This article was written on 01 Oct 2013, and is filled under Urbanities.

Soft architecture, etc. II

Vehicle elevators in the Old Elbe Tunnel in Hamburg-Steinwerder, Germany. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Vehicle elevators in the Old Elbe Tunnel in Hamburg-Steinwerder, Germany. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The following continues the conversation begun previously about softness, hardness, and architecture. Below is the response from Léopold Lambert of the Funambulist

Craig, I  enjoyed reading your parallel between the soft surfaces that we immediately understand as embracing the form of our body with the various control apparatuses that, indeed, have to also perceive and adapt to the contour of our body in order to grasp it. After all, this is exactly what the surveillance softwares of movement recognition are trying to do: consider a sort of omnipresent matter and attempt to distinguish forms in such a way that it can reconstitute the movements of the bodies.

You develop the intuition that soft architecture might have a few traps for us. I would certainly agree with that and would argue for a “hard architecture,” as a form of provocation. The traps that I am referring to are as much deliberate ones as involuntary. In the pleasant Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture that you referred to in your message, one can read “We believe that the object of architecture is to give happiness.” Such a statement is rather frightening. I simultaneously believe that architecture cannot possibly not be political and that politics should never be made for the purpose of happiness. By extension, I can therefore affirm that I believe that architecture should not be designed to “give happiness.” Architecture carries a violence in itself. The only means in my opinion to have it serve our intentions is to accept this violence and use it in the context of a political manifesto. Politics necessarily involve forms of antagonism and so does architecture. That does not mean that a harmonious society cannot be imagined, but that the latter cannot be using architecture as a means to unfold itself. The violence used to reach “happiness” would necessarily act against part of this given society’s population.

A soft architecture is therefore for me an architecture that refuses to see its violent characteristics and thus takes the risk of not organizing the antagonism that it creates. This is true at a political level but let us consider the more individualized dimension of our body itself. Soft architecture is a sort of comfort that does not challenge the body in any way. On the contrary, hard architecture, when conceived carefully and voluntarily, can reach a degree of hardness that actually strengthen the body and therefore empowers it in a Spinozist sense. The same is true in politics. Hard architecture might be less “attractive” at first sight but it allows us to materialize political manifestos that are not necessarily the dominant one, that soft architecture serve “by default.”

I look forward to following our conversation.

Thank you and have a good night.


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