Dear Architecture, why am I breaking up with you 
Iva Jelinčić

POINT ONE introduction

 

 ”The danger that I am courting is thus that what I will say will oscillate between the two extremes of unfounded speculations and what mostly is already known for a long time.”[1]  

 

Dear Architecture. It was quite a journey growing up with you. But the time has come to go our separate ways, so the subject of this letter would be – I really think I should break up with you. The main point that I realized and which has led me towards this decision is that most of the time I am around you, I feel bad. And I don’t want to do it anymore. We have both changed in the last six (!) years. It seems like yesterday when we met by accident on arts class and you immediately reminded me of a beautiful girl with a strong name ‐ let’s call her Josephine. The things about girls like that is that, when they are beautiful and have such a strong name, like Architecture or Josephine, hey are the most beautiful girls in the world. But, that works in opposite direction too. So today, you remind me of an ugly girl (also with a strong name, let’s say Bernadette) who tries so hard to hide her own faults behind layers of make – up, but her looks can only deceive just for a while: pretty on Friday evening, ugly on Saturday morning. Today, between yesterday and tomorrow, it seems like six long years of Stockholm syndrome which I have finally had enough of. Why, is something I will try to write down and so explain to the both of us what and when drew us apart.

 

Tomorrow is something I can’t imagine completely without you. But still, I do have power to kick you out of my life and get a good night sleep. Which leads us to another point – I haven’t slept peacefully in years in this relationship and every time I tried to at least get a 15­minute power nap, you Josephine, are constantly there, knocking on my door, having me get out of a dream and concentrating on you, waiting on my doorstep, only so you could jump over, set yourself quickly on sofa, take off your sexy dress and put on that old training suit ­ I call it ”the first Bernadette phase”. Finally, you turn on the TV. Being somewhere in between, you hand me over my to-do list for today. Then your face gets that dreamy expression which I first tended to assign to and then later blame upon your artistic personality. But now I know you probably just came from a great lunch with some guy who studies business and is now tired and just want to have (my) nap. And so you do, leaving me with Bernadette and millions of questions based on that  ”to-do list”, which getting more obscene with each passing day.

 

My thesis is ­ you have been sleepwalking for quite a while now. And the reason you don’t make any sense anymore is because you don’t know who or what you are anymore.

 

POINT TWO Expectations, time and education

 

What’s the difference between chicken broiler and achi-studio?  Chicken did not say yes please[2]

 

Quite young at heart and quick of mind, as teenagers usually tend to, I fell in love with the idea of drawing and helping others at the same time. Let’s call this idea Josephine again. When we met, I was a teenage geek in need of a study to love, with a sharp tongue, big glasses, an appetite to know it all and experience it all.

 

I asked a Super studio guy sitting behind me in class “What is her name?” and he told me ”Architecture! Architecture as a positive, shining expression of nature vis-à-vis natural nature!”[3] I did not see any warnings in that sentence, but I did have this creative force driving me mad and you seemed like the right reflection, a good partner. To cut the crazy love story short, after I told you how it is also my opinion that ”All architects expect and hope their work will act in some sense as a servant for humanity-to make a better world.”[4] You ­ still Josephine ­ and I, started dating. Quite soon after that though, I somehow started losing something really quickly. I started losing my “time for” in a sense that time was literally running out of my hands and soon, I did not have any time for sports, movies, books, wasting time… Lots of little pieces of me became timeless and got lost along the way. My time became your time and you filled it with all the stuff that studying something (especially you) brings along. (Getting a focus is what you’d call it.) Anyway, I knew it was going to be hard and sleepless, but worth it and when I would tell someone I don’t have time because of you, he/she would say wow you are dating _____! Blah blah blah…. I didn’t understand this Wow then, but I believed it must mean something since I was hearing it all the time.

 

I started seeing my old friends less and less and my professors more and more, who were telling me stuff like: ”Aulis Blomstedt gave this wise piece of advice to his students at the Helsinki University of Technology: ”For an architect, the capacity to envision different life situations is more important, than the capacity to envision space.”[5] Which is something I also truly believed in. But this lack of time lead to constant stress, and constant stress lead to requisitioning my love for you, which made me realize that I don’t know to imagine this mega variety of life situations very well. This in turn made me realize I may not be good enough or have to work more. So I decided to work even harder to get it. And then I got even more stressed and so on.

