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Architectural Theory Review
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Interview with Reinhold Martin
Lee Stickells & Charles Rice Available online: 08 Dec 2010
To cite this article: Lee Stickells & Charles Rice (2010): Interview with Reinhold Martin, Architectural Theory Review, 15:3, 324-331 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13264826.2010.526089
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theory and criticism produce occlusions and exclusions? Apropos to these concerns. which I tried to articulate and draw out in the book as a whole. But what appears untimely in one context might appear quite timely in another.LEE STICKELLS AND CHARLES RICE Downloaded by [Bibliotheek TU Delft] at 18:37 09 May 2012 INTERVIEW WITH REINHOLD MARTIN: Utopia’s Ghost1 One of the recurring considerations in this special issue is that of historicity: How does historical speciﬁcity bear on architectural criticism? How is the historian a critic and the critic a historian? How does the anthologization of history.2 Through a close reading of buildings.1080/13264826. In the subtitle. ideology and history at work in the production of postmodern architecture are subjected to critical analysis.2010. in his most recent book. I do hope that its untimeliness will appear timely when seen from other perspectives. Its major hypothesis regarding ISSN 1326-4826 print/ISSN 1755-0475 online ª 2010 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.526089 . there is almost an implicit apology that you are reexamining a period which is both very recent in historical terms. Postmodernism in architecture is thus both distant but yet to be dealt with historically. projects and texts from the 1970s and 1980s. How do you understand the ‘‘timeliness’’ of your book in this context? RM: That’s the thing about ghosts. in many ways. Architecture and Postmodernism. Again. The fact that many of the chapters began as responses to invitations to consider a speciﬁc subject reﬂects shared though perhaps latent concerns. yet something which architecture seems to have ‘‘put behind it’’ quite quickly. Charles Rice (CR) and Lee Stickells (LS) discussed the book with Reinhold Martin (RM). CR: Temporality is an important theme in Utopia’s Ghost. the complex intersections of temporality. they show up most unexpectedly. premature’’. Utopia’s Ghost. To the extent that Utopia’s Ghost is addressed to audiences both ‘‘inside’’ and ‘‘outside’’ architecture. With an eye to the implications for writing architectural history and criticism. Reinhold Martin argues that: ‘‘Simply to historicize postmodernism seems inadequate and.
the book also responds to the visible (and desirable) tendency. therefore. culture. in favor of a new. Not universally. The difﬁculty of terminology (I have simply accepted the currency of the term ‘‘postmodernism’’ despite its contested status) is compounded by the problem of periodization. In other words. But you don’t need to visit what’s left of the nineteenth century arcades to recall that capitalist circulation was a deﬁning force for modernism. after it leaves architectural postmodernism behind. and politics. that consolidate the symbolic victory of Reagan–Thatcherism rather than reject its apparent anachronism. I only ask that we pause for a moment and reconsider the terms under which such historicizing is performed. urban renewal. On the other hand. from PhD dissertations to museum exhibitions.ATR 15:3-10 INTERVIEW WITH REINHOLD MARTIN Downloaded by [Bibliotheek TU Delft] at 18:37 09 May 2012 architecture’s role in the active ‘‘unthinking’’ of utopian thought. alongside those that already structure the book? RM: We have been told many times that today we no longer occupy space. that students were simply unable to think structural change in the present. In short. The result is a new set of architectural languages untroubled by ‘‘history’’. to attach the name ‘‘Westin’’ to the space in question. We can therefore ask: What’s the difference between the thematic of circulation as it is developed. and so on in favor of techno-triumphalism and the ‘‘global’’ hegemony of the markets. movement abounds within Utopia’s Ghost: from the circulation of materials and capital through multinational networks to the architectural promenades of Le Corbusier. It is clear. and I very much look forward to the new insights to be gained. from feedback loops of development to cycles and oscillations of history. especially as it pertains to spatiotemporal globalization. each time one refers to Jameson’s brilliant reading. however. we occupy ﬂows. from ﬂows of information to the recursive reﬂections of mirror-glassed facades. LS: The issues you describe involve various mobilizations of architectural history and. almost technical training of the imagination away from such thought was and remains a travesty that is surely the most enduring and deleterious legacy of postmodernism. to historicize architectural postmodernism. indeed. although the modernist ‘‘crisis’’ was deemed by many to have been resolved under architectural postmodernism. but predominantly. etc. which has ﬁnally succeeded in neutralizing modern architecture’s historical imagination. It has to do with education. that architecture does not effectively become ‘‘postmodern’’ until after 1989. for example. This corporatization of spacetime was not (yet) an issue for Benjamin. It has nothing to do with style. Vietnam. pseudo-modernism that ﬁnally represses the traumas of the Berlin Wall. the ‘‘digital’’ turn. instead. The systematic. is a direct response to a vast blind spot around which historical experience is organized in the present. by Walter Benjamin in Paris. particularly among younger scholars. time and again. historical citation. Much of the impetus for writing the book came from sitting on design juries and teaching studios in which it was clear. that is. Movement (or circulation) seems strongly placed to form another thematic. ‘‘Architecture or revolution?’’ had ceased to be a question. or by Fredric Jameson in the Los Angeles Westin Bonaventure Hotel? One answer would be the persistent need. I largely agree with this. The period is currently being reevaluated and reassessed in a variety of ways. what we actually see is its persistence in altered form. Likewise 325 . that artifact of the late nineteenth century.
