Excerpts from Governing By Design
In the development of THE COLD STORAGE SYSTEM, an interior environment defined by temperature, humidity, and technical dependability produced spaces in which commodities could retain their identity through time. Limiting the risk of an object’s unanticipated decay was essential to constraining its effect on the unpredictability of market forces. This form of regulation depended on the new approach being formulated to make architecture public. As monuments to civic modernity proved to be ineffective tools for economic and environmental regulation, the profession responded with designs that embraced novel forms of service and expertise. This was not strictly a struggle within architecture; it was part of a gradual reconstitution of modern life through regulatory instruments that today are all too easily taken for granted.
Although it is often seen as a stable foundation for home life and household finance, the house is equally an unstable commodity affording its owners the opportunity for profit and the risk of loss. While many borrowers think of THE MORTGAGE LOAN as an instrument allowing them to buy the house they want, it is also a vehicle for speculating in the real estate market on credit. From the perspective of investors in the credit market, the house is merely an instrument through which to sell consumers debt. Financing a house purchase with a mortgage entails participation in global credit markets beyond the scope of everyday awareness and in disciplines that shape homeowner conduct.
The paradigm of URBAN OBSOLESCENCE was something new for the twentieth century. In contrast with the divisive, personalized politics of Paris’s Haussmannization, obsolescence’s technocratic framework represented an evolution in tactics to clear and revalue urban land, working through a consensus of capital and the state, civil and consumer societies, conjoining economistic values of quantifiable performance and impersonal competition with a social theory of progressive change based on the identification of modernist planning with healthful social, physical, and psychological development. In midcentury America obsolescence was the dominant paradigm for comprehending and managing urban change.
As the applied science of designing what is known as the “man-machine” system, ERGONOMICS concerns itself with the hyphen between, the means by which “man” and “machine” may be brought into dynamic and productive harmony. Tracing its history yields a critical view of numerous and rapidly proliferating metanarratives: that machines are becoming increasingly important agents within modern or postmodern culture; that “humanism” has been destroyed by the proliferation of mechanical and electronic systems; and that we reside in an age of perpetual crises, with the most important crisis being the constant, multivalent threat that our “environment” poses to our bodies.
Cuban architects, historians, even Cuban law affirmed the plazas of Habana Vieja as representatives of the civic lineage of the public square from the agora to the plazas of colonial Latin American cities. Different from the expressive emphasis of the City Beautiful, or the analytic scientism of the Athens Charter, or even the doctrinaire pragmatism of urban renewal, this CONSTITUTIONAL MODERNISM proposed a supple means for cultural and political engagement by which architecture would assist the formulation of the new civic sphere. The formula “better cities, better citizens” did not merely claim the resonance of architectural form but asserted the disciplinary capacity of architecture to participate fully in the cultural mode of constitutionalism.
As Iranians struggled to come to terms with the country’s identity on the brink of widespread Westernization, THE HOUSE AND ITS CONTENTS became one focus in the clash of traditional ways with the pressure to modernize and achieve a better standard of living. Although Western ideas were certainly catalysts and influences in the movement to bring Iran into step with up-to-date and possibly beneficial technology in the home, Iranians themselves were actively engaged on a local level in figuring out which aspects of contemporary Western home life actually worked for them and which did not. The outcome depended on the question of adjusting a national and personal identity to rapidly changing times—something that only the people of Iran themselves would ultimately be able to do.
In postwar Pakistan, DEVELOPMENT is repeatedly advanced as a problem of coordination of different cultural forces by both national and international forces. Architecture is claimed as the behavioral turf on which this coordination takes place. Development is often simply seen as a form of neoimperialism imposed from the outside, through which an external power imposes its will on a subjugated society. But this model of oppressor-oppressed does not adequately explain the mutually legitimizing modes of power in the development arena, just as it does not explain the complexities of colonial governance. It is here that architectural and urban projects provide critical archives for understanding the new and emerging modes of intervention, revealing modern architecture’s intimate relationship with structures of power.
To understand THE INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN FOR NUBIA as a massive design project requires an expansion of the traditional apparatus of architectural historiography. This kind of “event” epitomizes the cultural value of architecture in the postwar international order: a practice that helped nation-states interrupt territorial contiguities and historical continuities, offering material, tectonic, and atmospheric integrities instead. Monument mobility transformed Nubia into a governable space by suspending in time and space the question of who exactly was being governed.
The Les Halles–Rungis transfer was part of a nationwide attempt to generate new forms of post–World War II French consumerism. Its architects had to design not just a functional WHOLESALE MARKET, but a physical model for an economic and social system that did not yet exist. Together, architects and administrators planned a market that not only was highly efficient but one that also might compensate for the losses that accompanied modernization. And surprisingly, the forms and programs that they developed in the Parisian suburbs were then recycled and reinvented in Paris, when Les Halles became a shopping mall ten years after the markets’ transfer. The “postmodernization” of Central Paris was a symptom of a larger “post-Fordization” of the political economy of everyday life.
Arup’s global presence on the building engineering front increasingly means that in the current spate of iconic architecture, it does not matter which so-called star or signature architect sketches out what scheme for where. What is reasonably probable is that Arup will design and build it and will be a key arbitrator in modifying design to impinging conditions, whether in terms of budgetary management or local bylaws, technological feasibility, or environmental parameters. Arup’s “METAENGINEERING” consists in that its remit goes well beyond the mere manipulation of statistics and materials to that of accountancy, financial consultancy, and, most important, the drafting of legislation. What we have here is a technopolitics that operates in enclaves somewhat remote from the normal realm of politics but nonetheless will heavily determine the course of our future politics.
✓ Not peer-reviewed