Chronicle | A true modernity… Why not?

Promoting a forward-looking speech requires constant attention to anything that can significantly influence the evolution of contemporary thought. In history, the future often begins with an evil-being in the present, whose symptoms are only discerned, most of the time harmful, without being able to perceive neither the causes nor the mechanisms.

This column was first published on CyberArchi on 30 October 2007

Thus, the magazine Le Visitor, published with the help of the French Society of Architecture (s.f. a), launches the debate on the obvious discomfort that has settled, for some years, in the thought and the production of architecture. Aware of a media drift, the journal proposes to approach a new editorial line and launches an offensive against the ready-to-think that is currently being served by a certain national and international architecture. Commenting on contemporary production, the editorial team deplores the devastation of the media celebrity, often undeserved in the light of the fundamental values of the discipline. It makes the observation of an architecture reduced to the state of product (commercial) overrated and ' deculturate '. It recalls that this state of fact leads to the devaluation of the place of architecture in society. To thwart this deviance, the magazine calls for a structured, articulated and lucid architectural critique. It wants to promote an architecture that reconnects with its mission of public interest. She argues that fame must be the consequence of excellence. It wants to promote authentically deserving textual and/or built productions. It proposes to interrogate the world through architectural discipline and to bring together those who want to defend the place of architecture among the most noble manifestations of the human spirit. The editors call for those who feel this need for change to be brought together. First of all Bravo for the courage, it has now become heroic (and useful) to break the spell of the tongue of wood by admitting publicly that ' something ' does not turn round in the microcosm of the landscaping. It is not so often that a magazine is prepared to question the sacralisés consensus and to say out loud what many think very low. The very idea of putting on the harness this architectural criticism that bases the dominant discourse is an idea that seduces me a priori. I admit, with the visitor, that some form of aesthetic architecture has become both a product of communication and a consumer product, joining in this show biz, cinema or haute couture. In these areas, alas, most of the time, ' consumable notoriety ' is a premium on the intrinsic quality of productions. All that is fundamental and essential to express the depth of the time then goes to the trap for the benefit of a skillful commercialism, more or less identified, camouflaged and most often very difficult to denounce. So I can only join the ' ethical Crusade ' that the SFA review launches. I would, however, take the precaution of penetrating cautiously into the depth of this device to question the criticism and thereby the mediated architecture that accompanies it. Without trying to set myself up as a lesson giver, I still believe that fighting an architecture, even if it is illegitimately sacred, cannot be an end in itself. I believe, moreover, only moderately to the need for a ' deserving architecture ' evoked by the visitor and whose definition is somewhat delicate to be formulated not to be said to be subject to surety. I also remain perplexed when the visitor suggests, between the lines, that an architecture carrying true architectural values would already exist. She would be there before us, and would only ask to flourish once the over-mediatisation was naked, denounced, judged and eradicated. I believe that this architectural thought that is authentically adapted to the new demands of our time and thus likely to take an active part in the evolution of our civilizations, does not yet exist, except perhaps in the embryonic state. On all these specific points, the positions of the visitor and mine differ slightly. I have, on the other hand, already stressed, on many occasions, the need to re-establish a genuinely contemporary thought, in synergy with new technical, scientific and cultural values. Moreover, the mechanisms of such a refounding would only be modelled on those which allowed the Perollet-le-Duc to establish, in the 19th century, a new architectural modernity in a conscious and deliberate manner. The work of the Great Architect remains a remarkable example of the well-foundedness and relevance of architectural thought in the context of a changing era. On the contemporary formulation of a new modernity, I expressed the imperative necessity in this forward-looking section, in the book ' Towards the Hypermediale City ' (L'Harmattan) and I would continue in the collection ' Cities, Techniques, Prospective News ' (L'Harmattan). There I also insisted on the inevitable battle to be fought against a contemporary academicism, insidiously installed and manifested in all kinds of forms more or less legible or obvious. Even if tiny uncertainties lead me to take some reservations about the development