Drawings, photo-montages, renderings and models have always been powerful means to convey ideas, present scenarios and research the future. The publication Beyond Architecture provides us with a bulky collection of sometimes intelligent and mostly enchanting and simply stunning imagery of how artists are dealing in their work with architecture and the city.
For architects it is interesting to see ‘their’ subject approached by other disciplines. Many artists are using similar architectural techniques, but the difference lies in that for artists the drawing, model and photo-montage is the final product, where for the architect it is a means to an end i.e. to build. According to Lukas Feireiss the book: “charts novel ways of discovering and negotiating the potential of the urban in visual culture, thus also providing alternative and valid critical insights into understanding the city” Where architects in general produce their imagery as means to project the future, the artists in Beyond Architecture are investigating the potency and problematics of the present. The book presents the imagery without accompanying judgement or analysis. The absence of accompanying essays or a framing of the content is a missed opportunity and result in confusion. First of all confusion about the chosen title: Beyond Architecture. Beyond has become a buzzword, and especially when married to ‘architecture’ proven by the Venice biennale and architectural publications, and Volume feels personally addressed in this matter as well, with the ‘to beyond or not to be’ mantra on the cover. In the case of this publication from Gestalten publishers the relation between the title and its content remains unclear. Secondly, the missed opportunity concerns the theme of ‘fiction’ and ‘speculation’ is bubbling up in architecture today and not just in imagery but in architectural writing as well.
One can read the operation of going beyond in many ways. One can go beyond the present (time), beyond the physical (space), beyond the disciplinary (professional) and one can go beyond many other area’s, but in general all the beyonds refer to the movement of crossing the boundaries of the familiar, from the known into the unknown. If we remain within the known, we’re not going beyond in any way. This is also where the notion of beyond has its connections to fiction, speculation and the experiment, but we have to realize that innocent fiction does not really exist. Within fiction there are intentions, agenda’s and signs of the time, either implicit (as coping mechanism/therapy) or explicit (as manifesto/utopia), so what are the intentions of all the beyonds that are circulating in architectural discourse? What are we looking for? What truths do we seek to find? Why is there a necessity to move beyond the familiar? This question is not addressed in anyway by the book, in this sense title and content seem to be completely disconnected. Volume’s slogan: ‘to beyond or not to be’ contains the existential drive associated with the flight forward, into the beyond. The subtext: legitimations of the architecture discipline shouldn’t be searched for in the known, but in engaging the unknown. In order to deal with the unknown we cannot merely trust on the disciplinary body of knowledge we already have, but we have to move beyond disciplinary boundaries to acquire other knowledge that hands us new instruments and tools for thinking and making in an rapidly changing world.
The merits of the book lies in that it illustrates that architectural imagination is not the sole privilege of architects and that we can find the amazing in the ordinary, in the existing, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going ‘beyond’ in any way. While the book correctly registers the emergence of fiction and speculation in architectural discourse, epitomized my blogs such as BLDG BLOG. These fictions are usually liberated from the utopian dimensions and activist manifesto’s formerly associated with photo-collages and grand urban vistas. Of course we have learnt our lessons concerning utopia, but is an attitude that is merely saturated with fascination enough to engage reality seriously?