Monday, 18 April 2011

The Art in Waste (D. Scott Brown)

Many years ago, while I was teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, I shared a class in urbanism with the landscape architects. One day, they invited a gardener to show us time-lapse photography of plants. She had photographed the growth of roses. One sequence then another moved from tender bud to splendid bloom. But after that? Suddenly I realised we were seeing only half the pattern. After bloom comes blight; the rose gets old, wilts, and dies. But the gardener could not face the process of wastage and death; for her, the picture ended with achievement.

Yet the cycle of nature is seed, bud, bloom, blight, death, rebirth, and another cycle. It is not a bad story. It figures in all life and in all human mythology, and it is the context for any discussion of human processes, including those of urban life and the growth of cities. During the 1950s, urbanists who had viewed the destruction of European cities by bombs, and the deterioration of American cities by the flight to the suburbs, took a cue from nature and called this urban wastage, "blight." As it spread, they began to reassess their notions of urban change, seeing the birth, death and regrowth of urban areas as part of the cycle of life. This view of the wasting process as set within the life cycle will be the backdrop to our attempt to consider the art in waste.

Denise Scott Brown
Las Vegas, 1972 (
How do human beings see waste? We think of it as dirty. Dust is dry and relatively clean but garbage is wet and disgusting. Waste has disgusting connotations. Therefore, to pursue the relationship between art and waste, I will have to be indelicate. Imagine a baby who has escaped from a diaper full of faeces. If she has the chance, she will play with them. They are part of her and she loves them. But the mother will not survive. And nor will the society. We must deal with these faeces, because, realistically, they are related to disease. Yet when the child is controlled too much and without tact or knowledge, the result will be inhibition, particularly inhibition in artistry, because the need to play with waste is related to creativity. So a good mother will transfer this need; she'll get the child to play in the mud; to make mud pies or castles of sand; to do something in dirt that is safe. Therefore considering the art in waste means going back to the basics of human beings and their early training, and understanding that playing in dirt is tied to creativity.

Our definition of waste is culture based. An article in a previous Basurama publication [1] observed that a peasant would have a quite different outlook on cow dung from that of an urban person. This reminded me of a Cape Dutch farmhouse I visited in South Africa. The floor was made of cow dung. It was polished and it smelled fresh. Peach pits had been inserted into the dung and, when you walked on it, it felt like the softest rubber. Cow dung and peach pits were seen as valuable resources, not waste, in that society. African kraal houses have dung floors too, and Africans make sandals from old car tires. These form the soles, while inner tubes provide the straps. They are excellent for rough roads. And our definition is class based. Upper-class people tend to think of lower-class tastes and preferences as vulgar and wasteful, and we architects use the terms, "visual blight" and "visual pollution," to describe the physical expressions of commercial culture, particularly streets signs. But I think we are inaccurate. The analogy to chemical pollution is not supportable. Chemical substances can be proven to be harmful to health and their presence in particles per cubic centimeter can be measured in the air. But how do you measure visual pollution? What we define as visual pollution is often something we find ugly. Yet that thing may please someone else's taste or meet their need. We may merely be snobbish about things that look lower class to us.

Why am I here? First, because I feel that Basurama, in studying waste as an artistic resource, is on to a very interesting topic. They came to Robert Venturi and me because we had analysed hated phenomena: the Las Vegas Strip [2] and Levittown [3]. Las Vegas is the apotheosis of the commercial sprawl found on highways outside American cities, and Levittown is the suburbia of lower-middle-class people ­ the "ticky-tacky boxes" of the folk singer, Pete Seeger, built after World War Two, largely for returning veterans. To uppermiddle-class architects they are definitely someone else's house. We tried to learn from them; to see them with open minds and new eyes, perhaps to draw beauty from them.