—and the writings of critics like Charles Jencks. and to wider cultural practices within which it is situated. permanent emergency. The example of Buckminster Fuller’s ‘‘spaceship Earth’’ is instructive in this regard. Not normally associated with postmodern practice. and of the bourgeois imagination such that Las Vegas or Rockefeller Center appear as models rather than as problems. etc. CR: The period you examine in the book is the moment when architecture becomes reﬂexive in terms of its historical and theoretical relationship to its own discipline. and future. which are controlled by an overlapping set of corporate interests. the regime signaled by the name ‘‘Rockefeller’’ (think: Standard Oil) needs to be naturalized. etc. as in the many interstellar escapes (or exoduses. these texts do not represent architecture’s contribution to critical postmodern thought. What were some of the difﬁculties in reﬂecting historically and theoretically on this period. present. Fuller’s ﬁgure diagrams both circulation-as-orbit (in a sort of total system) and as potential escape. like the Westin Bonaventure (its distant descendent). the ur-geometry of formally utopian plans as well of ambivalent. of the city. in a sense I’m arguing that.). this treadmill signals not the permanent unfolding of catastrophe helplessly witnessed by Benjamin’s angel of history. Foucauldian heterotopias like the panopticon or the panorama (a key. Andreas Huyssen. both on the ground and in the imagesphere. In effect. mediating component of Benjamin’s arcades). but what his work and thought actually reveal is the paradigmatic character of risk management in organizing and rationalizing real and imagined relationships between past. Evidence of what? Of the material. but the muchproclaimed ‘‘end’’ of history and the normalization of catastrophe (permanent war. what passes for architectural theory in postmodernism. is interesting in this regard. The circle. in Abu Dhabi. In many ways it is a model of the type of genuinely cosmopolitan urbanity that accompanies capitalist development. which is to be found copiously documented in today’s architecture periodicals. is more ¸ symptomatic than reﬂexive. as an allegory of circulation. going nowhere. Yes. or colonial voyages) that form a staple of the science ﬁction literature that Jameson analyzes so adroitly for its channeling of Utopia. suburb to the world. evidence. They are symptoms. Delirious New York. Rockefeller Center. Fuller has become newly relevant as an avatar of ‘‘sustainable design’’. But in order to become this. taken for granted. This is not just a matter of the client or patron. But byand-large. Learning from Las Vegas. Though I only imply this in passing in the book. Read allegorically. Probably its most complete monument is Norman Foster’s pseudo-utopian enclave of Masdar. despite appearances. For the most part. especially the texts that were taken up by critics like Jameson.STICKELLS and RICE Downloaded by [Bibliotheek TU Delft] at 18:37 09 May 2012 for the circulation of photographs of the hotel. architectural discourse under postmodernism was insufﬁciently reﬂexive. it is built into the 326 . if by that we understand self-critical. the turn toward structuralist and poststructuralist theory in the 1970s yielded a certain self-consciousness regarding the categories we use. This goes especially for the ‘‘gentle’’ or ‘‘retroactive’’ manifestos— Complexity and Contradiction. when reﬂexivity itself becomes the historical and theoretical issue? RM: Well. or Jean-Francois Lyotard. discursive reorganization of the ﬁeld. has come to describe a kind of permanent orbit—a literalization of the term ‘‘globalization’’—that resembles nothing more than a treadmill. Benjamin’s ‘‘one way street’’ has become a suburban cul-desac. from Westin to Portman. as Koolhaas suggests.
