n°23 Dealing with the Market


Publication date: 2018
Editorial: Dealing with the Market
Karim Basbous
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In 1971, the open, international, blind-judged competition to design the Pompidou Centre was won by two complete unknowns. In 2012, the public-private partnership contract for the new Paris law courts was handed to the Bouygues group, who brought in one of those two unknowns from 1971, by then the head of France’s largest architecture agency. Over forty years, the significance of the architectural project itself declined considerably as household name architects took centre stage.

Recognising that the terms of architectural commissions have changed radically, this issue of Le Visiteur focuses on the relationship between architecture and the market. The principal aim is to explore the relationship between architecture as a discipline and practice on the one hand and economic ­—and hence political­­— powers on the other. Markets inherently mean exchange: the question is defining what value exchange is involved in architecture. What criteria now govern how projects are chosen? The preferences of local politicians, decisions handed down from on high, prize panels with complex motivations, and architectural doxa all wield (more or less concentrated, obvious, or implicit) forms of power that shape our urban environments. The history of architecture competitions itself sheds considerable light on the relationship between society and major design projects commissioned from the public purse.

The “small world” of State commissions was already afoot in fifteenth-century Italy. Philippe Potié explores how the joint birth of capitalism and architectural projects is no coincidence: architecture seeks to heal the splintering of time inherent in capitalism by offering an “everlasting return” to an archaic dream age. As a result, architecture was one of the conditions of possibility for nascent capitalism.

While architects seem to be in the process of losing credit built up over centuries, the history of the profession offers a wealth of information on the development of the relationship between architectural practitioners and project managers. Robert Carvais looks back at the genealogy of the long-drawn-out “construction of confidence” earned by project managers on the basis of their knowledge and skills. These are now being thrown into upheaval by the digital revolution: Antoine Picon focuses on the future of architectural copyright and the concept of paternity in architectural design more broadly in the current context of technological and social change.

The notion of Bigness developed by Rem Koolhaas some twenty years ago heralded the decline of what had hitherto been architecture’s major guiding principles. Pierre Caye’s article critiques Koolhaas’s “theory of extremism”, opening up a perspective that looks beyond the post-modernism we have now been mired in since the 1980s.

It was roughly around the same time ­—1977 to be exact— when French law defined architectural creations as being in the public interest. It may be asked if the public interest is still a central factor for contracting authorities. Is their aim still to “undertake a project” or has it now become to “purchase a product”, even if that product is a new amenity? Recent upheavals in the modes of urban production call for an assessment and overhaul of responsibilities for public authorities and architects alike. The lucid overview in Catherine Jacquot’s article does just that. Do an architect’s political activism and the commercial impact of his work go hand in hand? Is the value of an architectural agency primarily intellectual or financial? What role does marketing now play in the commissioning market? These questions are at the heart of Olivier Namias’s case study of “Aravena mania”, an emblematic case of the combined effects of lobbying, coteries, saturation coverage of prizes, and the domination of capital: Namias seeks to uncover the realities of the system behind the slogans.

The theme “architecture and the market” can be a source of disillusionment and anxiety. It can, however, also connect with reality in a more upbeat manner, as in the studies by François-Frédéric Muller and Marie-Pierre Duhamel Muller. Muller focuses on the property market through the example of a popular television programme on the topic that has much to say about French attitudes to the housing market, the diktats of good taste, and media intrusion into private homes and lives. Duhamel Muller looks at the Hollywood myths about professional architects, focusing on classic cases to pen a surprising, delightful narrative.

The form of a city changes, alas! more swiftly than the human heart. A filmed interview with Pier Paolo Pasolini conjures up this line from a poem by Baudelaire: in conversation with Gianfranco Contini, Pasolini refers to what he, like Baudelaire, calls “the form of a city”. Drawing essentially on the town of Orte, the critical gaze he brings to bear on the qualities of the built landscape and the modernisation of the world expresses a sensibility, nostalgia, and intelligence that seem out of step with today’s society. Yet his clarion call is highly relevant, reminding us that the landscape is a work of art in its own right, fragile and difficult to protect, as it is the fruit of multiple, often nameless, interventions.