Earlier, another Madrid group had approached us to contribute to an exhibition on plagiarism. We said, "No, because, ever after, people will accuse us of stealing other people's ideas." But they insisted and explained how they had used a bad word to describe an interesting and potentially good thing: the artistic influence that passes from one group to another. So we said Yes, because, after all, we had used the word "sprawl," in trying to analyze suburbia open-mindedly. Later they wrote again, asking us to listen to Basurama, who also use a bad word ­ from "basura," meaning waste ­ to describe something good, and whose position is in sympathy with ours. We found Basurama's request challenging. Then an architect I respect in Rome told me I was talking with some of the most interesting young architects in Europe. Other architects have thought that if we analysed Las Vegas we must be socially irresponsible. Those critics, mostly from an earlier generation, were unable to separate structure from content: for example, I love medieval Cathedrals, though I feel the religion they supported was barbaric. I don't have to believe in the religion to admire the buildings. And in the same way, I don't have to like gambling to study the urbanism of Las Vegas. Basurama have understood this and recognize the affinity of our ideas and social concerns to theirs.

But there's another route that brought me here. It started in Africa. As a child growing up in South Africa, my cultural life was dominated by England. Although no longer a colony, we were, culturally speaking, a colonial society. English expatriates around us told us our local reality was inferior to what they had in England. They looked in Africa for green landscapes like those of Surrey, and did not notice the beauty of our own dry, khaki-colored landscape. As a child I thought this was wrong. Why did my beautiful veld have to look like Surrey? So I became an African xenophobe, railing against the importation of other cultures ­ objecting maybe too much, because I now believe in multiculturalism.

My outlook was shared by many in Africa, where the artistic debate had to do with what Africa was and how we, as artists, should express African landscapes and cultures. In this context, African folk art was revered but African popular culture was seen as bad, and when African folk artists departed from their traditions and tried to encompass industrial Johannesburg, the purists were outraged. Yet I felt these folk responses, especially those that recycled industrial waste, were really interesting ­ much more so than the high artists' interpretations of African folk culture.

In essence, we were caught culturally between "ought" and "is" ­ between the "ought" of a far away country and the "is" of Africa. I believe that artists who see only waste in the "is" and listen too much to the "oughts" of a distant place risk losing their creativity. With this outlook I approached Las Vegas. I say mine is an African view of Las Vegas. It implies: Let's look at the everyday environment that surrounds us and see it as an artistic and cultural resource. And beyond that: Let's question the rules. If they come from another place or time, do they apply here, now?

In 1952, as an architectural student in my fourth year, I moved from Johannesburg to London and entered the Architectural Association Final School. I arrived in England during a period of great social change, resulting from post-World War Two social policies. The AA was split in several, mutually exclusive groups. On the one hand were students who had received major scholarships to study there and, on the other, the AA's traditional students from English public schools, who could afford to be there. I, as a colonial, could converse with either group and, whereas each looked disapprovingly on the mores of the other, neither had many standards for me.

Within this social turmoil, the most vital architectural debate was among those in the scholarship group. The New Brutalist architects, Alison and Peter Smithson, were interesting to them. The Smithsons came from the North of England, which was already to be "non-U," (not upper-class) as was said at that time; therefore they had an outsider's view ­ just as I, an African, had (and Rem Koolhaas, too, who had lived in Indonesia as a teenager.) So the Smithsons, my first husband, Robert Scott Brown, and I, and later Rem, arrived at the site of the metropolitan culture, the origin of our now divergent culture, with a different view ­ and maybe, thereby, clearer minds.

However, for the Brutalists, the debate was not between colonial and metropolitan cultures, as it had been in Africa, it was between working-class and upper-class society. The Smithsons threw out Le Corbusier's view of urbanism ­ the CIAM view. Working with Team 10, the European rebels against CIAM, they turned to life in the streets of poor city neighborhoods. In this, they heeded some English sociologists, who were calling on planners to understand how people lived in the East End of London, saying that those who had been bombed out of housing could not simply be moved to the suburban environment of the new towns. In low-income neighborhoods social connections and networks of family and friends protected them from the hardship of poverty. Their life on the streets was a support system.

The Smithsons at that stage talked about "active socioplastics." But when they found sociology was difficult to incorporate into design, they declared that sociologists should extend their discipline to meet the needs of architects. I told them that they should be the ones to extend, but they gave up. I kept trying.

