Use-Value in Architecture, by Eric Weber

Contemporary architectural practice and philosophy have been moving toward an analytical, science-based approach since international-style modernism became the lingua franca of architectural production throughout the world. Google’s developers are currently creating an algorithm intended to eliminate the need for architectural space programming; the full implications of this project seem self-evident.  Scripting is being used to do the challenging work of developing the complex components necessary for the designer’s latest flight of fancy.  The profession of architecture is under siege by many forces, the algorithm is merely the latest methodology intended to systematize, classify, and codify, taking decision-making and thinking away from individual practitioners.

Yet this future is not inevitable, desirable though it may be to some.  It is incumbent on philosophers and architects to re-valorize the local, the contextual, the particular-it may be the discipline’s only hope for relevance.  This paper is not an argument for a contextual approach as a survival tactic; instead, it is essential to creating meaning.  If architecture is to continue to be a relevant discipline, it must demonstrate the capability for this essential task. Kenneth Frampton offers a possible way forward in his call for a return to tectonic thinking in architecture.

“Needless to say, we are not alluding here to mechanical revelation of construction but rather to a potentially poetic manifestation of structure in the original Greek sense of poesis as an act of making and revealing.” 1

“Building remains essentially tectonic rather than scenographic in character and it may be argued that it is an act of construction first, rather than a discourse predicated on surface, volume and plan… Thus one may assert that building is ontological rather than representational in character and that built form is a presence rather than something standing for an absence.  In Martin Heidegger’s terminology we may think of it as a ‘thing’ rather than a ‘sign’.”2

The tectonic by this definition is a method of making and revealing, making truth manifest.  But if building is inherently an ontological act, then is it irrelevant to speak of a distinction between building and architecture?  It might be, but only if the word building is used in the sense of creating something of value and integrity.  What this suggests is that building can be an ontological act, but is not inherently so.  In other words, it is a desirable goal, not an inevitability.   If building can be an ontological act, then it is the creation of a thing, rather than its representation or symbol.  If it is not a symbol, then a distinction between building and architecture is irrelevant, as this distinction suggests that for a building to be considered architecture, it must serve a larger, symbolic function.  This appears inconsistent with the reductionist approach Wittgenstein’s use theory favors; his approach to language precludes irrelevant information.  To paraphrase architect Peter Zumthor, “there are no ideas except in things.”3

1 Frampton, Kenneth.  “Rappel A L’Ordre: The Case for the Tectonic.” Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture. Kate Nesbitt (ed.) Princeton Architectural Press: New York.  p 519.

2 Frampton, p 520.

3 Zumthor, Peter.  “The Hard Core of Beauty.” Thinking Architecture. Birkhauser: Basel.  p 34.

Eric Weber

Harvard Citation Guide: Weber, E. (2015) Use-Value in Architecture, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 21 June 2015, Available at: http://isparchitecture.com. [Accessed: 21 June 2015].

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