By Jean-François Lyotard
Listening to Kenneth Frampton, it seems to me that there is a tragedy of architecture, for a precise reason. People don't build simply in order to put a roof over their heads, they build in order to render homage. The act of building is an act of honour rendered, and the tragedy is that of knowing who or what is the addressee of this gift. The great architectures of the past knew to whom buildings should be addressed. It could be a divinity, in all forms; it could be a prince; it could be an Idea of Reason, such as the Republic, or the People, or the Proletariat, as in certain aspects of the Modern movement. But it was always the universal addressee. Today we don't know the destination of building, and this too is an aspect of the failure of the universal. And clearly it's this failing that postmodern architecture tries to scar over with parody, denounced both by Kenneth Frampton and Demetri Porphyrios. Parody, irony, quotation: this is indeed 'political quietism' (if one understands by 'political' much more than 'professional' politics) because it means 'don't talk to me about the addressee of architecture': that's what's apolitical. Let's have a good time. It's like the last waltz of the passengers on the Titanic.
The other aspect of architectural tragedy has been pointed out several times. The same building which is addessed to something must also meet the demands of human life, of humans as living beings. If the architect only answers this demand, then architecture is neccessarly conservative, insofar as its function is that of conserving human beings, of putting into conservation.
The thagedy of architecture is also the question of the body. Kenneth Frampton stressed the need to pay attention to the body, and several questioners from the floor also insisted on this. The words accompanying this emphasis are 'tectonic' and 'tactile', and there's a real problem here. In a sense, and in a sense only, architecture is constructed for the body insofar as the body occupies a space. How are we to conceive of this space? If we think of it as a functional space, this means that we think of the body as a set of functions, and this is already a presupposition as to the nature of the body. A scientific, technoscientific or pseudo-technoscientific presupposition.
You'll have noticed that, against this, Kenneth Frampton links his thinking to a phenomenological and even Heideggerian tradition. This means he introduces the idea of a body space which is not functional. What is this non-functional space, and what is a non-functional body? When Heidegger reflects on this question he gives it an ontological scope. It's a space which is empty or, rather, blank. That's what I'm trying to get at whith this notion of gathering. One can say that the first model of this space is the mother's womb, as first dwelling.
In the current situation, the body is a technological object. An object of technical operations the number and scope of which will increase in the years ahead. Think of bio-medicine, bio-engineering, all imaginable prostheses, genetic surgery. Ten days ago I was involved in a discussion with a bio-medic who was saying among other things that in 15 years it will not be necessary for women to bear their children: the whole period of gestation could take place in vitro. Whence the disappearance of the first dwelling.
In a sense, what characterises the modern dwelling is that it no longer has walls. Not in the physical sense, but in the sense that the separation between the outside and the inside is increasingly problematical. The inside is becoming filled with instruments for the sending and receiving of messages, communicating with the outside. Here too the dwelling is affected. My question is the following: the body is to my mind essential site of resistance, because with the body there is love, a certain presence of the past, a capacity to reflect, singularity - if this body is attacked, by techno-science, then that site of resistance can be attacked. What is the unconscious of a child engendred in vitro? What is its relationship with the mother, and with the father? The mediatisation of the body makes me ask the following quesion of Kenneth Frampton: can we still base ourselves on a phenomenology or an ontology of the body to designate one of the principal functions or destinations of architecture today? I believe that Kenneth Frampton is very aware of all this, ans that it's part of his concern.
En: Chris Jenks (ed.): Urban Culture: Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studies. Taylor & Francis, 2004.