BAKHTIN, ARCHITECTONICS AND ARCHITECTURE

February 2011 Josep Muntañola Thornberg. Architect. Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya Av. Diagonal 649, Barcelona 08028 jose.muntanola@upc.edu Magda Saura Carulla. Architect and historian of Art. Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya Av. Diagonal 649, Barcelona 08028 Magdalena.saura@upc.edu Supported by Research Project EDU2010-16299 KEY WORDS: architectural education, architectural cognition, architectural theories.

Starting with the Professor Holquist’s extraordinary introduction in the translation of the early Bakhtin’s writings into English, “Art and Answerability” 1, and the rare texts in which Bakhtin talks about architecture, I will try to analyze the significance of Bakhtin’s dialogic work in terms of architecture and very specially, in relation to the present situation of architecture and urban planning after the huge impact of computer design. My contribution starts with the relationships between these writings and the work of Lewis Mumford, Jean Piaget, etc., who during the same years and without direct connections uncovered until today, developed parallel sociological concepts and similar philosophical aesthetic ideas. A first link to Aristotle is at that point necessary, in spite of Bakhtin’s clear intentions for detaching himself from classical Greek philosophy. Secondly, I will comment recent works in PhD thesis in architecture that have intended to apply for dialogical concepts in architecture and urban planning. Finally, the basic concepts of architectonics, chronotope, etc., will be used in relation to architecture, taking care - as Bakhtin did - of the qualitative difference in between architecture and the rest of arts, since architecture - as Aristotle understood very soon - is in between art, science and politics, and in those three basic dimensions of human life architecture is, in fact, a stranger. With the inestimable help of Paul Ricoeur’s work, a philosopher who also wrote a very few texts in architecture during the last days of his life, only a few texts but incredibly dense, modern and clear 2, with his help, I repeat, I will try to define how the dialogical
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I refer to “Art and Answeribility” (early philosophical writings). Texas University press, 1990. I was allowed by Paul Ricoeur to translate part of his writings into Spanish. See Architectonics nº4 “Architecture and Hermeneutics”, Edicions UPC, Barcelona, 2003

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architecture can be liberated from a yes/no rigid argumentation. the aesthetical and the ethical components of human life is. where identity and difference substitute the yes and the no. at this point. where chronotope’s force will be clearly understood. The critical of Bakhtin’s thought about the lack of clarity in this distinction between the cognitive. Edicions UPC.the deep aesthetic content of art in general according to Bakhtin .philosophy by Bakhtin and his “Architectonics of Answerability” can be an excellent theory for architectural and planning design today. city. thanks to Bakhtin’s architectural cognition and logics. science and ethics (politics).almost one hundred years earlier . 2006. and if you uncover which “architectonics” relay bellow some parts of our cities. whose activities have been deeply transformed by the use of computer and by the enormous speed of technological development. The conclusions will try to show how “architectonics” . science and politics (ethics) should take advantage of the way dialogics analyze this intersection between art. by globalization and finally by digital communication. then you will discover why they are so poor 3. 2 . Architects situated in the “empty place” between art. Just look to architecture today and you will see which “architectonics” we are building up. so often used by architects. Barcelona. Finally. an inestimable help for architects and . opening in this way a complex range of architectural variations and human places. 3 See Architectonics nº13 “Architecture and Dialogics”. in order to start a new logic of spatial configuration.is the aesthetic structure bellow any building.the writings by Bakhtin forecast today’s formalistic nature of the “material esthetics” totally present in the architectural and planning design of contemporary practices and theories. in order to understand the different architectures when “architectonics” is either eliminated or transformed in pure science or pure “political intentions”. etc.

in a similar way that was difficult a hundred years ago. The international Review Arquitectonics: Mind. science and politics. They say that architects have been simply “victims” of a wrong “productive and global political system”. so we never learn enough from historical mistakes. “dialogy”. again. in order to attain this goal he conceived the key concepts of: “architectonics”. that a lot of professors have convinced students of architecture to accept that architects should not be blamed at all for the urban planning corruption or the financial crisis linked to architectural and urban planning design in Spain. totally alien words to architectural and urban design itself and. Men step always upon the same stones. including the control of freedom of speech. now empty. and nobody in the profession has criticized this ecological and social speculative process until now. “heteroglossia”.com 1 3 . again. now architects dream about a new financial development. Thirty years of Spanish democracy has produced. So “architectonics” is different from architecture and just because it is different it can be made a theoretical and practical revolution in relation to the present architecture and urban planning practices and theories. that can not realize the very dangerous trap that lies below a “global monolithic and monological model” of urban planning speculative development. to the right wing Parthies control and to anti-democratic social forces and institutions. defined by him in the artistic realm as “material aesthetics”. a clear and very dangerous fascist and “conservative” young generation. “dialogical” views about architecture are growing. the author has no ethic and politic responsibility for his artistic or scientific actions (or “deeds” as he used to say).CHAPTER ONE From the very beginning of his work Mikhail Bakhtin had a very clear final goal: to fight against the formalistic view over art. Of course. in both cases. and we can now look for architectural design and planning alternatives. Because we should start to say clearly that thirty thousand architects in Spain have carried a lot of money before crisis (the bubble). I have observed these days in Barcelona to my surprise. however it will be extremely difficult to reinforce these ideas. Thanks to a few resistant professors and students with some PhD thesis and Master Programs1. I guess that Mikhail Bakhtin would have been also as surprised as myself have been. again. All of them constitute a tool against the view that art and science are the same thing and also against the view that. leading. “chronotope”. See www. in order to be. with four million buildings. and a lot more. Land and Society (22 volumes) is a “dialogical” product and a lot of PhD dissertations are important examples. the “rich victims” and “slaves” of an “inevitable” global process of production and political corruption.arquitectonics.

