the standards. And those standards are associated with certain humanist or behavioral attitudes. In Europe, for example, you can't sell an office building that doesn't have direct light. In the United States, for a variety of reasons, standards can differ considerably from those in Europe. For example, you're authorized to use artificial light. In other words, let's say you have a building that's fifty meters deep and your offices are in the center of the building; you'll see the first window twenty meters away, and you'll be in artificial light all the time. Those buildings, which are the cheapest to build, sell well in Asia and South America. But no consideration is given to human comfort. And it isn't the "developed" countries that have the most advanced humanist standards! Often it's in the poorest cities that you find spontaneous acts of creation. These can be considered magnificent architectural achievements, even when they use corrugated sheet metal or pieces of rag. Here we can identify a poetics that is really a form of creation, whereas in the other cases, we're getting pretty far away from that.
J.B. So what constitutes a particular space today, assuming architects still have any creative freedom?
J.N. Fortunately, all the conditions aren't in place yet for eliminating architecture. Within the evolution of the city there will always be a marginal place left for a handful of aesthetes-—aesthetes in their own life and in their behavior—within highly privileged environments. What I wonder most about is what those cities will become. In the near future, they won't be anything like what we're familiar with today. If the South is going to develop and catch up to the level of the cities of the North, using the same methods, it's going to take generations, and I don't see where the money is going to come from. No, I think there we're going to witness a true mutation.
J.N. I even think that the next architectural and urban mutation will affect our relationship to matter. Other forms of mediation will be involved, and the mutation will shift toward the immaterial. Everything that is immaterial, virtual, sonorous, and part of the world of communication is already mutating. For example, anything that doesn't involve the creation of complex infrastructures will have an advantage. Everything that avoids pushing energy through enormous conduits, high-voltage lines, that sort of thing. Our thoughts for the future should be focused on autonomy, lightness. This will lead us to the promotion of emerging and environmentally friendly forms of energy such as solar or wind energy, satellite communications for the transmission of data, everything that fosters the local breakdown of waste rather than its centralization. It is this kind of thinking that can give rise to new strategies that will completely alter our current notion of urban development, an evolution that will result in the appearance of a "noncity" city, an urban territory. This kind of development can take into account the need for stable development. I'm describing a growing trend, and we're still a long way off from its realization, but it seems to me that this is one example of a realizable Utopia.
J.B. Unfortunately I feel that in the future, as you mentioned, the great majority of construction, of building needs, will be technocratic, modeled. We will also have a luxury architecture reserved for a handful of privileged individuals. We see this happening in a number of fields, society, art... and the trend is toward increasing discrimination—contrary to what we believe—a discrimination that runs counter to the objectives of democracy and modernity. I'm not sure whether or not architecture can play a role in all this. Even so, it has wanted to play a role in these developments, an equalizing role, if not a humanist one.
J.N. Yes, but then this would be a result. Unfortunately it's not through architecture that we're going to change the world!
J.B. Yes, that's true, but I'm an idealist, I still believe we can change the world through architecture. It's Utopian for all intents and purposes, yes. Utopian architecture was ultimately a realized architecture. But in the future, doesn't the trend risk moving in the opposite direction? Isn't there some danger that architecture may become a tool of discrimination?
J.N. Although architecture may be unable to influence politics to change the world, politics has a responsibility to make use of architecture to achieve its social, humanitarian, and economic objectives. The economic dimension of culture—whether it's architectural or not—is taken into account in the industrialized countries. Since I'm an idealist as well, I dream about programs for quickly resolving the living conditions of those who are most disadvantaged. But not using traditional poured-concrete solutions, which end up cloning monotonous seventies-style towers and linear block buildings in Seoul and Sao Paulo. No, I'm praying for genuine self-awareness. Only the readymades can provide very, very low production and distribution costs through automated production that can generate millions of copies. In today's shantytowns, it's easier to have a car or a television than a sink I dream of project requirements that incorporate the use of the least-expensive materials, the lightest, most flexible, easiest to cut and assemble, drill or handle corrugated tin, ribbed plastic, lightweight channel, cables, sheet metal, project requirements that include the hardware, small ready-made machines produced by the millions, which can make the best possible use of our knowledge of energy self- sufficiency. ... I dream about habitat packages that can be parachuted in, along with a few tools, but don't predetermine the shape of the structures that can be built. I'd like to replace the old concept of the seventies of an architecture designed for the greatest number with an individual architecture not based on some cookie-cutter model I don't know of a single UNESCO program today that's pushing this in any radical way. Still, we're not heading for disaster; we're already in the midst of total disaster.
J.B. This year, in Buenos Aires, I spoke about the future of architecture. Yes, I believe in its future even though, as you mention, it won't necessarily be architectural, for the simple reason that we haven't yet designed the building to end all buildings, we haven't yet created the city to end all cities, a thought to end all thoughts. So as long as this Utopia remains unrealized, there's hope, we must go on. We have to recognize that everything that's happening now on the technological side is dizzying, the modification of the species, and so forth. However, in twenty years we will have succeeded in making the transition from sexuality without procreation to procreation without sexuality.
J.N. Let's change the mode of reproduction for architecture! Let's invent a sexual reproduction of architecture.
