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Whenever I give a Lecture, people who want to know more about the work of JOA ask me for the names of some books about our work. The short answer I give them is that whereas there are books and journals that have included our work, there has never been a book, or even a 'picture-book' (known in the trade as a Monograph) during the 27 years of our existence. Readers who are not trained Architects may be surprised that this is so.

I have always felt an aversion to being published 'in the normal way'- that is with a bunch of glossy pics and a text of some sort. These little books are mere rags compared with the heroic objects, whole buildings, that they seek to illuminate (or, increasingly, to substitute with 'readings'). So I became like the man in the story by J.P.Sartre who read all the books in the Library, starting with 'A', hoping all the while to find the one that would illuminate his condition. Failing, in the end, to find the text he needed, he became compelled to write it himself.

This 'writing' also has eluded me until very recently. The reason for this is that, although I am not a Philosopher, I use my 'Medium', which is Architecture, to 'acquire philosophy'. Therefore, my ideas, such as they are, must first be built before they can be grasped and understood by me. My problem was that however hard I, and my Office, tried, every project always fell at the last fence- that of 'decoration'. Finally, in a building in the USA, Duncan Hall, for Rice University, Houston, Texas, we were allowed a free run at it, and jumped it with so much ease and aplomb that the Architectural Faculty of the University banned their Freshmen from entering our hard-won creation. It was almost universally acknowledged, by both 'town and gown', that the very thing that frightened the Architectural Professors, the 'decoration', was the quality that lifted the building into a level of intellectuallity hitherto unexpected in an item of 'physical plant'. I knew then that I had suceeded in solving the problem of 'architectural decoration'. For one only prohibits what one truly fears- an invention that fundamentally alters the ground-rules of the game.

Moreover this 'final proving' had the effect of reducing the rules of the game to such extreme simplicity that, like all the true sports, anyone can play at it. This is a situation much feared by the Professional Classes. They think that if everyone can understand what they do then they will cease to be in demand. The reverse is the case. It is only when a game, or a medium, is extremely simple in its basic rules, (like football or tennis) that the Professionals can be distinguished from the Amateurs. The ideal media, like the ideal sports, are easy to take up but difficult to master. It is this quality that unites the Tyro and the Star, the Audience and the Player, within an envelope of skill, culture and, ultimately, wisdom, that both are able to share.

A Medium, any Medium, has the effect of leading its Practitioners to a kind of wisdom once it has been mastered to a certain level. After many decades of practice the Medium itself falls away and becomes less important than the general and wide-ranging 'knowledge' unlocked by the labour of its practise. This, again, could not happen for me until I had proved that an intellectually structured Architectural Composition, which JOA had practised for many decades, could be clothed in an intellectually structured surface, or 'decoration'. I needed to prove that 'scripted space' could be made intellectually explicit through a 'scripted surface'. Duncan Hall was the first, and still remains the only, coherent 'act of proving' that this can be done.

Not only is this so, but the products of such an attitude to a Medium evidence, I believe, the ultimate displacement of a Medium by its multifarious 'Messagings'. The mark of the Tyro is his insistence upon a demonstration of his technical athleticism. The sign of the Master is that the means are overlooked in the enjoyment of the ends.


I must reserve a special place, here, for the Venturis. They were faced, in the 1950's, with a terrible sight, that of the cultural consensus forged by the '39-'45 war being torn apart by the 'political fallout' of the Cold War. They saw, as I did in 1953, the genial cities of the 19C and early 20C USA being thrown into the furnace of the 'economic churn' whose tax revenues were the ultimate weapon that destroyed Communism. The Cold war was not won on the Playing fields of Eton, but on the subdivisions of Wilshire Boulevard. The ruins of this battle are not to be found rusting in some distant desert. They are scattered the length and breadth of the Free West. The flowers that grow on this grave of the Western City sprout from the flotsam and jetsam washed up by the pounding surf of automobiles and 15-year amortisation cycles. The Venturis were the first cultivators of these strange mutants, whose genetic descendants are the misshapen engrossments of Frank Gehry. At first they foraged amongst Diners and Drive-ins. They grafted Michaelangelo onto MacDonalds. But one thing still inhibited them. They feared the 'thing' they stitched together, like surgical bricoleurs, might actually come to life. So they never pulled the lever that opened the roof of the laboratory to the electric storm outside. The lightning never struck their ghastly contraptions. Their buildings never "walked away from them to acquire a life of their own", as the great master Louis Kahn insisted that his own must do.