It is to try to reposition authorship. I understand the critique of power as. and instead offers a genealogy of the skyscraper that reveals its ambivalent status as a centerpiece of what today we would call the neoliberal consensus regarding the city. where architecture’s genetic ‘‘signatures’’ are carefully codiﬁed and subject to controlled mutation. All you have to do is visit one of Venturi and Scott Brown’s. or gamesmanship. as I try to show in the case of Philip Johnson’s skyscrapers. interpretation and critique of power’’?4 RM: Yes. through a sort of inside–out extrusion. It only looks like a retreat when seen from the point of view of the avant-gardes. You write ‘‘At the threshold of postmodernity. infrastructural sense. with organic coffee on every ﬂoor. affect. in which architecture becomes a parlor game. it is our responsibility to challenge this consensus. Is Zaha Hadid a function of the parlor (at the Architectural Association) or the boardroom (in Abu Dhabi)? In what sense does it make sense to hold these spaces apart? This doesn’t mean that they collapse into one another. But rather than emphasize the interplay of utopias and heterotopias.3 This proposition undermines conventional readings of postmodern architecture as a retreat into games with aesthetic languages. is really a laboratory. posthuman laboratory buildings and you’ll see what I mean. claustrophobic enclosure presented as the very diagram of openness and porosity. in an otherwise ‘‘humane’’. there is no ‘‘retreat’’ in postmodernism. Following Foucault. This is not to reduce the agency or authorial intent of an architect like Hadid to a mere symptom of systemic. this laboratory would probably resemble nothing more than the sort of lab that Venturi and Scott Brown have become so adept at designing. related in the way that the two ‘‘ends’’ or ‘‘openings’’ of a Klein bottle are related. Coincident with the rise of postindustrial or immaterial labor more generally. Is it fair to suggest that such a reinterpretation is critical to your reclaiming for architectural thought ‘‘a decisive role in the analysis. primarily aesthetic. Intellectually and in practice. The further inside you go. from the point of view of militant. This is where Tafuri remains crucial. that Tafuri’s ‘‘boudoir’’. They are. strictly speaking and in a material. in which intellectual labor comes to resemble nothing more than ‘‘serious fun’’. CR: In some ways. he rejects this normalization or naturalization. on a new playing ﬁeld that more accurately corresponds with reality.ATR 15:3-10 INTERVIEW WITH REINHOLD MARTIN architecture. playful. and the signature architect. which I think in any case remains vague in Foucault. It’s science ﬁction. authorial intent. Though he does so in different terms. a sort of live/work homeofﬁce. The most obvious contemporary manifestation of this is the ﬁgure of the signature architect. a topological problem. pure and simple. in a sense. as they say in Silicon Valley. altogether corporate environment. there is a rewriting of the rules of the game. the labor of the architect is now. as a product of the laboratory? In fact. and the representational codes they entail—is coterminal with the sphere of production and with the organization of everyday life’’. I explore power’s paradoxical or counterintuitive topologies. in part. This means 327 . aesthetic experience—including meaning. What would it mean to understand signature architecture. that is. the disciplinary and academic context of Utopia’s Ghost is the Downloaded by [Bibliotheek TU Delft] at 18:37 09 May 2012 LS: Questions of architecture’s power seem important here. Despite Tafuri. the further outside you get.