J.B. Procreation without sexuality challenges the idea of sexuality without procreation—which has been the essence of eroticism. As the laboratory grows in importance, the field of eroticism will, for the most part, start to implode_________________________________ But sexuality isn't the only thing. With genetic engineering, they're in the process of studying genes for future modification. American clinics already exist where people can type in the characteristics of their future infant so that it doesn't turn out homosexual. Obviously, most of it is a scam, but that doesn't matter because there is total belief in the fact that we'll be able to improve the species, that is, invent another species. If we look at the human species as it is, or architecture as a historical form, or the city as a symbolic form, what comes afterward? An exponential proliferation of things in combinatorial fashion? At that point, we've entered an abstract mental space, but one that's realized. 1116/re not just formulas.
J.N. We can make an analogy. Imagine the cloning of genetically programmed buildings; it's easier with buildings than with people. It's a kind of new superfunctionalism, virtual functional- ism, which is not the functionalism of the old organic and social functions, use value, et cetera. It's something different. We need to determine if the new data are going to remain significant, since we're currently witnessing the sacrifice of architecture. Perceptible data are becoming a thing of the past. We can be optimists and assume that we're going to become true virtuosos of this new programming and we'll be able to integrate a whole range of information and assumptions capable of producing an absolutely terrific space, articulated around the problematic of the environment that's been eating at us. It's a question of survival. We have to integrate modern ecology.
J.B. The environment, ecology... I'm prejudiced against them. I feel that ecology exists precisely through the disappearance of "natural" data. Everything that is part of nature or natural must be eliminated if we are to build a perfect artificial world, where natural species will exist in "artificially protected" reserves.
Architecture as the Desire for Omnipotence
J.B. You get the feeling that the desire for omnipotence that drives architecture—look at large government projects, for example— no longer has anything to do with the image of itself it wants to project, a bit like what's going on in genetic engineering. A geneticist today thinks he's replacing the mother and the father: he's the one who creates the child! He's the deus ex machina that creates the child, a child who originates with him and is no longer embedded in a sequence of natural descent.
J.N. It's been a long time since architects thought they were gods! Their only fear is that someone is going to snatch that dream away. Architecture is simply the art of necessity. Three-quarters of the time, aside from the necessity of use and custom, there is no architecture—or it's sculpture, commemoration.
J.B. There's a funny little museum—I'm sure you're familiar with it—that was built by Kenzo Tange in Nice. It's adorable. It's a delicious little building that sits on a body of water, not far from the airport. It was built about three or four years ago and has remained empty since then because there was never any funding to buy content for it. So the museum has remained empty, and it's marvelous, a jewel. Over the past five or six years, Kenzo Tange hasn't built anything himself. So this maybe the last project he accepted He had reached his zenith.
J.N. Sometimes the name of a great architect is like a brand. So we continue to build under the Kenzo Tange brand. I'm in a very good position to know this because I discovered a bad clone of one of my projects in Tokyo. The basic project involved the grid of the horizon used for the Tкte Dйfense, the perspective background for the historical axis between the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe, a project that was awarded second prize in the president's competition in 1982. Sprekelsen won first prize for the Grande Arche, which is now completed.
My design was an attempt to go beyond traditional Albertian perspective, where the sky is an always unfinished canvas. During the classical period, unfinished canvases revealed a checkerboard network of fine lines behind the painting that served as a grid so that the original cartoon could be enlarged. In my case, I imprinted a disembodied network on the horizon, dividing the void in the Arc de Triomphe into barely visible squares. The building was a three-dimensional orthogonal grid, like a gigantic Sol LeWitt sculpture. The sun set along the axis, directly to the west, to create what I call "mathematical sunsets." From a distance, it was two-dimensional, without depth; from up close it provided a sense of hyperperspective, a bit like an Escher drawing. So in Tokyo they built this three-dimensional grid and included, following the same proportions as La Dйfense, a building at each end. But since the building wasn't carefully situated with respect to the setting sun, they built an artificial sun into the grid, a ball of shiny steel that, in the evening, was artificially illuminated with red, violet, orange light When I saw the building one evening, from a distance, I thought I was
hallucinating_ But as fate would have it—and you should enjoy this—the fatal element is that on the other side of Tokyo Bay, just a few kilometers away and separated only by the water, I was building a large, airy tower. From my project in Tokyo, I could see my grid, my mathematical sunset, and an artificial sunset!
J.B. And what about your projects for the Universal Exposition in Germany? We have a pretty good script about the work: the living work, the dead work, the spectral work. The spectral is self-perpetuating, like life; death is scattered among all the virtual productive forms. Some thought went into that project.
J.N. I explained that to Frйdйric Flamand, the choreographer, who is going to stage this living spectacle like an exposition. The big question that remains is the freedom of artists working with partnerships that only provide financing if they like the message This is no longer traditional sponsorship But that's the way exhibitions will be financed in the future. They will sponsor set design We're inside the subject. We'll have to provide subtitles.
J.B. Does Berlin have any special meaning for you, as part of contemporary Europe?
J.N. Berlin's destiny is an intimate part of the century. It's a historic capital with a fabulous heritage—much of it due to K. F. Schinkel—that became capital of the Third Reich, was given the once-over by Speer, was partly destroyed, but survived, a captive abandoned to its conquerors. The city was martyred, cut up in pieces, and it still bears the stigmata. Then the city was freed and
betrothed to Europe once again a queen. It's a great story, straight out of Dumas—the Countess of Monte Cristo!
J.B. And what about the center of the city? Is there any stated political or urban plan that's been expressly implemented?