 

Today I know that I should have told Aulis Blomsted that it is wrong to imagine life situations, when real life is happening all around you. That’s what you should do, if you want to know the society you are supposed to be here for! Experience the moment. Because of advice like this, we nowadays have situations where people who are not ”Aulis Blomsted ” at all and do not really know you (teachers and professors) tell people like me (your students) how messed up world is today, and how everything changes, and how they still knew that golden generation of modernist architects who brought future to the past. In other words, my stress just kept growing because I started to realize I am getting tired and my to-do list keeps getting bigger, and that the answers cannot be given by people who don’t really know what to tell me in this uncertain time. I just want to scream because I envy and I envy because this guy (who is never even there for hi consultation time) is sitting there, turning my Josephine into a Bernadette, and on top of it, telling me his education is better than mine. I want to ask him “Where is MY Ravnikar? MY Ivan Vitić, my Bernardi, my intellectual authority of any kind?” Or is this strict line between the professor and myself so thin, that I should maybe search for answers on YouTube, with all of this Harvard free lessons it offers? But then I remembered I do not have the time, because although everyone says that you are hard to understand and take a lot of time, there is this thing called The Deadline which makes every clock a dramatic sand one and any interest in university education suddenly seems like a distracting hobby and a waste of time, in need of being punished with failing, restriction or a punishment essay. ”Teaching is even harder than learning […], but not because the teacher must have a larger supply of information and because he has to keep it the hand at all times, Teaching is harder than learning, because it requires the following: to allow for learning to be possible, to happen. A true teacher does not really allow for the student to learn anything besides learning itself…”[6] I didn’t have time to meet you healthily and properly. And that’s why I want to leave even more. This difference between the time you insist on, and the time you offer is something you should work on, really. You are getting me all confused, forgetting I that am 25 years old, born and raised for a socialist world of working 9 to 5 with free weekends.

 

But, ”there once was a relationship between leisure and work, a biblical dictate on opening and closure. Now we work harder, stuck in a permanent weekend”[7]. Disappointed by realizing how rigid and closed your educational institutions actually are, I made another mistake ‐ I applied for my internship in an office which claimed they were there in order to enjoy their work in a creative atmosphere, by designing environmentally responsible projects (shown on shiny cartoon‐like renderings), researching today to create a better tomorrow, and putting all that down in big research booklets. It sounded like the ”drawing to help other people” dream come true. But once there, I hit wall again as you showed your true inner self to me. A face represented by the people who had spent so many hours in the office that they had completely alienated themselves from society by their own arrogance and elitism.

 

A well-known manipulation technique is the so-called ”stress and relief”, where the manipulator constantly boosts the stress level, then suddenly offers  comfort, which evokes a strong sense of connection with the manipulator on the part of the manipulated. This is a quick true story of my internship with you.

 

The hands that form Architecture out of a creative process (although Architecture might look like Josephine from the outside) are actually Bernadettes and I -­‐an intern, am just cheap labor, trying to find cheap materials and produce cheap and quick designs, in order to produce maximum profit for a person who does not care about them in the first place (a.k.a. The Boss). And then passes it on to the this other guy, who is actually holding the strings (a.k.a. The Investor). And so, nothing seemed stable anymore, not even the Law -­‐ now as flexible as Branzi’s utopist urbanism. It seemed as if all of you all together simply did not care. Not just about me, but also about a Person Unknown, about” Homo Random”, the final victim of a complicated process, which begins right there, in your office.

 

Andrea Branzi was actually trying to warn me in time, that the pretty roses do have ugly thorns and that something standing vis-a-vis something as imperfect and complex as human nature is a muddy lake to swim in, and that I am only going to stress myself out unless I make peace with your future as that. Of course, that’s what turned me on again. Because the kids that we are nowadays, are trained to aim high and have it all. A couple of minutes ago in the 90s I met him again, saying you became a high tech favela. I know he is just doing his best to make the two of us grow closer together again, and he means it in a good way, but if you are favela, why have I been drafting this hotel competition all week?