architecture (and architectural ‘‘theory’’) had come to occupy a privileged position. partly because theory. In contrast. writing is a form of practice. and the role of ‘‘culture’’ therein. as they say. Because. cross-disciplinary debates around postmodernism. But we do not need to apologize for doing theory.5 To what extent was the writing of Utopia’s Ghost motivated by this debate? Are the American schools still factionalized in those terms? RM: I cannot speak for American architecture schools in general. for with 328 . All of the architects in the Ground Zero sweepstakes were either protagonists of architectural postmodernism. unlike the present vitriol directed against the construction of an Islamic cultural center nearby (ongoing as we speak). about which you have written for Harvard Design Magazine. But it is also cause for concern. and the discursive. Instead. but like most American political discourse. Or at least. We need to know how this was and remains possible. to involve a reimagining of the material effects of architectural writing?7 RM: Needless to say. the article (‘‘Critical of What?’’) could be seen as more polemical. as both Exhibit A and as a playful form of cultural therapy with occasional gestures toward theoretically informed criticality. etc. I therefore apologize for my role in inadvertently helping to keep it in circulation. normalized. in the context of the intensely parochial ‘‘debate’’ going on in architectural circles. That is one way that historical and theoretical analysis can help. or its progeny. has been professionalized. even with critical intent. Its ﬁrst version was written for an interdisciplinary newsletter published by the Center (now Institute) for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University. I still have to say that any group of architects who could Downloaded by [Bibliotheek TU Delft] at 18:37 09 May 2012 publicly describe their not-so-distantly neoGothic proposal for Ground Zero as a ‘‘cathedral’’ (again. in that sense. Every architectural history conference I have attended in the past decade has been peppered with theoretical terminology. with Johnson in the background). It takes time. we need more vigorously than ever to argue for its necessity.STICKELLS and RICE recent debate around critical and post-critical or projective practice. LS: The advocating of a ‘‘post-critical’’ architecture in the last decade often framed writing (conﬂated with theory) as an appendage to the project—as less than ‘‘real’’. amongst other things. Because. But. I hope and assume that it wasn’t. a real victory of which we should be proud. seem key to the kinds of architectural thinking carried out within Utopia’s Ghost. the term ‘‘post-critical’’ is an embarrassment. I felt that I needed to demonstrate that. a ‘‘teachable moment’’. costs money. like the now discarded ‘‘winner’’ of the grand prize in the made-for-reality-TV ‘‘competition’’. complete with ‘‘uplifting’’ aesthetic effects. The article was. you will recall that in the fertile. Could the call within the book ‘‘to think the thought called Utopia again’’ be seen. The article to which you are referring is really about neoimperialism after 9/11. this was.6 their authorial intent was not to contribute to the Holy War. writing. of which I am a longstanding member. too. had to be living on another planet. But of course. And it is. Which is fantastic. an apology to critical theory for what supposedly vanguardist architecture had come to represent. and an explanation of how this had come to be. they did anyway. despite the manifestly reactionary role that architecture was playing in the international public sphere in the morbid and deadly response to 9/11.
in framing the more ‘‘legitimate’’ and ‘‘productive’’ (and equally necessary) work of historical reconstruction. Because that’s what postmodernism is.9 The approach you advocate appears to position critical historical writing as very important to countering the ‘‘almost technical training of the imagination away from such thought’’. and learn to think of counterforms. I want to insist that we must continue to invent new and troubling ways to theorize architecture precisely because they get in the way. and counterorganizations to those that have colonized the planet. utopian impulse? RM: Yes. sophisticated. Until now. But already this terminology is a little obsolete. we would have to consider 329 . it is historically necessary to keep the possibility of structural transformation alive. architecture has led in the celebrations. on the unrealizable in its own right’’. or at least undead (as they say of ghosts). phantasmagoric ‘‘realism’’ of an unacceptable present. anti-nostalgic response from all sectors. Now would be a good time to secularize the architectural imagination. we might ask of today’s well-meaning advocates of ‘‘sustainability’’: What.ATR 15:3-10 INTERVIEW WITH REINHOLD MARTIN Downloaded by [Bibliotheek TU Delft] at 18:37 09 May 2012 the obligatory footnote comes complacency. including the knowledge of possible futures (or of their ‘‘impossibility’’). in order to keep clear a space for oppositional thinking. it is a discourse that coincides with a historical tendency. Though I would not necessarily distinguish between the two ‘‘guilds’’ here—that of history/theory and that of design (or ‘‘practice’’)—since in a sense the training occurs at a deeper level. we might call for the return of a genuinely utopian consciousness capable of thinking relationships between ecology and economy. for example. For it has become increasingly clear that we are entering a new. crypto-religious monuments to the gods of capital. iconic. in that it ‘‘forces us precisely to concentrate on the break itself: a meditation on the impossible. In respect to Jameson’s thesis. or architectural. churning out innumerable. counterstructures. Jameson argued that we must retain a properly impractical utopian impulse (as he put it. It seems a wonderful irony that such writing practices might be critical to an artistic. its usefulness. a little anachronistic. LS: The responsibility you identify. exactly. more ‘‘humane’’ phase. brings me directly back to Fredric Jameson and his Archaeologies of the Future. perhaps redirect. In recognition. So I don’t want to justify the work of theory solely on the grounds of its productivity.8 The formal ‘‘ﬂaw’’ of utopian thought instead becomes a rhetorical strength. for challenging that ‘‘naturalization’’ of a neo-liberal consensus and the related blindspot within architectural education. of the paradigm of risk management that I argue underlies architectural postmodernism. which is a mark of its true postmodernity. is being sustained? And. as well as to any other account that treats postmodernism/ postmodernity as a structural transformation in the organization of knowledge. but understood as an ominous warning that demands a critical. Rather. and maybe even transform historical tendencies. an ‘‘anti-anti-utopianism’’). counternarratives. for example. rather than accede to the deadly. On the contrary. They disturb. to counter the pseudo-utopianism of sustainable design. such that the demise of the welfare state (another hallmark of postmodernism) is not celebrated as a victory of the ‘‘natural’’ forces of capital. My ‘‘post-critical’’ colleagues will complain that this is just more of the same old stubbornness that gets in the way of actually getting anything done. I would say so.