Finally he advises about the confusion between the “potential hero” (the aesthetic dimension of use) and the use without cultural dimensions. historical and social context. in a similar way that “readers” are to literary aesthetics. J. as was the case of student of architecture in Barcelona. 2 Muntañola. for example the “financial” exclusive spatial use is not the unique “potential hero”. a fascinating summary. All of this is clearly outlined in the “Concluding Remarks” (fifteen pages) written in 1973-1974 3. Cambridge University Press. See Architecture and dialogics. but very different too. that are the users. At this point. University of Texas Press. USA. 2011. then architecture has no aesthetic dimensions and becomes a pure technical and financial product. 1998. defining a work of art as a new “creative chronotope” which is able to produce a new “con-text” fitting very well with the hermeneutic analysis of Paul Ricoeur about the “action full of signification” because it fits with a historical and geographical context on its own 4. See book by A. again. He also warns about another misunderstanding: the confusion between the object (the construction) and the aesthetic value (the “architectonics”). ed. Austin. making the object meaningless because it is analyzed without its cultural. These “potential heroes” play a role in the authors designs (or architects) in the building itself as a work of art. an “architectonic structure” without “heroes”. only with potential heroes2. and if it is the unique dimension of use. Arquitectonics Review nº23. against all kind of a formalistic way to deal with ethical and political significances of aesthetic processes of communication. Magnaghi: El proyecto local. leading to an aesthetic evaluation of the building only as the conscience of the genial character and attitude of the architect-author. Arquitectonics Review nº 13 In The Dialogic Imagination. this definition opens a new theory of architecture based upon a dialogical process of architectural and planning design creation 5.CHAPTER TWO – THE “ARCHITECTONIC” CORE OF ARCHITECTURE Bakhtin himself advises that architecture has no “implicit heroes”. the “Concluding Remarks” ends with and almost enigmatic definition: “The works (of art) faces outward away from itself toward the listenerreader (the user) and to certain extend this anticipates possible reactions to itself”. In these fundamental pages Bakhtin warns again about the confusion between the role of the author in the work of art (the building) and the personal psychology of the architect. 1981. 3 4 5 4 . and that “aesthetics” have in this case. See Paul Ricoeur Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences. and in the use of buildings and cities. Not far from Husserl-Ricoeur definition of the other into itself.

are based upon the need for a “critical” distance able to start an “analytic” and “dialogical” process. 5 .It is very important to notice that these three distinctions defined by Bakhtin in this “Concluding Remarks” written in the last years of his life.

th 6 . However a very difficult problem arises when compare poetics in literary works and in architecture. As long as the organism lives. in poetry. and as Bakhtin himself wrote. it resists a fusion with the environment. long time before. but if it is torn out of its environment it dies. We might even speak of a special creative chronotopic inside which this exchange between work and life occurs. and which constitutes the distinctive life of work. however immutable the presence of this categorical boundary line between them. making dialogy consummated in the poem that can be read for everybody 6 From a personal letter by Lewis Mumford written to me the 6 July 1981.”3 This is a description that links dialogics. found the audience I have been working for among the new generation here in America and other countries too that gives me great satisfaction. in a continual renewing of the work through the creative perception of listeners and readers. in recent years. which otherwise has. but without ever losing contact with changing historical space. All the architectural and planning design activities could be analyzed in that way opening a “heterodesign” complex web of spatiotemporal chronotopes. this chronotopic web of more or less creative design forces will develop in between real and represented worlds: “the real and the represented world resist fusion. and the real world enters the work and its subsequent life. this text by Bakhtin was published in English in 1998… too late for him to read. alas!. The work and the world represented in it enter the real world and enrich it.CAPTER THREE – TOWARDS A NEW DIALOGICAL ARCHITECTURAL AND PLANNING DESIGN THEORIES AND PRACTICES: THREE EXAMPLES The three different examples briefly described here intend to represent the theoretical and practical energy of a dialogic imagination in the architectural realm. if we do not take into consideration the total different chronotopic cultural structure between the real and the represented world in both cases. Of course this process of exchange is itself chronotopic: it occurs first and foremost in the historically developing social world. Bakhtin insists upon the identity. become darker than ever…” 6. However. Patrick Geddes and Lewis Mumford should have read this “Concluding Remarks” by Bakhtin. and encourages me to face the unknowable future. even though the Russian text was written in 1973. between the poet and the language he uses. planning and ecology with an astonishing clarity. In 1981 Mumford wrote to me “what I was writing fifty years ago has. the dialogical dimension of the poem remains inside a singular linguistic quality in each poet. they are nevertheless indissolubly tied up with each other and find themselves in continual mutual interaction: uninterrupted exchange of matter between living organisms and the environment that surrounds them.