 

So today, after realizing I was being warned and having an opportunity to choose between the game where the rules are constantly changing and a new start while I still have tiny chance, I chose to get out. If on one hand, it is true that ”A wise and mature architect works with his whole body and a feeling for himself. As he is creating a building or an object, he simultaneously inhabits the counter–perspective of his own self–image in relation to the world and his existential worth. Apart from all the useful and functional knowledge, a planner and an artist require existential worth, which is shaped by their life experience…”[8] and on the other hand ”spectacle is ‘an image accumulated to the point where it becomes capital”[9], how come that I always feel so bored working in an office reflected in shiny buildings? Maybe Guy Debord wouldn’t mind me saying that you -­‐ contemporary architecture -­‐area concept accumulated to the point where it becomes simply money, polished until it is so shiny it hurts your eyes with its reflections.

 

Seek perfection and excellence is what pushed architects and students on, and many of them devoted their entire careers to striving for non-­‐negotiable excellence, as seen by the works of ancient civilizations, which was supposed to help them make an ever-­‐lasting impact on society. Nowadays however, you don’t care about that anymore. And all of the above is just one more reason, why I cannot stand seeing you sleep like a baby, while I have so much about you on my mind.

 

POINT THREE Economics looks and feels

 

Economics and looks walk hand in hand in your case.

 

It seems like not only you are constantly changing but, while I was occupied with you, this time I lost years ago did not stop existing, and changed as we did also. My second point is I don’t feel like you are really broke, but I really feel that I am. I don’t really have any money, due to the crisis everybody’s been talking about non-­‐stop since 2009. I couldn’t even pay my own meals during lunch breaks, while working for free as an intern.

 

Yesterday (pardon me for calling it yesterday, but in terms of how old you are, it really is) it seemed like your modernist base is going to grow into a Supperarchittetura, an architecture of superproduction, superconsumption, superinduction to consume, the supermarket, the superman, supergas….[10] But somewhere along the road, the wheels broke down and instead of the light of a brighter future, you became a metaphor of our consumption-­‐driven lives, where the Human has long since been forgotten. You became like a bottle of Coke in an advertisement -­‐ refreshing and shiny (Josephine).In reality however, after the first experience of refreshment, you would leave me thirsty again, with a little bit less money in my pockets.

 

Since we are both broke, there really is no point in insisting on producing plans and designs, and uploading them in .pdf booklets. And yet, you still insist on me going on with producing as much as possible mostly to ”…buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like.”[11] and sucking off my energy to the point where I don’t even have the strength to think of what I did I to get myself into all of this in the first place.About things you do not need -­‐if you really are broke, there is no point of you taking drugs with Zaha and producing stuff like the Heydar Alyev Center, which you describe as an “antithesis of the older, more rigid and often monumental Soviet architecture”, which ”symbolizes the sensibility of the Azeri culture and the optimism of a nation looking towards the future[12].A description like this leaves me all confused, because it shows you understand that “Architecture, more than any other art form, is a social art and must rest on the social and cultural base of its time and place ”[13] and obviously this design is your response to that statement. Yet what I see here is that ”…form no longer follows function, function no longer determines form, and the result is generalized esthethicization, (…) a gigantic Kinder Surprise (TM) egg, (…) trying to solve social antagonism[14].

 

If one may take The Function of ornament as an indicator of an tant vein of sentiment in the architectural community, it names ornament, welcomes it back, as it were, but only on condition: ornament must function. ”[15] The function of your new ornaments is to make money, then use that money to produce new ornaments, use those to make even more money, etc. -­‐ which makes the plastic swans you thought me never to use, look like a box of nature and memories.

 

“In my opinion, the same happens to architecture as well — to become nothing but aesthetics, once it is alienated from its original purpose of domesticating space and time, the animistic understanding of the world and the metaphoric representation of structure. [16]  I would just add that in that case, the architect becomes only a box for all those hours of meetings and consultations. As all that input comes together in the architect-­‐box, all these people’s crap has come together in this person also. And that does not feel good. Especially when I am thirsty.

 

Lefebre warned us yesterday – ”Today we see a worldwide tendency towards uniformity. The relationship of form to function to structure has not disappeared. On the contrary, it has become a declared relationship, produced as such, more and more visible and readable, announced and displayed in a transparency of the three terms. A modern object clearly states what it is, its role and its place.”[17] In times like this, where consumption is so deeply set into our everydayness, I quote Žižek:”At the level of consumption, this new spirit is the one of the so–called ‘cultural capitalism'(…) we consume them in order to make our life pleasurable and meaningful.” ”On the other hand, we are not dealing with a longing for real equality, but with a longing for proper appearance.”[18] Let me pose a question. It may be a bit unfair, but even so. What do you think, in a hundred years’ time, will this face of yours, represented by the Hejydar Alyvev Center, be able to stand next to the Eiffel’s tower and make some other Iva recognize it in a sec and say “Heydar Alyev, Baku, yeah!”, just as fast as I say “Eiffel, crowd, Paris” nowadays. Or is it going to make her think of Zaha and not in a good way?