to the extent that history/theory writing in architecture is a degree or so removed from the exigencies of professional practice. more ‘productive’. Martin. Reinhold Martin. for various historical reasons. xii. It emanates from a rearrangement of the playing ﬁeld that is authorized by a brutal and thoroughly spectral ‘‘realism. Utopia’s Ghost: Architecture and Portmodernism. Martin. is a historical development that is subject to change.’ Harvard Design Magazine. sometimes not) with which we are familiar in architecture schools are characteristic of the university as a whole. and how it interacts with other discourses. The issue is the shape of the discourse. Downloaded by [Bibliotheek TU Delft] at 18:37 09 May 2012 Notes 1. the tensions (sometimes productive. Utopia’s Ghost. such as the teaching of history in architecture schools and other curricular matters. each with their own protocols. we might look more closely at concrete institutional practices. I think that the professional expectation that theory provides a script for design ought to be vigorously challenged. it may offer more space to maneuver. 22 (Spring/Summer 2005): 1–5. xi. Again. p. In that sense. and/or more ‘innovative’’’. structural change through architectural design in the traditional sense has been largely foreclosed. Here. 2010. It runs like this: ‘‘Professional schools and other sites of applied knowledge represent the future of the university. p. too. The old debate over ‘‘operative’’ versus ‘‘non-operative’’ forms of scholarship is a distraction at this point. Still. This refers to the public controversy in August 330 . The humanities and other ‘under performing’ endeavors (including the writing of history) must adapt to the new constraints imposed by the markets by becoming more ‘efﬁcient’. 2. the contemplation of positive. Different channels through which to articulate these issues may open up at different times and in different contexts. Utopia’s Ghost. xvi. 6. and they are in the process of being reframed. But that does not mean that the consequent division of labor—theory as ‘‘critical’’ or utopian.STICKELLS and RICE both writing and designing as speciﬁc forms of thought. I only want to emphasize that this is not just another move in the age-old game of critical versus applied knowledge. particularly around shared problems like the naturalization of market values. Instead. This. ﬁnancially and otherwise. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. that are equally subject to the naturalization of otherwise historical developments. Reinhold Martin. practice as ‘‘realistic’’—is here to stay. ‘Critical of What? Toward a Utopian Realism. p. 3. It so happens that today.’’ The utopian function of the university as a world apart. 5. always-already compromised and ambivalent to be sure. There is also a (usually tacit) narrative today that is reorganizing universities from the ground up. This interview was conducted via email during August and September of 2010. The real-world consequences of this reframing are well known. is itself in danger of vanishing altogether. 4.
179. the Muslim cultural center proposed on Park Place. Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. Martin.ATR 15:3-10 INTERVIEW WITH REINHOLD MARTIN 2010 over Park51. Utopia’s Ghost. Verso. 232. Fredric Jameson. Archaeologies of the Future. 8. 9. London. 7. Downloaded by [Bibliotheek TU Delft] at 18:37 09 May 2012 331 . p. Jameson. p. two blocks north of the former World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan. 2005.
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