Book Launch – The Production Sites of Architecture

The title of The Production Sites of Architecture is a good summary of what the book is about. Inherent in the picture on the cover and the title is the question of architecture and frameworks of knowledge. Like all artefacts, buildings embody and produce knowledge. Their truly unique feature is their ability to transmit information, and in some cases to do so in a generative way, creating new knowledge.

Production Sites is a composite term. It implies buildings as empirical realms, as we encounter them in our everyday life; buildings as fields of social relations, and buildings as representational realms. As a three-part term, Production Sites has to do with architecture as a physical and social reality and as a rich tapestry of knowledge: the ideas, histories, languages, processes of making and explaining buildings, the sources of inspiration, the media used in these processes, the persons, social groups, objects and various kinds of texts involved in their production.

The book does not provide an exhaustive description of production sites and there is nothing final about its contents. Just as there are many worlds, there are many ways of making and discussing architecture, and many sites of production.

Rather, it inquires:

What are production sites in architecture made of? How are they produced? Who produces them? And how their making relates to knowing? How does architecture embodies knowledge, and how does it generate new knowledge?

Thematic Sections

The first theme in the book entitled Imagination presents chapters by Jonathan Hill discussing the Soane’s Museum and tomb in London, and Ro Spankie reflecting on Freud’s interior in Vienna. Both authors focus on the interactions of designing, thinking and writing  in relation to the ways interiors are shaped by and shape the imagination. Diana Fuss explains, ‘the interior is an expansive space encompassing both the psychological and the architectural meanings of interior life … the theatre of composition is not an empty space but a place animated by artefacts, mementos, machines, books and furniture that frame any intellectual labor’. The idea that emerges from these explorations is on the one hand the interior as a figuration of the self under construction by Hill, and on the other Spankie’s notion of the collective idea of the interior as a place where humanity practices its need for play and affect (Spankie). We encounter here a fascinating suggestion about the interaction of the individual and collective unconsciousness in the ways in which interiors are conceived and imagined.

The second part, Worldmaking, discusses ordering systems of classification as strategies of invention. As humans we sort things and place them in lists according to some logical ordering principle. But we also exploit the creative power of lists for chance encounters between the sewing machine with the umbrella or the emperor’s beasts in Borges’ Chinese encyclopedia. My own chapter compares Soane’s and Freud’s highly personal spaces and their displays of objects. Looking at how the two scholars and curators translated ideas from archaeology to architecture, I explore the generative strategies in the spatial arrangement and juxtaposition of objects of their respective interiors. Christoph Lueder’s chapter is dedicated to architectural monographs of Koolhaas S,M,L,XL, FOA’s Arc and Andraos and Wood 49 Cities. He sees these books both as reservoirs of the offices’ work and as re- editing strategies of ‘architectural species’ to be classified, juxtaposed and recombined. The association of these two chapters points to the inexhaustible possibilities of juxtaposition as opposed to exhausting the world into a catalogue, archive or a list.

In the third part, called Mediations, Adam Sharr and James Brown focus on the difference between lived space and mediated spaces that are appropriated advancing a message. Sharr points to the political and economic powers of appropriating heritage in Gezi Park’s redevelopment proposal in Istanbul and Swiss ô tel in Dresden, and of ‘high architecture’ in Crystals at CityCenter in Los Angeles. Brown underscores the mediated space of the BBC’s Headquarters’ new building and news room. Sharr shows that buildings can be used so as to impose certain historical episodes in order to disguise war ruptures. Brown exposes behaviour rituals in the BBC news room that suppress the spontaneous everyday use of space by journalists in the room in order to convey a corporate message about the space of news production. The two authors thus help raise questions about the agents, the manner and the ends for which architecture is produced.

The fourth part, Intersections, presents chapters by Aarati Kanekar and Iris Lykourioti focusing on the exchange between architecture and the symbolic medium of poetry. Kanekar, queries ‘architecture’s choreography with poetry’ in Terragni’s Danteum and Eisenman’s Moving Arrows, Eros and Other Errors . Lykourioti analyses Mallarme ’s A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance , the reconfiguration of apartment in Athens by her architectural studio and Brecht’s diagram of the relationships in the production of a musical piece. Seen together, the two chapters help to explain architecture through the unstable, open- ended interaction between conceptual relationships, embodied perception and the various actors involved in architectural production.

In the fifth and last section, Reappropriations , Elke Couchez, Rajesh Heynickx, Yves Schoonjans and Hanna Lewi discuss the transmission and acquisition of knowledge in architectural education and the heritage sector respectively. Looking at Koen Deprez’ transposition of the burned map from military theory to pedagogical practice, Couchez, Heynickx and Schoonjans make room for destabilising norms of knowledge in search of architectural appropriation and innovation. Asking what makes sites of historical value speak, Lewi addresses the intersection of physical place with language, through annotation, inscription and interpretation. The authors approach meaning not as fixed message awaiting to be discovered, but as an unpredictable generative tool that is continually reinterpreted by the intersections of site, image, map, text, digital media and embodied perception.

 Their differences notwithstanding,  the collective effort in the book underscores two interrelated ideas:

to make evident the interplay between what architecture means as an environment that supports life and the contemplative, reflective, or aesthetic appreciation of life.

to make evident what architecture means to those that design it and those that use it seeking to turn insights about its function into insights about its production.

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