 

POINT FOUR Others

 

Point four is… well, you have been alienated from the society for a long time now. And you are aware of it. Yet you continue on with that attitude of yours. And just as yesterday, “The society might indeed have admired Modern Architecture. However, it did not admire that, which architecture itself thought its deep intrinsic worth was. Her spouse was attracted by her ample external charms, yet was completely unwilling to accept what she herself had imagined as the ethical principle of her being. (…) And thus he, in spite of the high principle proffered by architecture, remained stubbornly set in his old ways. He did not seek moral regeneration. For him, the ethic poise of Modern Architecture was alike to that of a Victorian heroine, an so, he continued to look for his delinquent pleasures elsewhere.”[19]was a text about breaking up with modernist tradition, it could easily be used to describe what is happening nowadays.

 

Not to mention that you have also been warned a long time ago that ”As the common denominator of activities, locus and milieu of human functions, the everyday can also be analyzed as the uniform aspect of the major sectors of social life: work, family, private life, leisure. These sectors, though distinct as forms, are imposed upon in their practice by a structure allowing us to discover what they share: organized passivity. This means, in leisure activities, the passivity of the spectator faced with images and landscapes; in the workplace, it means passivity when faced with decisions in which the worker takes no part; in private life, it means the imposition of consumption, since the available choices are directed and the needs of the consumer created by advertising and market studies.”[20]

 

You are a big part of the everyday-­‐product and have been like that since even before people realized that’s what you really are, but what to did you evolve. ”Like in the middle ages; a single shopping centre is now the work of generations; air–conditioning makes or breaks our cathedrals. Because it costs money, is no longer free, conditioned space becomes inevitably conditional space; sooner or later all conditional spaces turn into junkspace. Junkspace is always interior, so extensive that you rarely perceive limits; space created by piling matter on top of matter, cemented to form a new whole. ”[21]

 

Some recent proofs that the two of you still haven’t found a way to work together. Somewhere on the Internet, sometime in 2009., Annie Choi says:

This is what I do care about:

* burritos

* hedgehogs

* coffee

As you can see, architecture is not on the list.”[22]

 

Jody, an architect, responds in 2012:

“I just ran across your name a few years ago and thought. ‘I should totally call Annie and see what she’s up to.’ But then I got this deadline out of the blue. It’s a really cool sustainable-eco-friendly-mobile-art-museum, and we’re going to use shipping containers. It’s awesome, and I just got distracted.

But anyway, just wanted to say ‘Hey!’.

 

Oh, by the way, I double–checked your apartment dimensions last year when my firm switched to BIM instead of Cad. Turns out it isn’t 187 square feet after all. It’s actually 186.35 square feet. Just thought you should know. -Jody”[23]

 

Society is” an increasingly demanding audience” and it seems you really do think that ”…ignorance is strength”.[24]  Pursuing that attitude, what happened is that the society and (included in this via being a human being living in a civilized world) myself -­‐ stopped caring. And as much as I have stopped caring about what drives me mad about you, I stopped caring about nice things also. I started having fun and telling myself that the mall invasion is not just another sign of your deep sleep (why malls if we are broke?), but one point of an endless urbanism and that at least I learned to read signs, so now I can get ready on time for an Earth catastrophe like the one shown in the ”Tribe” TV-­‐series. This way, I am motivated to go to malls with my dad who is older and grumpy and only tolerates air-­‐conditioned spaces like yours and so we spend some time more together. Years ago I would refuse to do so, but nowadays I am telling myself I was warned on time and I understand that you game is ”War is peace / Freedom is slavery/ Ignorance is strength.”[25]  You really are no different than anything else money can buy – ”You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re all singing, all dancing crap of the world.”[26]

 

POINT FIVE Conclusion

 

Because you are not special and I don’t care anymore, I am leaving you. Goethe called architecture frozen music. If so, the more that I hang around you, the more I have the feeling you look like a frozen video image of Britney Spears trying to have a comeback song. If you are able to visualize this and compare it to my lifestyle, I assume you understand why I don’t want to be around you anymore. Thing is, I prefer some other music genres. And I prefer Britney as a living member of our society to any of your recent built works. They literally and metaphorically don’t breathe.