Another Brutalist interest was in breaking the rules, in doing the opposite of what had been done, traditionally, in architecture. Their rebelliousness echoed my Africa-inspired need to question, and I have been interested in Mannerism, the architecture that breaks the rules, since that time. They were interested, too, in popular culture, particularly American pop culture. Along with Ian Hamilton and other members of the London Independent Group, they had evolved a proto-Pop Art movement in the 1940s, long before one emerged in America. Their turn toward Pop involved more rule-breaking, as they looked creatively at phenomena others saw as "kitsch" and "schlock."

The Brutalists were thinking, as well, of cycles of change in urbanism and architecture. This made them question Modern architecture's view of functionalism. Members of the Modern Movement, through their Neue Sachlichkeit (new objectivity) doctrine, had said: Forget 19th century architecture; look at the challenge of modern industry. By solving problems directly, without reference to aesthetics and the compositional rules of architecture, they believed they would come across solutions that were right for the project and the times. And this, despite the fact that the resulting architecture could look ugly ­ with jarring juxtapositions between, for example, the scale of places for industrial machines and that of places for people. The Modernists felt that, though they might, at first, hate the results of objective thinking, they would love them in the end, because the buildings were the way they had to be. However, rule-breaking was not to be arbitrary; good reasoning should determine what was done.

In our work, we have come to equivalent "good" solutions that looked incredibly ugly. I think these helped lead us to a new sensibility. Like the study of the everyday environment, they got us out of an aesthetic groove and into a new way of seeing, in line with the times and its evolving technology. Because I believe in this version of the Neue Sachlichkeit, I say I am a Modernist and a functionalist. But the definition of functionalism must change. For example, we should no longer see the first program or brief of the first client as the only activities to be accommodated in the building. In Venice, some housing has been in occupation since the 12th century, though the plumbing is not eight hundred years old, and the uses, even when still residential, have varied widely in that time. A palazzo might have been a dynastic family house and warehouse, then a bank, museum, or governmental agency, or even an apartment building. So, how then do you define function? There must be other definitions that allow for the need to accommodate changes of activities in buildings over time.

With my head full of the problems of Africa and Europe, I arrived in America, just as the civil rights movement was starting. For me, the New Left began in 1958 in the debates about urban social and racial conditions in the city planning departments at the Universities of Pennsylvania and Berkeley. I had come to the United States because I wanted to study urbanism. In Europe in those Post War years, this was the thing to do, if you were a young and talented architect. And America was the right place to do it. But Robert Scott Brown and I had a further reason: we were going back to Africa, to develop our ideas and projects there and to work for a better Africa. Then Peter Smithson recommended that we attend the University of Pennsylvania because Louis Kahn taught there.

When we arrived, we found to our amazement, that Kahn did not teach in the city planning department. How could this be? But our student advisor at Penn, David Crane, said that, if our aim was to work in Africa, we needed to study urban planning as it was taught at Penn. And he was right.

In our first semester we did no studio work, but took courses in urban sociology, urban economics, statistics, and housing as an economic discipline. During these studies we found that the architectural urbanism that had excited us in England was already old news and sat in our textbooks, and the subject matter of our courses was more interesting because it related to real urban conditions and problems, and was more in line with "active socioplastics." On our reading list for urban sociology were books the Smithsons had read about life in the London East End, and our professor, Herbert J. Gans, had completed similar research on the West End of Boston.

In planning school we learned the scandal of urban renewal ­ that through this government-supported program, the architects' dream for the redevelopment of city centers had become a nightmare for urban low-income residents. American images of renewal were the same as those in Europe, but the people who lived in the housing were the rich; and the poor, who had once lived on the site, were forced to squash up tighter in existing slums. That was one of the reasons for the start of the 1960s social movements, and it arose, in part, from what architects were designing in urban renewal. When I told a group of fourth year architecture students at Berkeley that they were potentially part of the problem, they were horrified. "What are you going to do about this?" they asked me. Some years before, at Penn, I had asked the same of my professor of housing, William Wheaton: "You describe this terrible problem but you show no solutions. What are you doing about it?" He said: "I don't know. What are you doing about it?"

His question has remained with me. What am I doing about this problem that I did not cause but inherited? What were the students doing about this problem that no one had told them about in the first four years of architecture school? In the 1960s, architects, when they considered the city, looked inwards, at architecture. They read Le Corbusier on the Ville Radieuse instead of examining the real city or reading in urban fields beyond architecture.