Luigi Moretti, whose significance is only now being appreciated, was one of Italy’s greatest twentieth-century architects and a major theorist. The issue concludes with a translation of a 1951 article by Moretti from the journal Spazio, arguing in favour of modenature. He demonstrates that it forms a link between classical architecture, in which it is the most abstract element, and modern architecture, which is equally attached to the visual power of built forms.

Translated from the French by Susan Pickford

Architect and Banker: An Aesthetics of Time
Philippe Potié
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Architects first emerged in fifteenth-century Florence, the city of nascent capitalism where the Medici bank held sway. What is the nature of the link thereby established between architecture and the power of money?

This question is addressed by suggesting that architecture responded to the shattering of the prevailing structure of time—produced by the acceleration specific to the capitalist dynamic—by creating the unity of fictional time. In the face of this disturbing fragmentation of time, notably described by Hartmut Rosa in Alienation and Acceleration, architecture apparently proposed a mental recomposition indispensible to the elaboration of a “project.”

Architecture responded to civilization’s discontents, to melancholy, spleen, and depression—which Rosa perceived as the product of capitalism’s rhythmic ruptures—by outlining the stable framework of an archaic unity of time. Whether culturalist or naturalist, this primal scene heralded a unified, coherent, stable and inalienable mental time-structure. Antiquity, modernism, Renaissance, and postmodernism are names for the temporalizing operation through which, despite capitalism’s “fragmentation machine,” the theater of architecture restores unity.

“The Market has a Plan”
Olivier Namias
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2016 was a very good year for Alejandro Aravena, co-founder and face of the Chilean agency Elemental. Having been appointed director of the 2016 Venice architecture biennale, in January he was also awarded the Pritzker Prize, the youngest winner to date of a prize often seen as architecture’s equivalent to the Nobel. The two honours seem to herald a turn towards “social activist architecture”, with Aravena at the helm. They also foregrounded the half-house project which made his name. The system, inspired by similar designs from the 1960s, puts forward a solution to the growing housing crisis. But are they really as worthy as their designer claims? The article studies Elemental’s networks, the virtuoso public relations campaign conducted by its star architect, and the implications of the system to conclude that the half-houses in fact perfectly meet the needs of the neo-liberal market. It further concludes that so-called “socially responsible” architecture is in fact just another trick of the ever-intangible markets.

Toward a New Model of Making Cities
Catherine Jacquot
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We are dealing with a new model of the way cities get made, which we might even describe as the privatization of urban production: the sale of public goods and services to the highest-bidding investor, and the creation of large metropolises in order to increase their appeal and guarantee further development by attracting private capital. This privatization has an impact on the shape of a city with its public spaces and residential areas: macro-lots, auctioning off public real-estate, smart cities, gated communities, and so on.It also has an impact on the people who forge a city—elected officials, developers, contracting authorities, architects, urban planners, builders, etc. The public contracting authority becomes a purchaser who controls costs and deadlines through global contracts in which companies and architects work together in the early stages of the plan.This public/private coproduction of cities is a growing phenomenon, so the right questions must be raised, namely how to implement pertinent governance, how to establish guidelines for forging sustainable, responsible cities, how to encourage trust and dialogue among all players, and how to stimulate research and innovation.

Networks of Trust
The Contradictions of the Architecture Market in the Early Modern Er
Robert Carvais
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In France during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, architects forged a new identity for themselves on the twin Vitruvian foundations of ratiocinatio and fabrica, even as they faced competition—solidly rooted in the previous five centuries—from tradesmen, specifically mason-builders (entrepreneurs maçons). The exchange between architects and their clients was based on an “economy of quality” (in the sense developed by sociologist Lucien Karpik) rather than the conventional economy based on the value of the product, especially since the quality of the construction remained uncertain until the building was completed and had been lived in for a while. The architecture market was thus shaped, to a certain extent, by the measure of uncertainty regarding the quality of a completed edifice. Paradoxically, however, the construction of a building was quantified in terms of production costs on the basis of the unit prices of materials (measured by quantity) or labor (measured by day). When it came to conventional architecture, we might even refer to an “economy of moderation” (quest for the least cost). The consubstantiality, etymologically speaking, of architecture and economy suggests viewing an architect as the manager of the design and execution of a building like a bonus pater familias who avoids all pointless expenditure. How could this contradiction between uncertainty and assessment of cost be reconciled? The representation of an economy of quality led to a special market for architecture that merits exploration along two lines: networks and trust.