Also, like many American Intellectuals of that time, overwhelmed on the one side by the barbarities of European totalitiarianism, and, on the other, by the ballooning inanities of the free-market, they needed to stake out an inviolable territory. The passport to this 'state' was not awarded by any official academy. That would not be the American Way. Membership had to be 'patent'. Some, led by Clement Greenberg, had chosen the route of the 'mute fool'. The Venturi's charted another way to exclusivity. The Architect of intellectual pretension could, they demonstrated, make it 'patent' that his compositions were erudite. "Complexity and Contradition" salvaged the whole of Architectural History (mere flotsam and jetsam to be found drifting, burnt-out and abandoned, upon the high seas of the mid 20C) to its two Authors. However it was not enough that they had, in some way, 'understood' History. Actual fragments of the buildings of the past had to be physically adhered, as 'patent' quotations, to some otherwise uncultivated 'shed'.

The Venturis, and their tendency, made very sure that their audience could never forget how clever they were in bringing together the two fundamental incompatibilities (as they averred) of Tradition and Modernity into what they denoted 'the difficult whole'. Their buildings may, or may not, be 'difficult. Wholes they were never, ever, intended to be. For to become 'whole' is to allow the whole to 'come to life' and by so doing, subsume its parts becoming in that process, 'greater' than any single one of them. An achieved wholeness obscures from the user the labour of the 'difficult birth' so that he may enjoy the 'novelty' of the new child.

Only the composer who fears to complete his composition (for whatever reason) leaves it as the 'work in progress' which is the trademark of the 'problematic' style of the Venturis (and, of course, their lineal descendents down to the contemporary practitioners of Decon).

Concerning the role of 'work' (at some Medium or other) in leading to 'understanding', I can quote the epistemology of Levi-Strauss. He, if I understand him right, held that knowledge, or wisdom, was uncommunicable. All that could be communicated was 'theory'. He differed from Karl Popper in believing that the best theories were brutally over-simplified (in Popper's terms) but very attractive in their prospect of leading to security, power, wealth, health and maybe, ultimately, 'truth'. This allure would lead to people taking up one theory rather than another and then going on to use them to see if they 'really worked'. This, in its turn, would lead to the wisdom that comes from the 'work-in-use' of Theory. What this establishes is the idea that theory is not 'the truth'. So the mere acquisition of one theory rather than another is only the turning one takes at the cross-roads. Such a choice is, I believe, so deeply motivated in both the individual, and his place and time in History, that it is a question for the ethnologist and the psychologist rather than the philosopher.

For example the first thing each generation does, is to rebel against the previous one. They must make room for themselves in a world becoming increasingly aged and 'top-heavy'. Fashion is powered by the Oedipal Drive. One can reflect as to whether rapid changes of fashion in design is a tendency that fits easily into the extended periods of gestation and nurture required to cultivate a city. But my point here is that what matters more, in the end, is not so much the fork in the cross-roads the individual takes, as the knowledge that he obtains along his 'travails'.

What then, is the point of 'writing philosophy'? Why not merely announce Theory in the form of short, even cryptic, but somehow alluring slogans like:

"If you can't eat it beat it".

-meaning, if you like: "If Architecture can not be made as edible as marzipan out of delicously coloured concrete, laced with icing sugar, and in conceptually-handy, bite-sized, chunks, then beat each dish into a mysteriously shapeless mass and serve the whole meal without a menu".

Such a strategy is, it is true, attractive in the political sense that it preserves the allure of mystery with which Critics, especially, like to invest a Practitioner. My object is not to displace the Critic and the Professional Philosopher of Architecture. Far from it. I wish they would write more to the subject. My cultivation of words is, and always has been, an internal need. I have needed to 'philosophize' in order to solve the very practical problems that emerge from my 'architectural project', or, if one likes, my underlying 'Theory of Architecture'. The reason for this can be illustrated in an episode, where I meet some Professors of Architecture, that I report in "FAQ # 3, below, "Why does almost nobody use coloured concrete except JOA?"