I say I am a circus horse rider; I ride two horses, architecture and planning. They are galloping in diverging directions, but I try to bring them together. I learned from planning school to consider urban reality, the "is" of the city, before propounding its "oughts." For example, Herbert Gans taught us the sociology of class structure in America. My old Communist professor at the AA, Arthur Korn, used to say, "We are all workers." When I repeated this to Gans (who, like Korn, was a German refugee) he replied that architects had the lifestyles and tastes of the upper-middle class. How could we proclaim solidarity with the workers without understanding their needs, as they saw them? Gans complained that architects who worked as urban physical planners and saw themselves as experts, did not have training in urban social issues and did not understand that, as planners, they should respect other people's tastes and values. Planners in a democracy should know that, in a city, there are people of diverse cultures and different tastes and that their views should be heard.

Penn's planning professors recommended that we architects visit cities of the American Southwest, those that people flocked to because they enjoyed themselves there. We should try to understand what people loved in these cities ­ qualities lacked by the places architects created. That was one of our reasons for going to Las Vegas.

My first studio at Penn was on a very different topic. It was a new city for Chandigarh. The professor, David Crane, adopted Le Corbusier's program, but asked us to consider the new city from the viewpoint of rural peasants, who had migrated there and who depended on urban cast-offs and waste to survive. What could a city with little money afford to give them? With guidance from Crane, we decided that the most affordable and appropriate urban infrastructure was drainage. In a monsoon climate this would provide dry places on which they could build their houses.

Another concern of Penn's planners was planning for change, and how to do it when the nature of the change cannot be predicted. For example, it's easier to forecast with accuracy the population growth of a nation, for a given time period, than to predict how much a city will expand into one suburb at its outskirts, during that period. A solution frequently proposed to our inability to know the future is to build for a forecast at the midpoint between the high and the low projections. But this solution for one point will be wrong for all others. An approach that builds in flexibility would be more appropriate. Lynch, in an article, titled "Environmental Adaptability [4],"proposed planning for change per se, without predicting what the change would be. He discussed several ways of doing it. One was to leave enough room for different things to happen. But that is expensive. Another was to design a building with ample structural support and wide column bays that could accommodate a range of types and densities of activity. If it were possible, as well, to separate the structural and mechanical systems from the spaces intended for use, then changes in activities would not be impeded by building systems. Lynch's thought provided a basis for the consideration of urban as well as architectural change.

Along with studying social issues and urban change, planners were also learning to approach the city as a set of systems. In the 1950s computers were being adapted from military to urban uses. Computer technologies were applied, first, to studies that combined urban regional economics and transportation, both subjects that lent themselves to statistical analysis. I attended several courses on computers and computer-based urban theory in the early sixties because I sensed that the regional transportation studies were becoming very complex and were no longer understandable to traditional planners, especially in those days of extremely large, main-frame computers. Yet I saw that, as they worked, the researchers made assumptions about urbanism that were at least as over simple as those made by architects; one of the worst was that any factor that was not subject to measurement could be ignored.

There were also educated and creative people in the systems fields, who were well aware of the importance of including phenomena that weren't manageable by their methods. Such researchers understood the value of traditional urban planning methods and the use of human judgement and experience. But I worried about the computer's zealous neophytes, and I wanted to learn enough to be able to catch and point out their stupid first assumptions. Key for designers and humanists in planning was, I believed, that we openmindedly welcome the computer for what it could do but not lose our judgement in face of it. Thanks to the evolving mathematical models, we could gain a complex understanding of the city as a set of overlaid systems. And our particular province as architects and urban designers could be to consider how to draw artistry from the juxtapositions of systems ­ perhaps especially from their points of conflict and breakdown.

This view helped me to focus my interest in Mannerism on the city. If Mannerism was a way of breaking architecture's rules, in urban design it was breaking the rules of the various urban systems. This was inevitable because, in the city, there are so many systems, each with its own rules, and many are in conflict with each other. But the juxtapositions and conflicts between urban systems can be beautiful, and the wastelands they sometimes create are potentially places of freedom and challenge, for urban populations and for deft urban artists.