We have the Babel Tower as an old story preventing such madness. but two or more people cannot be at the same time in the same place and social interaction has a very different role in theatre. 7 . nevertheless in architecture the author of a place is not there in the same way. The architect is a “potential user” in relation to the “potential users” in the building. they have a very different roles. However. Architectural design cannot be translated into a poem and a poem cannot be written by architecture. and this is a dialogic structure too.from different places. in architecture or in poetry. dialogically linked. in both cases. Even language and architecture have a common origin in life. and this makes architecture and literary poetry totally different and simultaneously deeply related. the consummation of a rich human experience can be either written or built and can be either read or used.

School A: Dialogical School 8 . 7. both schools are in Barcelona and the experience has taken place at the same socio-historical time. 8). one “dialogical” School A another “monological” School B. cultural events and social rites and celebrations (see notes 6. Differences are generated from totally different way education: School A based on competition and lack of social interaction between children.EXAMPLE ONE: CHILDREN CONCEPTIONS OF PLACES TO LIVE IN These two cities represent two different chronotopes and two totally different creative chronotopes. School B based upon cooperation and cultural social activities such as theatre.

School B: Monological School School A: Dialogical School School B: Monological School 9 .

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are not any obstacle for dialogical creativity as soon as the author (in this case Catalan architect Magda Saura) knows both architectures and mixes them in a creative way in order to obtain a new “architectonics”. as Bakhtin indicates. 2007 11 . Abecedario. Four centuries. the old vernacular and the avant-garde abstraction. This is a good example of polyphonic dialogics between “potential heroes” belonging to different worlds… 7 7 See Muntañola.EXAMPLE TWO: HOUSE IN ARENYS D’EMPORDA (NORTH CATALONIA) This house is a creative chronotope by mixing two different architectures. Las Formas del Tiempo. J.

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without any chronotopic creative design intentions.EXAMPLE THREE: BUILDINGS IN THE IBA BERLIN Building A. shows a very interesting case of “monologic architecture” as the result of a model in plastic that was known in all the world as a new formal way of design with a “cubist architecture” organized by a red ribbon line. 1990 13 . it disappeared in the construction since the model was a “formal theory” not a chronotopic structure. in spite of absurd colors in the façade trying to escape from the boring effect of the building. This is a global example of “architectonics” that can be everywhere and nowhere… Building A: Social housing project by Peter Eisenman. If the model had an “architectonic”. again. The subtle relation between these two buildings has been totally transformed by this huge insignificant piece of architecture. There is no “dialogy” between Berlin. almost unknown. presented the model a in Paris exhibit as a dialogue between the two buildings (I was then convinced that the chronotopic relation between the buildings was not only a “dream” of my mind). one of the best-known architects in the world. Both architects. by Peter Eisenman. It is said that they have not followed this professional dialogic way of design. The red line in the building has no meaning at all. It was designed some years later. not surprisingly as architects are not interested upon dialogics at all. However. the historical and geographical context and the building. Building B is a building that starts a creative dialog with the next building the one remaining old building after the Second World War that destroyed the whole street. and “architectonics” changed again for the monologic dimension of design. in the last slide you can see the meaningless huge building behind.

Building B: Office buiding in Friedrichstrasse by B. 1990 14 . Steinkilberg and G. Spangenberg (IBA).

Washington. Modernities built with architectural and planning design strategies by using the natural. See Muntañola. monological unique global architecture and urban planning srategies cannot build this creativity. and they represent as well some utopian possible new worlds that I have called the worlds of Specific Modernities7. social interaction between the real and the represented world are the unique forces able to generate creative chronotopes. June 2010. If architecture and planning design should conceive creative chronotopes. International Congress of the EAAE. and AIA. D. Architecture in the wild. The use of computers do not change these facts. social and historical environmental forces of each place. and Muntanyola. it simply enlarges the power of both the dialogic and the monologic imagination of the architectural and urban planning design activities.CHAPTER FOUR – CONCLUSIONS: SPECIFIC MODERNITY AND THE LOCAL GLOBAL ARCHITECTURAL AND PLANNING DESIGN THEORIES AND PRACTICES Now we can go back to my first chapter where I was surprised by the reactions of students of architecture today in Barcelona (just recall of this situation in twenty years in Spain social and political situation…). These alternatives are real. 8 15 . J. But this will need another article 8. There are the local and global dialogical alternatives at the same time as a unique monological globalism based on financial international economic and political organizations. As in children’s architecture.

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