 

To summarize main points – because you are not honest with what you present to me (to us!), because you take my money and don’t give anything in return, because you ignore what most of us think, live and feel, because you do not serve society as a whole, but only its strongest members – I think you are out of date, lying sleepy in front of the TV.

 

Wake up architecture! Remember one of the latest warnings you received: ”My warning to architecture is: when you are making your plans, tread softly because you tread on the dreams of the people who will live in and look at your buildings”[27],and start with young architects-­‐to-­‐be, treat them better than you did my colleagues and myself. The fact how exhausted they look nowadays scares me so much, and my fear is that architecture as we professionally know it is at its own point of death, soon going to become just a teenage passion, disappearing with the first signs of adulthood and common sense. And we will only dream of how ”Thus, architecture can be sad to embody knowledge, but rather than clear logic, it is knowledge understood in biblical sense, a carnal, fully sexual and therefore opaque experience of truth”.[28]  

 

Thank you for this final experience of truth and goodbye. I am heading off to I don’t know what, where and when, but I know the pace I will run at. As Kobayashi Issa said:

 

”O snail,

climb mount Fuji,

but slowly, slowly.”

 

Anyway, see you around (literally).

 

[1] Žižek, S. Architectural parallax; spandrels and other phenomena of class struggle. Available at: http://www.egs.edu/faculty/slavoj-zizek/articles/architectural-parallax/.

[2] Facebook. Available at: https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos‐ak­prn2/t31/q71/s720x720/1146936_10151863125416839_898996499_o.jpg

[3] Burns, J. Arthropodos: new design futures. London : Academy Editions, 1972.

[4] Mockbee, S. The Rural Studio. Dostopno na naslovu: http://samuelmockbee.net/work/writings/the-rural-studio/

[5] Pallasmaa, J. Eksistencialna in utelešena modrost v arhitekturi, in: Misleča roka. Ljubljana: Studia Humanitatis. 2012.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Koolhaas, R. Junkspace. Dostopno na: http://www.cavvia.net/junkspace/

[8] Pallasma, Juhani: ibid.

[9] Debord, G. Družba spektakla; Komentarji k Družbi spektakla; Panegirik: prvi del. Ljubljana: Študentska založba. 1999.

[10] Burns, Jim. Arthropodos: New Design Futures. London, Academy Editions, 1972.

[11] Koolhaas, Rem: ibid.,

[12] Center Heydar Aliyev // D-A-Z / Archdaily 7.1.2014. Dostopno na: http://www.d-a-z.hr/hr/vijesti/centarprn2/t31/q71/s720x720/1146936_10151863125416839_898996499_o.jpg.

[13] Mockbee, Samuel: ibid.

[14] Žižek, Slavoj: ibid.

[15] Levit, R. Contemporary design: The Return of the Symbolic Repressed, in: Harvard Design Magazine. Spring/Summer 2008, n. 28. Available at: http://www.gsd.harvard.edu/images/content/5/5/553249/28-Levit.pdf.

[16] Lefebvre, H. in Levich, C. Everyday and Everydayness. Yale French Studies No. 73, New York: Yale University Press. 1987.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Žižek, Slavoj: ibid.

[19] Colin, R. Collage City (with Fred Koetter). MIT Press, Cambridge, 1978.

[20] Lefevbre, Henri. Levich Christine: ibid.

[21] Koolhaas, Rem: ibid.

[22] Dear Architects, I am sick of your shit // Butterpaper 10.11.2007. Available at: http://www.butterpaper.com/vanilla/comments.php?DiscussionID=1095

[23] Sorry Annie, I was just distracted // Coffee with an architect 20.1.2011. Available at: http://www.coffeewithanarchitect.com/2011/01/20/sorry-annie/

[24] George Orwell: 1984, Mladinska knjiga, Ljubljana, 2008.

[25]ibid.

[26] Fight club. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esiwzK7IRzY

[27] Žižek, Slavoj: ibid.

[28] Pérez-Gómez, A. Architecture and the body, v: Bacci, F. in Melcher, D. Art and the Senses, Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2013.

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