When Robert Venturi and I met in 1960, we shared an interest in Mannerism, and he soon began to understand my fascination with popular culture and the everyday urban landscape. We watched enthusiastically as American Pop artists began to put "waste" into a new context; for example, to place a Campbell's soup can in a museum. The Pop artists discovered new "found objects." Modern artists of the early Twentieth Century had their objets trouvés. Henry Moore looked to primitive sculpture and objects in nature such as water-worn pebbles, while early Modern architects scoured industry, finding in its silos and chimneys cubist shapes that intrigued them. Bob and I, having been taught by the Modernists to look and learn in unusual places, found our sources in history and in the everyday city ­ with some help from the Brutalists, the Pop artists and several social thinkers. Much of our inspiration lay in the everyday commercial and residential environments of suburban sprawl. Its archetypes, the Las Vegas Strip and Levittown, were our new found objects.

Lynch's last book, Wasting Away [5], is more poetic and philosophical than his other writings. He talks about waste on many levels. He is shocking: he uses words not usual to print, and he certainly gets our attention. Lynch refers to the need to "waste well." For us, this involves considering cycles of birth and death, and the concept of recycling ­ the reuse of old things for new purposes, as in the rehabilitation of buildings for new uses. The preservation movement is popular and powerful today, but a first question should be: to preserve or not? We should not always preserve. Venturi points out that no Renaissance palace was built on a parking lot. Many were erected on the sites of destroyed medieval buildings. At times we must destroy, at others save, depending on the situation. Then, when we preserve, we must decide on the period to be favoured. Returning to a medieval beginning in Europe, or an 18th century beginning in America, may destroy a beautiful 1930s storefront. So the decision on which time period or periods to preserve should be a situationist one, and preservationists who take too puristic an approach can lay waste to structures and create a dull and limiting environment, one that has been "preserved beyond repair." This will bring the need for further change. And the preserved city, if it is still a real city, will remain forever subject to pressures for change. If these are great, ersatz preservation can result, in which the semblance of history is maintained but not its meaning. For these reasons, Barbara Capitman, the great preserver of the Miami Beach Deco District, used to say "preservation is so temporary."

We can also think of the reuse of old ideas. A palimpsest is a text that covers an earlier text. Go beneath the first and you find the second. We architects, before computers, knew some palimpsests well. They were our working drawings, done in pencil on velum paper. If a design detail changed we changed the drawing, and if it changed again we erased and drew over once more. The list of revisions appeared in the title block, and each time you erased you revealed white lines etched where drawing had been before. There are also urban palimpsests. Under Renaissance Rome is medieval Rome and, under that, Early Christian and Roman Rome. Remnants and traces of all Romes are in modern Rome. In most cities we live on palimpsests, but on the Las Vegas Strip of the 1960s there was only the recent commercial vernacular architecture and the desert.

hen there is morphology, the study of form as a result of process. Urban and industrial technical processes have been important to urban morphology in all eras, and their accompanying processes of waste and recycling are particularly relevant and a major challenge today. When urban technologies change, new types of waste are created and there is demand for new types of recycling. Electronic technologies create virtual waste. Press the "delete" button and you have created waste. But someone going through my delete files would learn a great deal, and Basurama's interested in the creative use of virtual waste shows they are on to new ways of "wasting well."

Another concept is, "paleotechnology [6]," meaning the use of an older or more primitive, but appropriate, technology: old car tires for new shoes, for example. This is common in the Third world, where people must make do with what they have or substitute for what they have lost. Cubans creatively use waste in the maintenance of their old American cars for which there are no new parts. The driver of a taxi that has lost its cab light replaces it with a bulb set in a yellow plastic soap powder bottle, and day and night you still recognize the familiar symbol for a taxi.

There is also "satisficing," the notion of the economist, Herbert A. Simon [7]. Traditional economic models assume that all people have all the information needed to make a decision and are uniformly and perfectly rational. Simon's model assumes that people must decide within a limited time and on the basis of imperfect information. The Taxi Game is one example of satisficing: while you are deciding, the taxi meter is running; so you make the best decision you can with the money you have. Limits on efficiency or rationality are accepted as inevitable in the process.

