The house is no longer a machine for living in. What was once a powerful inspiration for architects that urged a new social dimension to architectural production has become a fetish. We do not live in the machine: we gaze on it, admiring its perfection and autonomy. In this view, architecture and life are divorced. Hugo theorized Literature’s usurpation of Architecture’s dominant communicative role; our devotion to the cathedral became a love of the printed word. Today Victor would be blogging on le-flaneur.com, advocating the Personal Digital Soundtrack.
As a culture, our interest in the ‘primitive’ ebbs and flows. The history of the industrialized world can be read as a series of technological advances in most realms of life. Although curiosity about the world and the drive for survival in it had led to inventions that ostensibly made life qualitatively better and easier to live, the so-called Industrial Revolution began a trajectory of accelerated discovery. Imagine life without penicillin, air conditioning, motor vehicles, and the Internet. A span of three or four generations has witnessed these transformations. Inextricably tied to these changes is the ability to sell them as commodities and with it the idea that we cannot do without them.
But many of these advances have come at a cost. Global warming, pollution, resource depletion, and over-population are but a few of the side effects of technological innovation. Perhaps one of the most profound effects of our relationship to technology has been to alienate us from the natural world, to the point where a critical imbalance has occurred.
We place great faith in science and technology, and the belief that they will deliver humanity from the predicted collapse (note the number of LEED credits that suggest technological solutions and the interest in 'high performance' building). Yet proof of technology's redemptive capacity is decidedly mixed. (What will happen to all of the discarded Prius batteries?) Still, to deny the critical role technology plays in the search for positive resolution would be stunningly naïve.
Before modern architecture was triumphant, early theorists mined our collective human history in search of rationales for an alternative tectonics. Vitruvius, Alberti, Laugier, and Semper, did seminal work in this area. As modernism became the dominant mode, Ruskin, Le Corbusier, the Smithsons, and Sergison Bates, among others, all investigated some aspect of what we might refer to as ‘primitive’ as a source of truth or inspiration for a critical practice.
We recall with some sentimentality the ‘noble savage’ and pine for a state of nature away from the din. Granted, some degree of separation from nature is desirable and necessary to the survival of the species. In this pursuit, architecture is the artful expression of a biological imperative: shelter.
The intent of this studio is not to romanticize an anthropological-historical past, but to search for an alternative impetus for today: our knowledge of the primitive is speculative and generic. Our hope is to discover a critical position with which to interrogate any number of operative orthodoxies of contemporary architectural practice. The modus operandi of the studio will emphasize material, craft, and a robust response to need (both present and future).