It is always possible that the conceptual tools that I have invented in order to build my 'Architectural theory', and so to both 'prove' it as well as 'understand' it, will be either of no interest to any other reader, or largely opaque to them. I would regret this. But in reality, they have already done their job, which is to help me do my 'work'.

Concerning 'Architectural Theory', in general, my own position is that I know of no book, published in English, that even begins to give an intellectually persuasive account of what goes on when 'architecture is made'. We have inherited a large body of 'architectural heritage' in the sense of wonderful buildings and cities, far too many of which are both conceptually and physically abused today. We have inherited a lesser heritage of Architectural Drawings. Our most impoverished residue from the past is what in other disciplines, is normally almost all that they inherit: scraps of paper on which their practitioners recorded some ideas of what it was that they were doing. Yet Architecture has never lacked apologists, or even Academies. There is a largish body of writings, some of relative Antiquity. None of it is of much intellectual 'weight'. It all requires enormous efforts of decoding and decipherment to progress it to anything one might call 'philosophy'. The important documents, at least to Practitioners, were those that showed 'how' a building was to be shaped, built and computed. Arguments as to 'why' soon passed from generalities that would be at home on a picture postcard, to complex and arcane formal and technical 'how-to' recipes.

Architectural Philosophy seldom rose above the level of the Cookery Book that was required,and continues to be needed today, to help the Chef and his ambitous Mistress find their way through the alluring vagaries of fashion. So, notwithstanding Vitruvius, Claude Perrault, and the many Architects and Scholars who have followed them in the 20C, while to build better than the Ancients may require more hubris than sanity normally allows, to philosophise better than them should be an ambition to which no mere 'Modern' should be afraid to admit.

Finally, before the FAQ's, It is worth remarking that the general interest in Architectural Theory, as something ultimate, deep reaching, and necessary to found, or re-found, the Medium, is greater today than at any time during the last 50 years. Books treating the most arcane ideas appear under the guise of Architectural Theory. Architectural Students are coached in the discourse of the most opaque of living Philosophers almost as soon as they can pick up a pencil (or push a 'mouse'). My heart bleeds for them. One can not learn how to become an Architect by swimming in a swamp of abstract nouns!

One may divide Contemporary Architectural Philosophy, of this 'seriously abstract' kind (that is, of course, what philosophy must ultimately be), into two kinds.

The first genre one may call "text as hairspray", the second: "textology transfer". The first depends upon the second for intellectual sustenance while the second depends upon the first for commercial support.

The exemplar of the first is the famous book S.M,X,XL. Architectural Publishers dream of repeating the commercial success of this book which, as the saying goes, 'walked' off the shelves at $45. The book was created by Rem Koolhaas and designed by Bruce Mau. It is a huge, fat, bulky, enormous, scrap-book of the life of an Architectural Star. The young Architects and Designers who bought it in such large numbers saw that this life consisted of a chaotic round of design sessions, cryptic pronouncements, large quantites of data, not to mention money, and huge projects (all built fast and cheaply). The designs were crude, brash and clearly designed to annoy anyone 'in authority'. There is no nonsense about preservation or tradition. There are photographs of stars and celebs, and plenty of parties. The bottom line is that Koolhaas is a very cool guy, and not so different to anyone else in the sense that everything he does is 'of the moment'.

Thus it is that most alluring of objects: something clearly out of reach of the lonely student climbing up to his attic room in some obscure provincial city, yet also well within the envelope of his imagination, and so of his emulation. Here the role of the text is almost painfully literal. It acts as a veil clouding and obscuring the literal verity which photography used always (until the digital age) to record. Bruce Mau layers the images of the 'Stellar Trajectories' so that they succeed each other as dizzily as a kinematograph. Then to finally perfume and also fix them, for nothing is as 'heavy', graphically, as Text, he gently dusts them with some drifts of the little, nutty, hard black granules of 'textology'.

The text fixes the Deleuzian "felting" of images into some kind of compositional finality. One does not 'read' such a volume. Picture books are essentially impossible to compose. It is rare for the two sides of the brain to function together in a smoothly meshed, 'gesamtkunstwerk'. Normally they have to 'take turns' in coming to the foreground of thought. Koolhaas' book pulps and mashes them together into the sort of piquant soup that would have been imbibed by the illiterates of ancient Egypt. These would boil the papyri that they could not read, and drink the 'hieroglyphic infusion'. They hoped to acquire, by such medications, the occult powers of the ordinarily literate.

