Chronicle | To architects, inventory duty

"In many respects, the digital world is a world of generalized ornament," says Antoine Picon *, a Harvard professor. "originally presented as synonymous with a dangerous dematerialisation, the diffusion of digital tools has, in fact, contributed to the question of materiality," he says. Three-part meeting * *.

Article published in the architect's Mail (29-05-2013): Claire Bailly and Jean Magerand: How do you evaluate the current period as a historian? Antoine Picon: I would say that we are in a period of revolution at the same time technological, societal and architectural, as we have rarely known. To find an equivalent, we would have to go back to the first industrial revolution. It was at this time that very important technical changes took place: At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the steam engine, the modern iron industry, the railway, a change of relationship to time, space, etc. came into being. The definition of architecture has, in turn, experienced a reversal identical to that of the Renaissance when the discipline was born in its modern form. Rare are the epochs mixing technological revolution and revolution of the foundations of architecture. At the time of the revolutions, are the actors aware of what is happening to them? For my part, I would tend to think that they are well aware of it. For example, the contemporaries of the arrival of the railroad realised that this was a huge revolution. Actors are more lucid than we think. However, it is less obvious to perceive where these technical changes are taking us. Only the retrospective look can enlighten us. During the great revolutions of the late eighteenth century, American and French, some understood that a new age was introduced. How far can we push the parallel between today and the Renaissance? The most striking is the convergence between change of world view and technological change. Technological changes are not the own of the Renaissance, but their concordance with changes of epistemological order-namely a different view of the world, new representation tools-is rare. Today we change under the influence of digital. The Renaissance also corresponded to a change of subject including the invention of the modern humanist subject. In parallel, the architectural discipline was born as we knew it. These are phenomena that mirror our times. Is the Renaissance a more important revolution than the modern revolution of the nineteenth century? No, even if for architecture, this period was very important since it was defined in a recognizable form. This is the moment when the architectural treatises appear, the attempts to theorize, of which we are still heirs today. 02 (@DR) _ S. jpg What parallels do you make between a historicist Renaissance and a modernity that has partly cut off from historical features? It is certainly not too much to push the parallel. History never repeats itself. We cannot constantly look for analogies in the past. The Renaissance, reinventing Antiquity, negated the same continuity more immediately, especially with the Gothic. By going for a distant past, it was a matter of breaking up with a nearer past. It is not necessarily good to break up as well. The digital induces, too, a form of amnesia that seems to me dangerous. The phenomenon is all the more noticeable in younger generations who often have few historical references. Over the last fifteen years, technology has gone faster than thinking about technology. We have not had time to clutter up with the past. And beyond digital, there are materials or the importance of environmental issues. We are thus faced with a series of technological failures as we have not known for a long time. In fact, we have had very little time to theorize these ruptures. This has sometimes led to errors in interpretation. Many students have also taken Rem Koolhaas as a kind of incentive so as not to worry about history. Rem Koolhaas, in a certain tradition, forms part of a legacy of modernity. Today we reach the end of a cycle. We are increasingly interested in the possible way of reconnecting our reflection to the architectural tradition through technologies. We have a real need for theorizing. If we pursue the parallel, can we conclude that the discipline is being reborn? As I said, discipline, as we know it, was born in the Renaissance; In the past, the most admirable buildings were not even considered architectural. I often repeat that architecture is as much a matter of tradition as of discipline. To maintain a living tradition for every generation, we must both keep and discard. Today we are wondering about what we need to keep but also about what we need to rule out. We also need to reinvent. Digital forces us to do it. So what about architecture? I think it is necessary, for example, to reinvent the issue of scale, although the world of information does not have a scale to speak of. We may no longer need the structural-tectonic obsession of the moderns and the ornament will be another way of thinking. I am not trying to say that buildings no longer need structure, but the time of tectonics as a privileged guide to design-a modernist hypothesis-may be over. So there is a duty to inventory. 03 (@LeBoetien). jpg In what torment interrogative do you place architecture today? There are many who turn in architecture around the idea of identity: what do we call architecture? The question is all the more urgent as we have continued, without saying it, in the right path of the modern movement. Today we are, perhaps for the first time, in post-modernity. And this is an important revolution! In France, we are now in the Monstrous Alliance of ' neo-haussmannism ' and ' modernity ' to the point that we are able to ask ourselves what we can do after modernity. The question does not invite to deny the modernity itself but to carry out, beyond that, a work of inventory which is so necessary and how considerable. Interview by Claire Bailly and Jean Magerand * Antoine Picon, general engineer for bridges, waters and forests, is professor of History of architecture and technology and director of doctoral studies at Harvard (Graduate School of Design and Architecture) * * After the first component ' to architects, duty of inventory ', we will publish the second and third parts titled respectively ' Post-History of Architecture: The Digital revolution ' (June 12, 2013) and ' architecture Must render Perplex ' (June 26, 2013).