J.N. The urban policy referred to as "critical reconstruction" goes something like this: "Let's pretend nothing ever happened Let's reconstruct traditional buildings, opaque walls and small windows. Let's triumphantly fill everything that's empty. Let's put the cupola back on the Reichstag." There had been some vague impulse to establish an urban strategy when the Wall came down. One of the major dailies organized an appeal for ideas directed to seven or eight international architects. I proposed to them that they transform the no-man's-land near the Wall into a long "meeting line," which would serve as a place where all the city's cultural events, sports, leisure activities, bars, restaurants, nightclubs, would be concentrated, face-to-face. By reversing the previous situation, the dividing line would become a weld, fullness would succeed the void, joy follow sadness, freedom prohibition But most of all, the city's history would remain embedded in its streets and stones I feel that the desire to wipe away those years is antithetical to the development of Berlin's identity and specificity. The city has plenty of reasons to be proud of its uniqueness, to demonstrate that it was able to make the most of a tragic past.
J.B. In Berlin there has been a temptation to historicize everything, to include even the most horrible things in the city's heritage. This reminds me of the time they thought one of Brazil's largest favelas was part of the world's patrimony.
J.N. Yes, before the fall of the Wall... But at the scale of the neighborhood, Berlin has shown a great deal of good sense in the way it has dealt with vegetation and water. The Germans are more fastidious than we are in working out microstrategies for innovation and management of the city on the day-to-day level.
J.B. Which is very different from Frankfurt and the other cities. Moreover, in 1968, when the same movements were under way in both Germany and France, there were more communities in Germany, but there were also larger apartments with common kitchens, and living was easier. In France we never succeeded; the big apartments were too expensive. By the way, it seems that the windows in the Galeries Lafayette ...
J.N. Now, if the buildings are well-known, as soon as something happens, everyone knows about it. Still, you should be aware of the fact that the glass is designed to fall without injuring anyone. Like a car windshield. But I get the feeling that, in our age of hypersecurity, we're going to need more than safety glass! In fact, we've turned security into a key factor. Architecture is the art of constraint; we have to deal with that. I often use the example of film because we function much as movie directors—directors and architects are the ones who work with the most constraints in this cultural universe. We have roughly the same relationship to a client, or a producer, or a promoter. They give us a certain amount of money to work with, and they like to see it multiply, without having any disasters on their hands. We have crews that need to be directed within a given amount of time, and there's censorship. It's a very special situation, and ultimately quite different from anything a writer encounters.
J.B. If it's a question of security, then yes, it is.
J.N. The writer, the man of letters, the philosopher—they don't need to ask anyone's permission.
J.B. You seem to think that writing takes place without constraints. It's true that I have fewer than you, but as a writer, thinker, or researcher, I'm dependent on a system, for example, an editorial system, that is becoming increasingly incomprehensible.
J.N. The essential thing is that you, you can write a book that may be forgotten for thirty years if no one wants to publish your work, but it still exists, whereas a building in a drawing doesn't
exist_ A manuscript, even when it's locked in a drawer, exists.
A filmmaker who only writes treatments or an architect who only constructs drawings accomplishes nothing.
J.B. In that sense, the book is a prehistoric product! It's true that the book is not delivered to the reader or listener in real time, it only exists somewhere. But within a real-time hegemonic culture, the book exists for no more than a few weeks. That's the price we pay: it simply disappears.
J.N. There are miracles: Emily Dickinson was rediscovered many years later.
J.B. The science of security has total control. It's everywhere; it exercises control in the form of censorship. Health is also involved, all those so-called positive functions like protection, the environment. They can backfire dangerously by using censorship to fight singularity.
J.B. Take the idea of transparency, for example. It's something extraordinary that expresses the play of light, with something that appears and disappears, but at the same time, you get the impression that it also involves a subtle form of censorship. This search for "transparency" with which our era is fascinated is at the very least ambivalent in its relation to power.
J.N. Obviously that's not exactly my ideological view of transparency! It's true that transparency can be awful if it is used incorrectly. What interests me in the evolution of architecture right now is the relation between matter and light, which can become something highly strategic. I'm much more interested in the relation between matter and light exposed by the transparency or opacity of glass, for example, than by formal spatial parameters. Throughout the century, we have explored a variety of techniques, and now we know just about where we are, and there's no apparent reason to choose one form rather than another. But the problem of "essence" (of a form, an architecture, a given space) is a much more contemporary problem, associated with the evolution of our knowledge about matter and quantum physics, the discovery of fractals, et cetera. These are the consequences of the advance science and technology have on our awareness of how we apprehend the world, space, time, which are also going to change our perceptual relation to space. The trend today is to consider that constructing a piece of architecture means becoming part of a continuum, it means building in space.
J.N. You have to think of light as matter—and God knows, even for quantum physics, that's the crux of the problem. Physicists are currently trying to determine if a photon has mass, and they'll continue until they find its mass. For now, that mass is beyond what researchers are capable of determining, but they"re pretty sure it exists. So what does "transparency" mean? If we use certain materials, we'll be able to program a building differentially over time and play with ephemeral effects. You could say that traditional or classic architecture has always played with the permanence of architectural effects. More and more, we're trying to work with concepts involving the programming of complex architectural effects for the same building. And working with transparency involves nothing more than working with matter to give a building different appearances. If I am working with glass, I can program what I'm going to see. It can depend on whether I light it from the front or the back; I can play with depth of field, with transparency in the strict sense of the term. I can work with backlighting and a number of other things. There's a way of treating transparency by interpreting it strictly: "I'm going to do something that won't be seen, and I'm going to see everything through it." On the architectural level, it's nothing but pornography....