The odd thing is that the book was composed when Koolhaas's workload had declined to almost nil. Since its publication he has become the person the book describes: a celeb and star. This is the explanation of the work that one finds in the Architectural Academy today. The Students are learning how to conjure "stardom" out of their infinitely complex graphical warpings, impactions, sections, and otherwise inscrutable inventions. Life, in the case of Koolhaas, can be got to follow Art by the peculiar expediaent of preaching the opposite: "that Architecture must copy the chaotic cities of the Orient". Clearly Bruce Mau is a Wizard.

"Textology Transfer" comes in useful here in more than one way. Its most serious employment is to provide a formal skeleton, or model, or at least inspiration, to the young designer. Secondly it can can be employed, as I have descibed, as a 'buzzword perfume' to aid the Critic's indigestion when faced with the mess of counter-functional, contra-formal empiricisms dressed up as design concepts which the successful student has learned that he must present to his Tutors.

Along the way, the Architectural Student is, at best, familiarised with the tools of philosophy. At worst he is extracted from Architectural Practice, which most tyros regard with fear and loathing, and delivered to the higher calling of Academic Philosophy. No sadder fate, for an Architect of vocation, could be imagined.

For 'Textology Transfer' is not 'Architectural Philosophy'. It is effected by virtue of the fact that the works of all Philosophers are being placed onto computerised databases. One can now ask the computer to search the collected works of Heidegger for all references to the word "Architecture". It is then a reltively painless task (compared to the invention of the philosophy itself) to anthologise such terms as 'surface', or 'structure', or 'space', as employed in the thoughts of the wide range of Philosophers who use such literal metaphors. For, as it turns out, most do.

Such Anthologies are not without conceptual benefit to any number of people, including practical beings like Architects. But their use as literal aids to the formal composition of a building that physically employs 'space', 'material', 'structure', and so on, would be intellectually comic were it not a mere trick played upon their intellectual inferiors by people who should know better. The fact that the enthusiastic building technologists, who seek the title Architect today, pay the Philosophers for this little service does neither side much credit. Nevertheless, my sympathy remains with the Anthologisers. At least their work is worth reading for the original philosophical texts, whereas the mis-shapen blobs and warped and fractured boxes made by the contemporary architect, proud that he, or she, has finally embodied a non-hierachical, de-centered, 'folded and felted' space of late 20C Being, is as intellectually puerile as it is architecturally inconsequential.

Such is the agony of this seemingly hopeless love-affair between philosophy and architecture that certain Architects, often Dutch, have taken to even dusting the buildings themselves with a few puffs from the textology spray. Dull, boxy, buildings are sporting facades dotted with random selections from the Alphabet. Can a once-great medium, that used to carry the dense intellectual freights of Renaissance iconographies, fall any lower than this miserable bespattering of exploded textual skulls?

Perhaps books on Architecture, soon, will have veneered wooden covers and open with a magnetic latch on real aluminium hinges. What will be inside them? Empty space, that most banal, yet virtuously valuable of architectural commodities.

ABOUT BALLOON HELP - To show or not to show.....

(After writing the above, I thought to myself, waking up the next morning, shall I really publish these rather frivolous notions, amusing through they may be? Then I opened my postbag and, out of curiousity to see my own work published (so much more edifying than anyone else's), turned to the page in our free weekly trade journal: "Building Design" where a microscopic picture of Rice was advertising a talk I was to give.

I found next to it a review of a conference held in London University. The subject was Critical Theory and the speaker was Jane Rendell. After, it seems, proving her ability to introduce the ideas of, amongst others, Benjamin, Kristeva, Cixous, Foucalt and Barthes, to her audience of young architects, she is reported as complaining that the "incredibly powerful" theories that Daniel Libeskind "practises"' upon his buildings were "not legible in the finished buildings". She went on to remark that she was surprised that buildings were not "captioned" (one must assume she meant with Text, perhaps not unlike the Monty Python sketches that arrowed the "naughty bits") and concluded by reporting that she was receiving offers of employment from firms of Architects whom, as Kester Rattenbury, the Reporter, remarked, "Would not normally be thought 'critical-theory' material, in themselves". Rattenbury concludes by surmising that Critical Theory was becoming an aid to Commercial Rebranding.