The concept of "wasting well" implies these more inclusive views on technology and on the management of unmeasurables. However, Lynch does not go further and take up the artistic possibilities of waste and wasting. This is what I have aimed to do here. In 2005 I was on an architectural jury for some talented students at Tsinghua University in Beijing. I asked one young woman whose scheme I had admired what her major was, and she replied waste water management. I was surprised: it sounded very dull. So I asked whether she was studying waste water management as an engineering discipline, and she answered, No, as an artistic discipline.

This is what Basurama is talking about. When Basurama came to us they did not know the background I have described above, and all the approaches I would therefore take to waste, but they felt our Learning from Las Vegas study could be an example of a creative view on the subject. I agreed, adding that, in fact, cultural, social, and methodological concerns as well as artistic interest, had led us to examine the cities of the Southwest.

But why Las Vegas? Because it was the archetype, not the prototype. It was the clearest example; its signs were bigger, its context simpler. There was no Colonial or 19th Century city between the Strip and the desert. In Los Angeles, the greatest and most extensive example of the automobile city, there was already an earlier pattern, the railroad city. In Las Vegas we could measure a pure phenomenon.

The purpose of our studio project, from which Learning from Las Vegas derived, has been recently outlined by Karin Theunissen:

"This studio was entitled `Learning from Las Vegas, or Form analysis as design research' and was introduced as `a study that will help to define a new type of urban form emerging in America..., that from ignorance, we define today as urban sprawl.' The object of the study is given as `to understand this new form, and to begin to evolve techniques for its handling...'. From this we understand that Learning from Las Vegas is a study in observation of the form of the city, followed by the recording, analysis and processing of the data `to be made useful as design tools for urban designers.' The original publication contains marginal notes in bold text referring to aspects of the technical analysis, such as `This has been a technical studio. We are evolving new tools: analytical tools for understanding, new space and form, and graphic tools for representing them [8].'"

For us, Las Vegas was not only to be studied as signs. We wanted to learn, through it, about taste cultures, popular culture, folk and pop art, urban processes and systems, urban mapping, and the uses of history. By travelling metaphorically from Rome to Las Vegas and back to Rome, we tried to tie the present to the past, and to fold the everyday landscape into both the tradition of architecture and our modern experience. The Modernists had pulled away from tradition; we hoped to make architecture one again. And yes, we wanted to learn about signs and iconography; about how Las Vegas communicated with people in cars, as they travelled the Strip at 50km an hour. Later we realized that Las Vegas had taught us a major lesson on the role of communication and symbolism in architecture. This aspect of design had been ignored by Modern architects, even as they incorporated a high level of symbolism into their designs ­ symbolism about industry and the changing world.

We studied Las Vegas and Levittown in the service of our art. As doers and makers, our aim in looking at cities and reading about them was to improve our performance as architects and urbanists by augmenting our skills and tools. Translating ideas from other fields ­ the process that stumped the Smithsons ­ has been one method. We have looked for ideas that lead to building, and for similes and metaphors that can help us evoke physical designs from verbal concepts in logical and creative ways. In Architecture as Signs and Systems for a Mannerist Time [9], I have tried to explain some of the concepts and to demonstrate their operation in our work. Perhaps now, near the end of our careers, the body of that work can show what we learned from Las Vegas.

If, in our work, we made mud pies in Las Vegas, it was for both artistic and moral purposes. In stressing the "is" and the everyday, we tried to bring imagination to bear on the often agonized reality of cities. In consecrating waste, the most secular of items, and seeking an uncommon beauty in its grit and glitter, we have hoped to discover an appropriate architecture for our times. By taking this approach, we continue the Modernist tradition, operating within the early Moderns' philosophies but adapting them to new conditions.

Now Basurama is adjusting these ideas once again for their own time. As a result of their effort, the task of perpetually rediscovering Modern architecture ­ of establishing its new centre in a changing world ­ must now include a wide-eyed, open-minded visit to the waste dump.

Lecture for the Urban Distortions course, Basurama06.
La Casa Encendida. Madrid, the 4th of May 2006.