J.B. The opposite of a secret, obscenity.
J.N. My buildings try to play with the effects of virtuality, appearance. Viewers wonder if the material is present or not. We create virtual images, we create ambiguity. A building can play with transparency effects, but it does so through another element, which is reflection. At the Cartier Foundation building, the viewer never knows if they're seeing the sky or its reflection. Generally, you see both, and that ambiguity creates an interplay of multiple appearances. At the same time, the building makes use of the most trivial function of transparency for the exhibition space. There, you know that what is exposed in the interior is going to change the nature of the building, or at least one's perception of it—but it's designed for that. Walking in front of the building, you see a display.
J.B. That's what was so extraordinary about the opening of the Issey Miyake exhibit, because you had the designer's mobile elements inside, then you had a figurative representation formed by the guests themselves—most of the women were dressed in Issey Miyake—which created a second element in the overall design. But you also made the entire building transparent, which served as the general set design. Standing outside the building, you saw the action unfold in the space where the items were displayed and which had itself become an object in the exhibition.
J.N. It would be very interesting to have a picture of the building that reveals all the exhibits that have taken place inside. One image I get a great deal of satisfaction from, in terms of understanding the Cartier Foundation space, is the By Night exhibition that took place there. The entire ground floor, plunged in darkness, remained completely dark for three months. That was part of the project. Transparency is also trans-appearance
We shouldn't consider this an ideology based on our ability to reveal everything, control everything.
J.B. But that sense is still included in the idea of transparency, whether you want it to be or not.... And it implies a good deal more than just architecture. It implies all the means of information, a totality of information about oneself.... The idea of setting the attractions, the secrets of transparency against the dictatorship of transparency, of contrasting the interplay of the visible and the invisible against absolute visibility, is quite subtle. There are constructions that yield to the most trivial transparency, as a vector of power, focusing on the elimination of secrets. It only serves to reveal that it is no longer part of what we see.
J.N. What interests me about transparency is the idea of evaporation. Ever since man became man, he has fought against fate, against the elements, against matter. He started off building stone by stone, then made windows with small pieces of oiled paper, then learned how to do other things. There is a kind of architectural "Darwinism" at work, which is an evolutionary process through which man attempts to cover the maximum amount of space, the largest surface, insulate the most but with the least amount of material, without looking like he did anything. There's been a tremendous push forward that still isn't over and never will be. We can summarize it as follows: how can we resolve the most material problems with the greatest amount of elegance? It involves the domination of matter. For example, the progress made in glass technology during the century has been astonishing. Among other advantages, it's made from sand, and it doesn't require colossal amounts of energy. Glass has good durability, and now we are able to do more or less what we want with it. We can do a great job insulating glass because it contains particles that can't be seen with the naked eye. Glass can be opaque or transparent; it can change color. Glass is also a kind of language, a kind of mutant material, a material subject to a wide range of subtle treatments. Glass is a significant trend.
J.B. Isn't there a danger of seeing a proliferation of glass the way there was for plastic? A danger that it will become a universal material?
J.N. Yes, because it's very flexible in the way it can be used; you can do whatever you want with it. Because of this architectural Darwinism, glass has acquired a number of qualities; it lends itself well to the interplay of materials because it's the only material that allows you to visually program a building by giving it different looks. One of the trends in architecture today is to capture everything that can affect this awareness of the moment. We're also trying to capture variations of time, the seasons, the movements of visitors, and all of that is part of the architectural composition. There's also the idea of fragility, which is conveyed by the glass or by transparency—in the sense of a more living, more poignant reality. Even though, ever since banks started using glass for protection, transparency has taken quite a hit.
J.B. At least we still have the idea. In fact, like many others, the word "transparency" has undergone considerable semantic evolution. Previously it stood for a kind of absolute ideal. We could believe in the transparency of our social relationships or our relation to power. Now it's turning into a form of terror.
J.N. Yes, now it's become a pretext, and this didn't just begin today. Stained-glass windows were also used to similar effect. The Sainte-Chapelle was there long before we were! But if we consider that architecture involves creating a poetics of sorts, an instantaneous metaphysics, then transparency assumes a different meaning. You have the idea of the solid and the ephemeral. The concept of perennity still remains the characteristic of architecture that is most often acknowledged. Consider a pyramid
J.B. We want architecture to be something that survives us. However, that's no longer a factor for modern architecture—at least this is the way it seems to me. Or it's a factor that's been disguised, diverted; it's been turned into something like "saving time." Overtaking the moment.
J.N. Yes, but why is a building preserved? A building is preserved as soon as it's loved.
J.B. Humans, too!
J.N. When a building serves as a witness to a bygone era, it is preserved. If a building is considered a suitable prospect for bearing witness, even if it's very fragile, like Katsura or, an example closer to home, the Eiffel Tower or Beaubourg, it is preserved. The fact that we maintain it, spruce it up, repair it, preserve it in perfect condition, is part of a ritual of conservation. Once a building has reached this dimension of "bearing witness," it is, at least in a sense, archived, put under seal. Just because it's made of reinforced concrete or granite doesn't mean it will resist the depredations of time—the buildings constructed around the time of the Second World War are already in pretty bad shape, whatever Paul Virilio may think. In Berlin, for example, Bauhaus buildings have been preserved, while those from the fifties are being leveled left and right.