Can it be that the battle-scarred urban rapists of the commercial architecture firms, whose campaign medals used to be the silent tears of city-planners, are now asking for a crop- dusting from the Flying Doctors of the Text? If these hardened veterans need the mysterious perfume of the alphabet can an effective and efficient architectural philosophy be far away?

In the meantime Jane Rendell will freshen the parts no Architecture will ever reach with some Puffs of Critical Theory. The ordinary confusion of the Punch-Drunk Practitioner will be elevated to the status of a Decentred Gaze. First the hairspray, then the transfer. Can a textual transfusion to the corpse of Modernism be long delayed? I concluded, after this candid reportage, by Kester Rattenbury, of the workings of philosophy in action in contemporary architecture, that my misgivings concerning the conceit of the 'textology spray' were entirely unfounded. The machine exists and is working well!)

Anyone with a vocation to practice Architecture, or an interest in what the Public still seem to insist upon calling Architecture, and even Planned Cities, will find nothing to satisfy their appetites in the contemporary avant-garde, and increasingly Mainstream, 'architectural culture'. 'Real Architecture', that is one that extends the received Medium into the future, is fast becoming the 'counter culture' in an Arts and Architecture Establishment dedicated to finally destroying the 'old' Architecture for all time.

It is for this reason that I both publish Architectural Philosophy and publish it on the Internet, free of the dead hand of the received wisdom that knows that everything that JOA has invented, proved, and built is not merely ugly, or cheap, or otherwise worthless (all of which may, for all that I know, be true) but morally and ethically 'wrong'. It is the delight with which our work is received by the Public, contrasted to the 'fear and loathing' that it evokes from the Arts and Architecture establishment that has pesuaded me (much to my surprise and consternation) that we have succeeded, over the past 27 years, in creating an 'alternative modernity' such that if JOA are right 20C Modernism (as conventionally understood) is wrong. This seismic possibility is not one that the Architectural Establishment, conscious already that it rests entirely on merely ideological foundations, can view with calm.

The 'Contemporary Project' of 'Cool Britannia' is to create a new human landscape that owes nothing to the Architectural Medium as it has come to us from its 10,000-year history. This is not a casual exclusion, based upon the merely practical inadequacies of 'tradition'. It is a positive taboo, enforced with the force of an ethic. The Past shall not be used, on pain of moral censure. We are talking 'Party Line' here.

The JOA approach is not merely to intellectually conjure the contrary notion that the Past is instead, like the heritage of the rainforests, the best place to find the 'cure' to our ills. It is to have proved in action that our hypothesis 'works' at every level of functionality known to the human lifespace, by examples built, and in use today, in three distinct cultures. These projects are never going to 'go away'. Moreover, having now been built, I am now empowered to publish their Architectural Philosophy.

The Web represents a revolution in 'publishing' which is to say in the 'distribution' of intellectual goods, that rages ever more fiercely every day. Readers on the Web, deprived of 'peer group review' are, of course, open to every form of human madness. But perhaps that is to be preferred to being subjected to rule by Professionals. For who is more likely to know the strengths and weaknesses of a Profession's Theory better than its ageing Practitioners, and who has more to gain and lose by changes in the ground-rules by which the Professional plays his best strokes. With the advent of electronic distribution on the World Wide Web, it is open-season on Architectural Theory. The grip of the Publishers, and more to the point, their financial enslavement to their narrowly Professional Readership, is loosened for ever.

Henceforward books will be compilations of texts already published on the Web, and ephemeral articles will, as are those now being published on our recent Projects, refer to the URL's** of the iconographies, and other 'exemplary' information-structures, through which the Architectural culture of our Buildings can be engaged.

** the URL is the Unique Resource Locator which guides an electronic text-reference to the next 'page' of either text or illustration. This speeds the 'electronic book' around a series of rapid references before returning the reader to the Main Text. The Reader remains in control of this process. It just makes 'referencing' so efficient that the Footnote can, as it should, at last be as accessible as the Main Narrative.







End of "Text as hairspray ",

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* JOA can be reached by E-Mail at anthony@johnoutram.com , by telephone on +44 (0)207 262 4862 or by fax on +44 (0)207 706 3804. We also have an ISDN number : +44 (0)207 262 6294.