Friday, May 18, 2007

Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction, Nikos A. Salingaros

Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction

Nikos A. Salingaros
with Contributions by
Christopher Alexander, Brian Hanson, Michael Mehaffy, and Terry Mikiten

ISBN: 3-937954-01-5
Umbau-Verlag, Solingen, Germany, 2004.

Second Expanded Edition prepared for 2007.

Excerpts from an Upcoming Article by Ashraf Salama, titled:
Nikos A. Salingaros: A New Vitruvius for 21st-Century Architecture and Urbanism?
To be published in Vol (1) - Issue (2) of Archnet-IJAR, July 2007
International Journal of Architectural Research

In this book, Nikos A. Salingaros sets the stage for a new thinking about the current status of architecture. This is through a collection of twelve essays in the form of a compilation that critically analyzes evolutionary aspects of modernism and post-Modernism, while heavily criticizing the resulting end-style of these two movements: Deconstructivism. Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction encompasses an interview with Christopher Alexander, and contributions and comments from well-known writers and scholars including James Stevens Curl, Michael Mehaffy, and Lucien Steil, among others.

The main argument of this manuscript lies in Salingaros’ belief that architectural deconstruction is not a new thing. It has started since the 1920s from the Bauhaus, the international style, and modernism, going through new brutalism and late and post modernism. Each of these “ISMS” is regarded as a cult that had tremendous negative impacts on they way in which we think about or approach architecture in pedagogy and practice. Salingaros argues, and rightly so, that deconstructivists have disassociated themselves from the lessons derived from history and precedents, while distancing themselves from basic human needs and cultural contexts.

While many critical statements are made by Salingaros in different parts of the manuscript, one should note his criticism of the critics, the articulate and fancy rhetoric and writings of Charles Jencks and Bernard Tschumi. In this respect, in two important essays, Salingaros made valid arguments where the manuscript refers to Jencks as a “phrase maker and style tracker.” He points out that Jencks’ understanding and use of scientific concepts to justify and celebrate deconstructivist architecture is simply superficial. On the other hand, Bernard Tschumi’s two major writings titled “The Manhattan Transcripts” and “Architecture and Disjunction” were closely examined by Salingaros. He concluded that Tschumi’s work is a collection of meaningless images that resembles advertising and a false claim of knowledge of mathematics in analogizing it to architectural form.

The other ten essays offer eloquent and convincing arguments against such a destructive attitude of deconstructivism and deconstructivists. However, three of these should be highlighted. The essays titled “Derrida Virus,” “Background Material for the Derrida Virus,” and “Death, Life and Libeskind” eloquently show how Derrida’s notion of deconstructivism became a dangerous virus which keep reproducing itself infinitely. Derrida, an Algerian-born French philosopher founded such a notion in literary criticism, and described it as “a method for analyzing texts based on the idea that language is inherently unstable and shifting, and that the reader rather than author is central in determining the meaning” (Derrida, 1973). While his work was heavily criticized by prominent linguists and philosophers including Noam Chomsky, it found listening receptive ears in the architectural community, a typical habit of many name architects who run after slogans and strange notions that help them to philosophize and theorize in order to justify their work.

Metaphorically, the virus has killed almost all connections to the past, to humanity, and to context. The resulting ills are manifested in many cities, but the trauma is well articulated in the work of Daniel Libeskind in the Ground Zero Proposal, the Seattle Public Library, and the Berlin Holocaust Museum. Salingaros shows how the rhetoric surrounding the claims of Libeskind on the emotional experience of the Ground Zero proposal are nothing but negative. In this respect, a reference needs to be made to university campuses which are supposed to convey constructive messages about the future of learning, research, and humanity; they are calling deconstructivists to destruct their learning environments. This is clearly evident in the work of Antoine Predock in the McNamara Alumni Center of the University of Minnesota, and the work of Frank Gehry’s Wiseman Art Museum of the same University. Notably, Gehry’s work is invading many university campuses including Case Western Reserve University through its School of Business, and the University of Cincinnati through its Center for Molecular Studies. University campuses are intentionally conveying “deconstructive” messages.

While the manuscript was criticized by a few readers for having some redundancy, that issues and concepts introduced say the same thing in several chapters, one should respond by arguing that in many instances, in order for a writer to make his message clear, it has to be repeated, stated, elaborated, and articulated in different contexts and in different manners. This is one of the most important qualities of those who believe in their message. Undoubtedly, this manuscript is a voice of logic and reason against anti-architecture norms, and the destructive attitudes of their followers. I would add my voice to other reviewers of this manuscript: that it must be a mandatory reading in schools of architecture worldwide. Salingaros’ call for going against those attitudes and regaining our interest in solutions to human problems needs to be adopted. The manuscript’s thrust for re-associating ourselves to the near and distant past — depending on who we are and the cultural context in which we operate — deserves special attention by both academics and practitioners.

Ashraf Salama, May 2007.

Nikos A. Salingaros
Brief Biography

Nikos A. Salingaros is regarded as one of the world's leading urbanists and architectural theorists. His books "Principles of Urban Structure" and "A Theory of Architecture" provide the foundation for a completely new approach to the built environment. They are being translated into several languages, and are used by students, professionals, and governments to redesign cities and to define once again an architecture adapted to human beings. Dr. Salingaros is invited to give keynote addresses at international conferences on urbanism and planning. For his contributions to architecture, he was elected member of the International College of Traditional Practitioners, whose patron is His Royal Highness Charles, The Prince of Wales. Dr. Salingaros is directing student theses at universities around the world, and is involved as a consultant on architectural and urban projects.

Dr. Salingaros has derived rules that underlie a living architecture, and which support, but do not simply copy the great architectures of the past. Because these rules are often the opposite of what fashionable architects and critics promote nowadays, his results have sparked off a heated controversy in the architectural media. Fortunately, his results come from mathematics and science and are thus verifiable; not something that can be said of mainstream architectural theory during the past seventy years. He has thus exposed a conflict between results derived outside the architectural establishment, and what architects have been taught to believe for several decades. This conflict is presented in his highly controversial (and best-selling) book "Anti-architecture and Deconstruction".

More on Nikos Salingaros can be found at the following link:
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