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Book Review: Architecture Depends

Book Review: Architecture Depends

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Published by Michael James Casey

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Published by: Michael James Casey on Dec 28, 2010
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05/22/2013

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B O O K R E V I E W
Te Case or Contingency 
by Michael J Casey
L
ess is more.Less is a bore.
 Mess is the law.
Jeremy ill opens his book ARCHIECUREDEPENDS(MI Press, $24.95) with a personal the-sis that derives rom two opposing dogmas o 20thcentury architects Mies Van Der Rohe and RobertVenturi. Tis trio o outlandish doctrines sets thetone or ill’s humorous and deeply intellectualdressing down o some prolic and egomaniacal ar-chitects, and summarizes the main premise o hisbook: Despite an architect’s highalutin claims o pu-rity or autonomy, architecture is inherently contin-gent upon context, and will be unavoidably aectedby orces completely outside the designer’s control. Aseraphic vision o pristine volumes and whitewashedwalls will always be brought back down to earthby the realities o dust, dirt, and inevitable decay.Critique o established ways o thinking is nothingnew to architectural literature. Robert Venturi’s dec-laration that “less is a bore” was a tongue-in-cheek play on Mies’ minimal, unctionalist approach toarchitecture. Venturi was cleverly voicing his dis-content with the tired state o modern architecturein the 1970s and 80s. By then, what had once beena noble attempt at capturing the zeitgeist o a newpost-war culture had become just another style.Just as the post-modernist Venturi hijackedmodernist Mies’ credo and retooled it to his owncounter ideology, Jeremy ill declares his owncanon by thoughtully laying out a case or the in-herent contingency o architecture. ill’s mainpremise: the reality that any building will be sub- ject to “uncontrollable circumstances: users,time, weather, historians, and new technologies”.Using a disarming sense o humor to skewer noless than Mies, Le Corbusier, and Vitruvius, illchallenges the puritanical philosophies and exclu-sive attitude o established orebears in his own eld.He convincingly debunks their revered ideas by emphasizing that even the best laid plans can nevertake into account the whole uture o events that lieahead o a completed building project, striking apopulist tone by challenging what he sees as “clearlines between us architects and them unwashed”.An architecture that anticipates and embracesuncertainty is what ill calls ‘lo-’ architecture. Cit-ing musician Elvis Costello as his inspiration or theterm, he reminisces on a radio interview in whichCostello explained that during a recording sessionhe has sound engineers play back his music overa cheap radio, in order that he may “hear how itsounds in real lie...over the noise o a breakast table”.

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