J.B. Le Corbusier's Villa Savoy has never been as lovely. It's been perfectly maintained and is more beautiful now than it was originally, more mature. I'd go as far as to say that our architectural heritage has been enriched. Look at the Oriental influence in Frank Lloyd Wright, wood and brick. Consider the destiny that would have had At the time, the avant-garde in architecture was involved with organic forms, made with ephemeral materials that weren't destined to last, like Las Vegas. For me, since I've known the city for thirty years, it's been a real massacre.
J.N. Sometimes the Americans are so outrageous that the result is really outstanding. We'll continue to complain about this outra- geousness until the day we wake up in shock In any case, architecture is, paradoxically, unviewable; only a very small part of what's built counts Even Frank Lloyd Wright, who had considerable influence on the century, who built hundreds of houses, including Falling Water, a handful of large buildings such as the Johnson Wax building and the Guggenheim ... Even with him, it's not so easy to uncover his tracks in the United States.
J.N. Speaking of which, I very much liked what you said about our expectations of architects: that they are the ones still creating "singular objects."
J.B. I don't deserve the credit The object, in an unfortunate sense, is to an extent the end of architecture as something capable of translating a form belonging to the human community. Now, you mention "singular objects," which reflects a different quality of the object.
J.N. For more than twenty years, I've been defending the notion of the object's "hyperspecificity" contrary to all the typological, ideological, and dogmatic information that it comprises.
J.B. At some point, architecture is like poetry: you can provide all the interpretations of the poem you like, but it's always there. The object is literal in the sense that it is fully exhausted in itself.
You no longer wonder about architecture or poetry; you have an object that literally absorbs you, that is perfectly resolved in itself. That's my way of expressing singularity.... And it's essential that at a given point in time this singularity become an event; in other words, the object should be something that can't simply be interpreted, sociologically, politically, spatially, even aesthetically The object may be quite beautiful and not be a singular object. It will be part of the general aesthetic, of global civilization. Yes, I think some can still be found But we also have to take into account the way the individual's singular perception divides the world. There are no standards, there are no formulas, there's no aesthetic or even functional matrix you can apply. The same object can satisfy all the functions we assign to it. That doesn't prevent it from possessing this extra quality.
J.N. Could we go so far as to say that the greater its singularity, the greater the chance it will be appreciated? That would be a consequence more than anything else.
J.B. Anything can be appreciated; I'm very skeptical about the notion It's not a question of relations, affects. You can have an affect for any object whatsoever that singularizes it for you. But at some point, what's needed is a different kind of awareness. If you like it, it becomes your dog and not someone else's. But this is something different, which is harder to articulate, because it can't be grasped intellectually.... It even seems to me that there's something a bit demoniacal in it, in the German sense of the word.
J.N. In the case of singularity, the aesthetics of the object is not fundamental to the extent that aesthetics obeys a type of convention, a type of judgment. You may feel an object is ugly, very ugly, uglier than ugly, monstrously ugly, and yet it can become in itself an entity that is absolutely essential. By that very fact, the object will become beautiful. Fortunately, it's not necessary to respect aesthetic codes to define singularity. The interesting thing is the ability to differentiate yourself from them and transgress them.
J.B. Take the Louvre Pyramid. At one point there was a movement to prevent its construction, because it was ugly. Then everyone calmed down.
J.N. It became widely accepted through use. But to me, it's not an example of a singular object.
J.B. It's obviously an academic object. But audacity, or the lack of audacity, is something that belongs not solely to an isolated object but also to the space it generates. At La Dйfense, in spite of everything, we can say that a strange space has been generated. Moreover, at first we don't know whether an object will become singular or not. This is what I referred to previously in terms of "becoming," of becoming—or not becoming—singular. It's a question not of change but of becoming. And this is something we can't determine. Sometimes even circumstances, whether they're historical, sociological, or whatever, trigger an object's singular becoming.
J.N. Pure event, "I perceive architecture as pure event," you said.
J.B. I'm interested in the things that shock me. I was writing about architecture as pure event, beyond beauty and ugliness.
J.N. But you contrast the "singular" with the "neutral" and the "global."
J.B. Yes, I differentiate global, universal, and singular.
J.N. And with respect to the neutral, you were kind enough to add: "We don't need architects for that!"
J.B. I would say the same for literature, thought, art, et cetera. Neutrality is assured; there's no problem with that. It's the total security we're offered day after day. Neutrality has never had a good reputation because neutral things are indifferent. At the very least, it signifies an absence of quality, the nonqualitative. It's not the kind of thing you can like; we perceive the mass, conformity. But now we're seeing the emergence of another form of neutrality, which appears in the literal sense of the term this time. In fact, all it can do is appear; since it is defined within a domain where all possibilities neutralize one another. This domain is different than before, when there was neither quality nor relief. Here it's the opposite. You have a "dynamic" neutrality that is open to so many possibilities that they are all neutralized, like the history of the still camera I mentioned earlier, a device that allows you to take all possible photographs. From that point on, you are neutralized as a subject. This neutrality, for me, is the baseline of the human species—and we can reach the same point in architecture, as well. It's a cultural effect, a choice, our choice. It's true, I contrast the singular with the neutral, but I also contrast it with the global. We need to be clear about our terms. There is a considerable difference between the universal and globalization. The universal remains a system of values, and in principle, everyone can access it. It's still the object of certain conquests. But little by little, it's becoming neutralized; cultures are being juxtaposed. Nonetheless the result is still a top-down equalization, through value, whereas in the process of globalization, we're witnessing a bottom-up leveling, according to the lowest common denominator. This is the "Disneyfication" of the world.