of the visitor's reflection, it is not a question of exacerbating differences or of highlighting contradictions. Nor is it a matter of concealing these disputes which are the sine qua non of debate. It is, by the way, from my point of view, the lack of real debate, for ages, that ' leads ' today to the advance of architectural and urban thinking, and which promotes the drift towards a aesthetic production, ' You saw me ', without speech and without depth , precisely denounced by the Revue de la S.F.A.. On the balance sheet, what is important in the visitor's ' gesture ' is this willingness to open up the debate. From this point of view, we continue, I think, with the visitor, many common objectives. Once this has been developed, let us agree that the wanderings that we see today in architectural production are serious, in an area that is intended to make the living environment of our daily life. This public denunciation proposed by the visitor is indispensable because, what is damaging, it is not that this drift exists, but it is that the total unconsciousness collective of these phenomena can continue. One cannot leave to the only press people and the only supporters of a dominant speech the care to ensure the diffusion of the single criticism. An area like ours must be able to formulate distanced speeches on its own production. We must also be able to become a force of proposition for a living environment genuinely adapted to the new demands of ethics and aesthetics that we are suggesting by the evolution of our lifestyles and that they are desirable or forced By the need to save the planet. The visitor therefore asks the real good question, that of the fundamental values of architecture. These latter, if they persist from one time to the other, are nonetheless subject to an obligation of whole re-foundation to every mutation ' civilizational '. The ' world ' cannot be "questioned through architectural discipline" as the visitor wishes to do, only if he has previously taken the exact measure of the mutation of this world. This can only be done from the elaboration of a critical discourse that has only timidly begun. The main difficulty is to identify the nature of the fundamental mutations and then patiently question themselves critically to better re-invent the devices that allow to produce a new architecture in resonance with them. Exercise difficult and constantly thwarted by the dominant cultures as we recall the last true re-foundation, which dates from the modernity of the nineteenth century. History has shown us how long and painful this metamorphosis has been to finally lead to the staging of modern architecture in the years 1920. Today, a century and a half after the great Cultural Revolution, the recent mutations are gradually cutting us off from this culture and forcing us to identify new ' civilizational ' landmarks. Indeed, it remains, as the visitor suggests, "to build knowledge": Not only knowledge based on pre-existing information or values, but also knowledge created from assumptions of desirable cultural changes or inescapable. If I chose, here, to report the "rant" of the visitor, it is that by lambasting the drifts ' banalisantes ' and adulterated, the journal implicitly questions the current becoming and the desirability of architectural thinking, production Architectural and then of the prospective thinking to which I am particularly attached. On the balance sheet, the visitor or this prospective section is, because of this situation, two postures of hypotheses, of which it does not matter whether they are true or false. What matters is that they aim to question both our time and the eternal values of architecture within this mutational process. To succeed, as the visitor suggests, it is indeed necessary to bring together those who want above all to build a real contradictory debate, i.e. those who reject the dominant speeches, servants of partisan interests. The purpose of this noble maneuver is to better combat the lethargy and unconsciousness that seem to have settled. The challenge is to identify, in a more critical and objective way, on a renewed basis, ' The state of art ' in contemporary architectural thinking and production. The goal is to better serve the understanding of the intellectual situation. The underlying wish is to foster the emergence of new, authentically contemporary architectural thought streams. Do not doubt, the invitation of the visitor engages us far, it is well question here, if not to burn the icons, at least to work to drive them in the reserves of the museums of tomorrow. It also remains and above all to agree on the new icons; As in the architectural competition, there are many candidates who think they are equally deserving, but the real winners remain rare and difficult to determine… Everything remains to be done! Alas, as everyone knows, those who burn the images, the iconoclasts, disturb, they attract the resentment and expose themselves to reprisals. But setting up a new modernity is worth taking some risks… For my part I'm all ready to take them.

John Magerand

Architect, urban planner and landscape artist, PhD in information Science and the COM, teacher at the School of Architecture of Paris-la-Villette