Res Aedificatoria – frammenti di una riflessione
In the age of Modernity and Postmodernity, we can no longer speak of ‘De Re Aedificatoria’, that is, of a monolithic entity of knowledge, methods and instruments with respect to design and construction. We can, however, speak of ‘Res Aedificatoria’, namely a diffuse system of approaches to the design and construction process of which architecture has become one of the many components. This fundamental shift in the cultural and social position of architectonic formulation is the result of, amongst other things, a ‘democratised’ pedagogy in the construction process whereby architecture and culture, technology and economics, politics and society have become equal components of an all-embracing strategy which gives rise to transformation, construction and spatial reorganisation. The discipline’s present-day ‘nomadic’ nature, which has developed from a monolithic entity (classicism) to become the splintered entirety it now is, is characterised by the absence of unified theoretical reflection.
To be able to fulfil this historical role optimally, architectonic formulation must meet two conditions: namely, a complete programmatic and formal limitlessness (or openness), and a technological and financial exactitude (or restraint). It is thus within these disciplinary preconditions that the future of architecture lies: it is on this basis that the conceptual pillars of ‘De Re Aedificatoria’ must be subjected to revision in order to function in ‘Res Aedificatoria’. Architecture hovers as a variable component of the building process: its formal and programmatic features are – literally and figuratively – sustained by a strong technical apparatus and a mandatory materiality. The revision of the form and content of architectonic formulation is accompanied by the changes in the role of architect and architecture in the construction process. The 20th century, after the Avant-gardes’ razing of the holy temples in which truth and character, style and society, tradition and modernisation, composition and history were debated, has been characterised by architectonic quests for new foundations for the discipline. The pioneering work to find a suitable stronghold for architecture in the fields of technology and art is not yet complete.
This gives rise to exceptional architecture, architecture which at a conceptual level is comparable with quantum physics. How fascinating is that world of subatomic quantum particles that seem to possess their own will and taunt researchers with their random motion in space. At the same time, how frustrating, since they resist any attempt at description or organisation and are not subject to universally applicable laws. It is in this light that architecture, too, operates. The era of do’s and don’ts, of rules and pointers, of methods and techniques, of stable and recognisable situations and especially of the grand synthesis lies far behind us. The foundations of the disciplinary house have hereby been swept away, yet the building still stands; indeed, it appears, more than ever before, to be resistant to storm and tempest. If the classical pillars of architectonic formulation, namely form, function and construction, are no longer inextricably intertwined, no longer dependent of each other, and form as true monads the new stuff of design, then it is finally possible to demolish the myth of architecture as the grand synthesis, a myth that has survived two thousand years of architectural history and that at long last is being subjected to major revision.
The consequences of this are gigantic and unfortunately insufficiently recognised. Despite the fact that the signs of the upheaval are becoming ever more apparent and that the reorganisation of the profession is already insidiously in progress, insufficient conceptual instruments have as yet been developed and no explicit scientific attention has been turned to this ‘devastating’ phenomenon. We may offer the lack of manifestoes and declarations of intent as an excuse, or the lack of loud and clear positioning or outspoken opinions from the architectonic culture. We can also hide behind the fact that everything will not go that quickly because present-day architecture can still be disembarked in the safe haven of the old paradigm and that there is no talk of a revolution, rather of a more-or-less gentle evolution in the spirit of these times. And yet it is in my view precisely a scientific challenge to amplify the signals being emitted by this discipline and to subject them to laboratory research. At the same time it is useful to despatch straight to the virtual museum of architecture that component of architecture that poses as a synthesis of construction, function and form, or in other words as a synthesis between technology, ideology and culture. There it may provide some pleasure for historians of architecture. On the assumption that the development of architecture has reached a point of no return and that the contours of the future discipline have already become apparent, we ask ourselves what might be the place and the role of education and research in this new context.
prof. S. Umberto Barbieri
Excerpts from the ‘Inaugural Address’ given in the Aula of TU Delft on 21 May 2003
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