Unlike the values that drive universalization, globalization will be a theater of intense discrimination, the site of the worst discrimination. It will be a "pyramidal" globalization, so to speak. The society it generates will always be dissociated and no longer a society of conflict. One has the impression that between the two, that is, between those who will have access to information technology, the future "wired" world, and the others, the connection will have been broken. The two halves of society will become disconnected. They will each go down their own path, in parallel, and one will tend increasingly toward sophistication with respect to knowledge, speed, while the other will live with its exclusion—but without conflict, without any gateways. It's more dangerous than a revolt because it neutralizes conflict itself. Forget about class struggle! There won't even be any "clashes." Forget revolution. There won't be any relations of force; the fuse has melted. That's globalization. In the English-language press, the term refers primarily to economic markets. I mean something much more comprehensive. But it's the same underlying process if you look at it conceptually. It's an identification, a totalization—of the field of neutrality—it stands in contrast to the universal, which was an idea, a value, a Utopia. This is the dimension of "realized" objects. In the case of the universal, it's the particular that stands opposite; in the case of globalization, if s singularity, a radicality of a different order. And one that doesn't enter into direct conflict with antagonistic forces. This isn't a revolutionary force; it exists elsewhere, is developed elsewhere, disappears. It's interesting to observe what remains of the irreducible in this process of globalization, this irreversible movement. This movement is a system, contrary to what the term would seem to imply, for the term "globalization" appears to imply that everything is comprised within it. But that's not the case. This movement is going to create a virtual hypersociety that will have access to all the resources—this much is clear—and all the power. Members of this hypersociety will be an absolute minority, an increasing minority, and in the majority of cases—in generic terms—the rest will remain excluded. So we'll be moving toward these parallel, dualistic societies, where things no longer function the same way on either side of the divide. What will that mean for life on earth? I don't know, but I have the impression that it's happening now in cities.
In this sense, the cities are prophetic. They are moving toward a kind of virtuality in terms of real, natural, traditional space. On the plane of the real, of reality, space is shared, while the most abstract virtual space is never shared. It's the privilege of those who have access to it. We won't be dealing with a dominant class any longer, but a computer-rich intelligentsia that will give free rein to complete speculation. Yet ultimately that's how Europe is being created. The euro, which is so much in the news today, is the epitome of the virtual object, imposed from above. All imposed decrees are established without any relation to actual opinion, but who cares, it will happen, and it did happen! Everyone will operate within a parallel market, a kind of black market, with its markups; everyone will organize their escape as well. Increasingly we'll see parallel sites spring up: parallel markets, parallel work, moonlighting, peripheral capitals, and so on. And in a sense, that's fortunate, because if control of one over the other were total, it would be an unbeatable defense strategy.
You almost get the impression that things were predestined to be this way.
J.B. For me, destiny is something that cannot be exchanged. This is true up to and including construction: what can't be exchanged for its own end is subject to destiny, to a form of becoming and singularity, a form of destiny. Predestination is a little different, for it claims that the end is already present in the beginning, but doesn't eliminate the end. In one sense, the end is already there; a cycle of predestination is then established. Destiny is what can't be inscribed within a finalizing continuity, something that can't be exchanged, whether for better or worse. I feel that thought, theory, is inexchangeable. It can't be exchanged either for truth or for reality. Exchange is impossible. It's because of this that theory even exists. However, there are many cases where exchange is possible Maybe this reflects the history of the city, architecture, space—there has to be a possibility of exchange so that things can be exchanged with one another. But sometimes they don't get exchanged at all. There may be no equivalent to a given building, there's no need, it can't be exchanged against anything else. They'll build another one, but as it stands, it can't be exchanged for something else. It's an unhappy fate, a failure in a certain sense. However, singular things can't be exchanged, either; they're autonomous. Only in this case, we can say that we're dealing with a fully realized form.
J.N. There's something that amused me in all this talk about destiny and fatality: when you finally advise the architect to not think!
J.B. Ah, yes! When I said that we have too many ideas. I say the same thing about philosophers, as well You have to differentiate thought from ideas. I don't recommend that they not think; I advise them against having too many ideas.
J.N. We know that this is difficult territory. We know our fate isn't clear to us, and yet we still need a minimum amount of strategy to deal with it. And that's what's actually going on. What kind of architecture can survive, what kind will still have meaning in tomorrow's world, in a context that we are in large part familiar with.
J.B. That we know almost too well. That's the problem. The Idea of Architecture and History
J.B. One of the problems with today's architecture is that we can no longer make architecture without having an idea of architecture in mind, the history of architecture. In philosophy, for example, you have to take history into account, the references to which ideas are subjected by history, any number of heteroclite issues. That's where I say, "Let's not think too much!" Whenever you have an architectural project in mind, different data about space, history, the environment, the elements of the project, objectives, finalities, all of that provides you with the information to produce a disconcerting object that will be something quite different than the initial project. But if you project too much, if your conceptualization is too narrow, the lode runs out, and I think this is just as true in the field of theoretical research. People who accumulate every reference they can lay their hands on, multiplying the amount of data, carefully delineating the path they'll follow out toward infinity, exhaust themselves before they can say... what? Nothing.
