A HISTORY OF ARCHITECTURE IN FIVE MINUTES (originally published in AArchitecture 21) Review
by Maarten Lambrecht, AA HCT 2014
14 February 2014
Architectural Association, London
All I need now is paper. It’s the last day of the Open Week, and my turn to do a recital. But before I go on, bringing an end to the series of recitals held by students of the MA History & Critical Thinking, I hurry and quickly print 15 A4’s, to be cut in thirty A5’s. On the front of each paper it says ‘PARTS’, on the back ‘A History of Architecture in 5 Minutes’. Nothing special, but these pieces of paper will turn out to be essential for the recital. Considering the goal of the whole exercise is for the audience to, literally, write a history of architecture. In my 15 minutes of recital fame I’ll therefore try to point out to the audience how we can achieve this – how the construction of a history of architecture is, especially for architects, not so difficult to understand. Because when we understand parts and the whole, do we not also understand words and the text? Isn’t history not just text written on a piece of paper which leaves traces for new history? It should be clear that history can’t exist without paper because it is built with it.
[caption id="attachment_2852" align="alignnone" width="257"] Excerpt from ‘A History of Architecture in 5 Minutes
Friday 8 November, 2013 – between 13.30–13.35[/caption]
From witnessing the event itself to the first ideas of the historian, sooner or later they’ll all become words, written, on paper. A simple A5 in this case, a small part in a giant construction. But then, what to write on this little piece of paper? Does that actually matter? In the end, does it not all come down to the most basic and also most complex question ‘What do I like’?
To explain this over-simplification I need to refer back to my recital for a moment. By reading contradictory passages from Towards a New Architecture and Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture I tended to explain how writing is purely a signifying practice which can be applied to completely opposite ideologies. This makes apparent that there can never be one text to dominate history. There is, just as well, not one definitive way to construct history. We need to know that there is no ultimate origin, no fixed starting point, and there is no basic need anymore for a chronological structure, nor an all determining linear causality. Out of all these considerations, I propose a history of ‘parts’. It is a history wherein the parts only signify themselves. As a result, there is a clear difference among the parts and, thus, a clear history as a whole. Concretely, this led to the construction of ‘A History of Architecture in 5 minutes’. For this experiment I asked the members of the audience to formulate in five minutes an answer to the question ‘What do I like to say about architecture?’. The result is, indeed, an overly simplistic, perhaps irrelevant, delirious representation of history, a cadavre exquis, but it is in my opinion a perfectly valid history of architecture where anyone is part of it.
What is left now, are 26 pieces of A5 paper. Thus, I present here before you piece A of the evidence, black on white. These pieces of paper are the crucial evidence brought together in order to form an image of the event ‘A History of Architecture in 5 Minutes’. The first step to create such an image is thus setting up a paradigm and, more importantly, presenting it as valid. After all, history is mostly about presentation. That’s why, at the end of the day, it is the historian who makes history. Even though the audience was asked to write history, it is the historian who ultimately decides on the form in which it will be presented to the world. This is the power of manipulation that belongs to the one who occupies the last place in the production process. To construct a historical event, therefore, really means to understand its presentation. In this sense, an event constructed with the purpose of presentation almost automatically becomes history. Almost, because I would argue there is, especially in an age dominated by media, another aspect which we can not neglect. The presentation of history needs to be published. Even more, history wants to be published. Because if there’s no published image of the event, it might just as well not have happened at all. History, especially one constructed in five minutes, wants to become an image amongst images. And it is you, by looking at it, at this very moment, who has voluntarily accepted it as such.
For more information:
History and Critical Thinking MA Programme Brief
Marina Lathouri: On Voice