Bigness is Business
Pierre Caye
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The increasingly active dissolution of architecture in the apparatus of construction has been theorised in the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas’s concept of BIGNESS. The theory aims to signify the end of architecture just as Hegel announced the end of history: it announces the end of projects, the end of architecture as an art form, its submission to the principles of cinematographic narration, and the indifference to context which makes it fundamentally amoral. These five fundamental points form five new dogmas explicitly claimed by Koolhaas’s theory. The article demonstrates that such a theory in fact lies at the heart of a more complex practico-discursive apparatus that aims not only to submit architecture to the general commodification of society, but, better yet, to give it an outward appearance destined to glorify its own submission.


Digital Revolution, Artistic Paternity, and Intellectual Property
Antoine Picon
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The digital revolution, begun some twenty years ago, has not only transformed the practice of project planning, but has led to a series of developments in the organization of the profession of architect. The size of firms has grown considerably in certain countries, as has the number of participants and contributors to a planning process that is increasingly shaped by available software and by the dissemination of digital models. Given this situation, there has been a steady increase in issues of intellectual property, which this article will investigate.

Net Sale, Net of Personality
François-Frédéric Muller
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Family home, holiday home, country home, city home—we always have a term to fit our houses. But how do we sell or buy a house that has had a life? The market, speaking through TV, offers a simple solution: neutrality. Down with the typical, shame on kitsch, hide those memories I cannot see! Depersonalization is the grease that will smooth the transaction. The inhabited house is being replaced by the house as object.

Architects Do it on Tables
Marie-Pierre Duhamel Muller
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For at least a half-century, the profession of architect in mainstream American film seems one of the few to have guaranteed not only social standing within and without the narrative but, and most importantly, the attention of women. From Gary Cooper in King Vidor’s The Rebel to the hyperactive Wesley Snipes in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever, and including Paul Newman (The Towering Inferno) and Woody Harrelson (quoting Louis Kahn in Indecent Proposal), the architect—male and strictly hetero—is the very model of the perfectly sexy intellectual; indeed, far more so than the writer, the painter or the professor. The architect is creative and passionate, but without the seediness of the indigent poet; most of all, he’s connected to the business world, to money and the market—in short, he’s part and parcel of the American success story. The indispensable tools and backgrounds of the profession: architect’s table, T-square, blueprints; are brought together as props to underscore the star’s virile glamour and gild a profession that would seem one of the most apt to uphold mainstream social and sexual values. To find a more subtle portrayal of the relationship between profession and desire, one would have to look for it in those cinematographic areas less enslaved to the strictures of commerce.

The Values of Moldings
Luigi Moretti
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If one imagines a classical edifice stripped of the outlines of its framework, its harmonic order would fall into plastic and constructive confusion. Base and cap moldings visually separate a pilaster from the wall, even if it barely projects, and allow it to assume the clear role of support. The corrugations of shadows in a cornice surrounding a window formally solidify the edges and cleave the space with greater vigor. Moldings quieten or exalt single elements in the service of the ideal structure governing the entire architectural representation. By raising up, corrugating, and condensing the surfaces, they reveal the structure.


The Form of the City
Pier Paolo Pasolini
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I’ve chosen a city—the city of Orte. That is, for my topic I’ve chosen the form of a city … the profile of a city. What I want to say is this: first, I’ve framed Orte so as to show only its perfection of style, its perfect and absolute form, which is this framing, more or less. But I have only to move this thing here on the camera and the city’s form, its profile, its architectural ensemble, is shattered, spoiled and disfigured by something extraneous—that building on the left. You see it? This is the problem I’m telling you about. Since I can’t address an abstract TV audience that I can’t even see, I’m speaking to you because you’ve followed me throughout my career. You’ve often seen me grapple with this problem. I’ve gone abroad so often to film—Morocco, Iran, Eritrea—and I’ve so often had problems shooting scenes where you see a city in its entirety. You’ve seen me so often curse and go crazy because the design and the absolute purity of a city’s form was ruined by something modern and extraneous that didn’t fit at all with the profile of the city.



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