J.N. Yes, we can make architecture that is not about architectural theory. Architecture is no longer an autonomous discipline. But that doesn't force us to think more, to broaden our field of investigation. The majority of the buildings in our cities weren't thought out in that sense. They arrived there through a kind of automatism, a lack of attention So I think, if we want singular objects, then we'll have to use various kinds of analysis, reflection, connotation; we'll have to establish relationships among contradictory objects. In short, we'll have to start thinking.
J.B. Look, I don't want to make a mystery of spontaneity. In fact, we should abdicate to serendipity.
J.B. Serendipity,yes. In fact, no one knows the exact definition
It's the idea of looking for something and finding something completely different.
J.N. But I'm a big fan of the sport! I've been practicing serendipity all my life without knowing it.
J.B. The important thing is to have looked. Even if you miss what you were initially looking for, the direction of the research itself shifts, and something else is discovered. The concept is primarily applied to the sciences, but it's also the name of a store in London, where you can find all sorts of things, except whatever it is you're looking for. The word comes from the Sanskrit. It's a beautiful way of saying "wisdom." It has been anchored in sacred Indian literature for centuries.
J.N. At bottom we're looking for something, but we never know what. When we find it, everything is all right Fortunately, in architecture there's never a single correct response. There are millions of pathetic and a few thousand exciting responses. All we need is to find one that can be realized. But these responses are rarely simplistic. Paradoxically they are trying to be obvious but indecipherable. There's nothing worse than a building whose recipes we know by heart. In architectural conferences, you often hear people discuss kitchen recipes that result in the creation of a building. People don't always want to tell you "how," they don't want to reveal their strategy, but rather want to create an aura of mystery that's essential for a certain type of seduction.
J.B. In Buenos Aires the presentation of buildings by different architects, all of them well-known, lasted five days. There was never a question of the mystery you speak of, only the nature of the projects, the development of a program, the results obtained, the international career of the person exposing his or her work. With respect to this sense of mystery, what we saw was incredibly impoverished.
J.N. We are dealing with thickness, something that will never be totally elucidated, deciphered. There will always have to be things that remain unsaid and things in which we lose ourselves. At the same time, an architectural work should be capable of being experienced by people with very different sensibilities. So we have to set up a certain number of markers that can capture the attention or the interest of this highly diverse group.
J.B. In a number of fields, this land of sociological calculation is barely functional. The entire field of advertising is focused on this type of approach, but in reality they have no idea what they're doing.
J.N. It's true of literature, painting, music. The great works, the great books, are universal. They affect people from all cultures and all levels of education.
J.B. Yes, but to the extent that these artists are able to create without giving in to the farce of art, art history, or aesthetic codes. So it's possible, ultimately. It's as if the architect were able to build without first reviewing the field of architecture, its history, and everything that is constructed. The ability to create a vacuum is undoubtedly the prerequisite for any act of authentic creation. If you don't create a vacuum, you'll never achieve singularity. You may produce remarkable things, but the heritage you have to deal with is such that you'll have to pass through a whole genetics of accumulation.
J.N. Yes, but that doesn't rule out a strategy to flush out...
J.B. Architecture can't be as spontaneous as writing.
J.N. Certainly. Still, what characterizes architecture is its writing, the fact that we are able to recognize any detail at all. This doesn't only involve an exterior shape. And if you look at all the great architects of this century—Wright, Le Corbusier, Aalto, Kahn—you can recognize them by the details. This singularity of their architecture is remarkable. There must be something natural and spontaneous in it, but at the same time, it's planned, worked on, premeditated.
J.B. You could say predestined.
J.N. This activity of premeditation is the thing architecture needs the most at this time. It will prevent its banality, mindless repetition, autism.
J.B. Not just anyone has the means to make his mark on a building, but anyone can write a bad article. Facility, in this case, is dangerous.
J.N. No, but many people are under the illusion that depth, thought, comes about through omnipresent decoration. Decoration is used to palliate this absence of intent, the incoherence of architecture. Generally the architecture is hidden behind an ersatz facade. It's the obsession that makes the difference; with decoration you can mimic anything, any universe. There are decorators who could be considered architects. They work at revealing the spirit of the place. This was true during the thirties, and it's still true today when people like Starck succeed in transforming a place.
J.B. Do they still speak of style in architecture? Because compared to singularity, I would like to know what style is_______________________________________ We
recognize someone who has style, but the work produced won't necessarily be the embodiment of a singular vision.
J.N. Except if the style happens to be a singular vision It's one of the big questions in architecture. Style addresses the problem of the evolution of architecture. We can say that architects, in the twentieth century, have positioned themselves as artists in the plastic arts. They've appropriated the field; they5ve pretended it was also their own. Once this formal identification was made, the number of caricatures began to multiply: the ones who made everything white or everything blue, all in garlands, and so on. That's how myths get started. For example, historically Meier's architecture always turns out white. You're familiar with Ungers, who only does squares; Baselitz, the artist, turns things upside down. Those are perfectly identifiable styles that conceive of architecture as a preexisting vocabulary that can be used according to a preexisting code. A style, in my sense of the term, is something different. Style is a way of doing. But I can also suggest another definition.... Personally, I'm very interested in the way a style works, which has presented a problem— concerning me—for certain critics or certain individuals, who wondered, "What's this guy doing?" When an architect's way of doing something is identified, the way we recognize his style is as well. If these artist-architects build, their building will always be particular, since it will become their signature, in a way; but their approach has no relation to other particularities that they could exploit but don't. They are enclosed within a system. Style should reflect a singular way of thinking the world.