1. Feduchi, Pedro. "Outlook on trash" in Basurama, Madrid: La Casa Encendida, 2005, p. 74.

2. Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown y Steven Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas, MIT Press, Cambridge: 1972; revised edition 1977.

3. "Remedial Housing for Architects, or Learning from Levittown," a studio given at Yale School of Architecture in 1970. The studio work topics were published in, Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates: On Houses and Housing, London: Academy Editions, 1992; pp. 51-57. A further development of the Levittown study was illustrated in the "Home" section of the "Signs of Life: Symbols in the American City" exhibition, held in Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. in 1976. See also VSBA Bibliography, on-line at

4. Kevin Lynch."Environmental Adaptability," AIP Journal 24, no. 1 (1958). It Well, San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1990.

5. Kevin Lynch, Wasting Away. An Exploration of Waste: What it is, How It Happens, Why We Fear It, How to Do it Well. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1990.

6. Victor Papaanek, Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1972.

7. Herbert A. Simon, MDesign for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change , New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1972.

8. Karin Theunissen, "Re-building as Urban Tactic, Examining Venturi Scott Brown and Associates' transformation from within the American campus," The Architecture Annual 2004-2005, Delft University of Technology, 2006.

9. Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Architecture as Signs and Systems for a Mannerist Time, Part II, "Architecture as Patterns and Systems, Learning from Planning," pps. 105-217.. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Fashion & Kitsch (R. Poggioli)

"The chief characteristic of fashion is to impose and suddenly to accept as a new rule or norm what was, until a minute before, an exception or whim, then to abandon it again after it had become a commonplace, everybody's 'thing.' Fashion's task, in brief, is to maintain a continual process of standarization: putting a rarity or novelty into general and universal use, then passing on to another rarity or novelty when the first has ceased to be such. In the sphere of art, we may express this phenomenon by saying that fashion tends to translate a new or strange form into acceptable and imitable dorms and then tu submit some other form to analogous metamorphoses and conversion as soon as the first has been made diffuse and common enough to have turned into what the French call poncif (stencil) and what we might anglicize as ‘stereotype’.

According to Baudelairse's clever paradox, the chief task of genius is precisely to invent a stereotype. We do not have to be reminded that genius is an exquisitely romantic concept, but the modernity of the stereotype is worth emphasizing. The tacitly enunciated task of classic art was the splendid repetition of the eternal maxims of ancient wisdom; impossible, then, for it to conceive the commonplace pejoratively. But since the triumph of the romantic cult of originality and novelty, the aesthetic equivalent of the commonplace has come to be more and more pejoratively considered. That is exactly why the stereotype is a wholly modern concept; by virtue of that modernity there exists, despite any contrary appearances, a connection between the avant-garde and stereotypes. Clement Greenberg in fact tried to establish the existence of such a connection in a Partisan Review article many years ago. He juxtaposed the concepts of avant-garde and of kitsch (the German synonim for the French poncif - if poncif or stereotype signifies the vulgarity of a theme, kitsch underlines the mediocrity or banality of a particular work of art). Greenberg established the connection on a level which was not purely critical o literary. As a leftist critic he maintained that avant-garde and kitsch were the cultural fruits, one as bad as the other, of a unique social, economic, and political situation; aquivalent and parallel results, in the field of art, of the same stage of evolution or, better, the same phase of decadence in bourgeois and capitalistic society. We might sum up Greenberg's position [...] by saying that the coinciding of avant-garde and kitsch shows that we are dealing with a Civilization now unable to produce a Kultur."

R. Poggioli (1962 [1968]) The Theory of the Avant-Garde. pp 79-80
Cambridge, Harvard University Press.

Saturday, 9 April 2011


“Una classe o una frazione di classe si definisce non solo attraverso la posizione nei rapporti di produzione che può venir individuata mediante indicatori quali la professioni, il reddito o anche il livello di istruzione, ma anche attraverso una determinata proporzione tra i sessi, una determinata distribuzione nello spazio geografico (che, dal punto di vista sociale non è mai neutro), e mediante tutto un insieme di caratteristiche ausiliarie che possono fungere, come esigenze sottintese, da principi effettivi di esclusione o di selezione, senza venir mai formalmente enunciati (è il caso, per esempio, dell’appartenenza etnica o sessuale); molti criteri ufficiali funzionano in effetti da copertura a criteri nascosti, dato che il fatto di esigere un determinato titolo di studio può essere ad esempio un modo per esigere di fatto una determinata provenienza sociale” (Bourdieu, 2001; 104)