J.N. You've said that you prefer complicity to complexity. I like the idea very much. It reflects a real problem in architecture. We manage to make things that are profound only through complicity, and perhaps only through this complicity do we achieve a certain degree of complexity, which isn't an end in itself. Often things are complex when they have to be, quite simply. This preliminary search for complexity has long been associated with a theory that claims that interesting things have to be complex because we then escape from a completely repetitive form of simplicity. The idea of complicity in architecture is more unusual, more uncommon. Complicity is the only guarantee that we'll be able to push the boundaries. But we need to consider this in a very broad sense. If this complicity is established, it means that something more than simple comprehension is going on between people, a shared meaning, mutual assistance. Obviously, I can't build the Cartier Foundation building if I don't establish a relationship of complicity with the person who conceived and manages it. And this complicity has to exist among the crew, an enterprise, a global project There has to be a shared dynamic, one that's often unspoken but translated into actions. However, the word "complicity" is not always well received. In this world, where everyone is trying to find their place, if you start weaving privileged links, you're accused of plotting, of cheating. If you set up relationships that are more than contractual, if you begin to enjoy doing something, you're called on the carpet You're not supposed to have fun while doing architecture! And you're especially not supposed to talk about desire before talking about the project requirements. However, all the great architects made their careers by exploiting this sense of complicity between contractor and client. For example, look at Gaudi or Gehry: contractor and client were inseparable.
J.B. Like seduction, "complicity" is a term with a bad reputation. Both are contrasted with an ideology of transparency. The complicity of a connection can't be "exposed," but at best suggested. Personally, I'm not sure how free we are to accept such complicity. Obviously I have a kind of prejudice against freedom. Against liberation, in any case. Freedom has become the ideal of modernity. And this no longer seems to pose any problems. When the individual is freed, he no longer knows what he is. Be yourself! Be free! That's part of the idea, the new diktat of modernity. Under the constraints of this new liberation, the individual is forced to find an identity for himself. Today we still live with the ultimatum that we find our identity, fulfill ourselves, realize our full potential. In this sense we are "free" because we have the technical means for this realization. But this is a prodigal freedom and culminates in individualism. It hasn't always been like this. The freedom of a subject struggling with his freedom is something else. Today we have an individual who isn't struggling with anything but who has set himself the goal of realizing himself in every possible dimension. We can't really postulate the problem of freedom. It's no more than a kind of operationality.
J.N. Is that what you mean when you write, "Ultimately, we exist in a society where the concept of architecture is no longer possible, the architect no longer has any freedom"?
J.B. No, not exactly. What would freedom mean within an ideological field that is no longer the same? Freedom in a state of subjection, want, is an idea and, at the same time, a kind of destiny: you desire it, you look for it. Liberation is not at all the same thing as freedom. That's what I wanted to make clear. When you're free, when you think you're living a realized freedom, it's a trap. You are standing before a mirage of the realization of various possibilities.... Everything that was once idea, dream, Utopia, is virtually realized. You are faced with the paradox of a freedom that has no finality. It's simply the consecration of your identity.
J.N. What are you saying?
J.B. Well, that you have the right to fulfill yourself in the name of this freedom. Simply put, at some point in time, you no longer know who you are. It's a surgical operation. The history of your identity helps set the trap. The sexes find their sexual identity, and nothing more is shared between them, they exist in their own bubble. Alterity? Freedom is charged with a heavy load of remorse. And the liberation of people, in the historical sense of the term, is also a fantastic deception. There is always an element of the unthinkable that won't have been evacuated. So there's a kind of remorse because of what's transpired. We're free—so what? Everything begins at the point where, in reality, we have the impression that something was supposed to be fulfilled. Take the idea that the individual becomes free—every man for himself, of course. At that point there is a terrible betrayal toward... something like the species, I don't know what else to say about it. Everyone dreams of individual emancipation, and yet there remains a kind of collective remorse about it. This surfaces in the form of self-hatred, deadly experimentation, fratricidal warfare ... a morbid state of affairs. There is even a final requirement that this state of affairs itself be questioned. Liberation is too good to be true. So you look for a destiny, an alterity, which is artificial, most of the time. You're forced to invent the alterity, to invent something risky, to rediscover at least a kind of ideal freedom, not a realized form, because that really is unbearable. The absence of destiny is itself a fatality! So what can the architect do with this freedom?
J.N. The architect is not free himself.... And men are not free with respect to architecture. Architecture is always a response to a question that wasn't asked. Most of the time, we are asked to handle contingencies, and if while handling these needs, we can create a bit of architecture, so much the better.... But we also realize that three-quarters of the planet is not actively thinking about architecture. And where it is too present, people resent it. Where is the point of balance between these two extremes?
J.B. It's not a handicap; it's a strategic value.
J.N. Regardless of the future form our civilization takes, there will always be a place for architecture, there will always be a particular strategy for inhabiting it, a territory to defend. Even if we start with the assumption that the city will disappear, in the sense that it will no longer be physically present as a territory—which doesn't lend itself to an urban vision of architecture—there will still always be architectural acts that assume some relation to the new data and which will be a source of pleasure. We've been told that the book would disappear with the Internet, but we'll always need a home, some place to live Even if the architectural gesture tends to become increasingly automatic.
J.B. For cloned encephalons!
J.N. An automatic architecture created by interchangeable architects. This fatality doesn't bother us; it's an essential part of today's reality. We still have the exception to invalidate the rule