Habitus di classe: Principio unificatore e generatore di diversi pratiche; forma incorporata della condizione di classe e dei condizionamenti da essa imposti. (Bourdieu, 2001; 103)

“The anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu saw this clearly. Everyday life is not a system of representations or performances, he wrote, but a "system of structured, structuring dispositions ... which is constituted in practice and is always oriented toward practical functions”. He called this system the habitus, or practical sense. "Practical sense is a quasi-bodily involvement," he went on. It is "converted into motor schemes and body automatisms" (66, 69). […]the habitus is only a predisposition, "a present past that tends to perpetuate itself into the future," a way to proceed lodged in an actor capable of thinking and making judgments, so that in "the necessary yet unpredictable confrontation between the habitus and an event," new solutions are improvised. As both a sensorimotor and an ideological quality, the habitus is a flexible disposition that allow one to act in a way that is at once habitual and improvisatory, rote and novel. It is above all an "art of inventing" (54-56). And so we arrive at a more concrete sense of the everyday, in every sense of the word. One definition of everyday life might be "The nexus of spaces and times that repeatedly trigger bodily habits and cultural memories-the habitus." Everyday life can be oppressive or liberating, depending on the ways it is organized temporally and spatially. Everyday life shapes selfhood and personhood through material, and particularly bodily, practices, but its critical quality is time, as Michel de Certeau realized. It is the repetition and routine of everyday life that teaches our bodies the habitus.(Upton 2002, 719-720)

“Spazio fisico e spazio sociale fanno parte della stessa ‘trama che connetta’ l’uomo al suo ambiente. Si tratta di due dimensioni che si compenetrano reciprocamente: spirali di senso legano l’una all’altra. Non esistono dicotomie. Non c’è una cosa che agisce sull’altra, piuttosto incontri, interpenetrazioni, corrispondenze, reciprocità di dimensioni coesistenti. È dunque necessario intraprendere percorsi interpretativi in grado di assumere come irrinunciabile la complessità e la multidimensionalità dello spazio. Uno spazio sfaccettato e poliedrico in cui se mescolano: spazio sociale e spazio simbolico (Bourdieu 1995); conoscenza, potere ed eterotopie (Foucault 1994); pratiche spaziali, rappresentazioni dello spazio e spazi della rappresentazione, altrimenti declinati in spazio percepito, spazio concepito e spazio vissuto (Lefebvre 1991); spazi del margine, antagonisti e incubatori di pratiche antagoniste (Hooks 1998).” (Attili 2008, 57)

“Issues of identity and consumption converge in the concepts of ‘taste’ and ‘lifestyle’, that is, systems of practices through which individuals classify themselves by their classification of consumer goods as more or less desirable, acceptable or valuable (Bourdieu 1984) […] knowledge of status codes, or rules of legitimacy, allows consumers to display ‘good’ taste and thus establish their distinction. […] tastes for specific kinds of consumer goods are implicitly socialized by social class and status or are consciously learned as means of integration into new social groups.” (Zukin y Smith Maguire 2004, 181)

“In order for a certain formation to have an expressive power, it should originate from the cultural experience of a people--from their soul. This is the ultimate origin of art. The artist is the creative imagination of this soul.” (Mitias 1999, 76)

Attili, Giovanni. Rappresentare la città dei migranti. Milano: Jaca Book, 2008.
Bourdieu, Pierre. La distinzione. Critica sociale del gusto. Bologna: Il Mulino, 2001 [1979].
Mitias, Michael H. «The Aesthetic Experience of the Architectural Work.» Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 33, No. 3, 1999: 61-77.
Upton, Dell. «Architecture in Everyday Life.» New Literary History, V 33 Nº 4, 2002: 707-723.
Zukin, Sharon, e Jennifer Smith Maguire. «Consumers and Consumption.» Annual Review of Sociology, V30, 2004: 173-197.
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