BERNARD TSCHUMI: Red is Not a Colour? Review

by Antoine Vaxelaire, AA 5th Year

14 May 2013
AA Lecture Hall, London

 

The lucky students that could get into the lecture hall on April 24th for Bernard Tschumi’s talk and book launch were welcomed by two introductions. On the one hand, Brett Steele presented Tschumi as a provocateur, on the other hand Tschumi explained that his talk will not try to answer any questions but rather ask many. An hour and a half of provocative questions – it was difficult to ask for something more stimulating, especially knowing Tschumi’s ability to share his ideas with enthusiasm.

 

Organised according to the structure of his “Red is Not a Color” book, Tschumi took the audience on a forty-year (or 746-page) marathon of an architect struggling to define what architecture fundamentally is, or should be. Divided into four chapters the lecture started by bringing us back to the 70’s, the very period that allows Brett to call Tschumi a provocateur, and rightfully so. From the AA to New York to La Villette, there is no doubt that Tschumi changed the face of both architectural education (at least mine) and the architectural discourse at large. It was followed by projects which, for a reason I cannot yet understand, started losing not their intrinsic qualities but instead their external provocative behaviour. Failing to provide an answer to this, I will follow Tschumi’s advice and ask myself a question: what role does the audience play in the definition of a provocative project? How much can one provoke without changing the recipe? Not much it seems…

But that is certainly not what to remember from this lecture. While one might lose interest in projects as they become more recent, it can’t stop the enjoyment of the clever in-between chapters that Tschumi has constructed. This would be the true strength of the book, moments where the architect fades out to reveal his underlying beliefs and influences. From movies to built spaces or from art pieces to historical events, we feel like we have entered into Tschumi’s mind. It is a melting pot of imagination that wraps both the good and not-as-good together. This is where we understand what Tschumi means by his endless questioning of the world and what the architect’s contribution could be.

 

I remember leaving the lecture hall that night with some disappointment or at least the feeling that some of my expectations hadn’t been fulfilled. But like Deleuze reminds us, one needs time to truly grasp the content of a lecture and the immediate feeling isn’t the important one. And, I have to admit, Deleuze was right. As I write these lines a few weeks after the event, I realise that since that night I have asked myself an incredible amount of questions – both about Tschumi’s career and projects but mainly about myself and the ways in which I want to construct my world, what are my in-between chapters?

 

In the end it wasn’t an hour and a half of provocative questions but simply a provocateur provoking (not providing) questions in the audience’s head, which was indeed stimulating!

 

Tschumi’s first words that evening did capture the essence of the night:
“If you have the answers leave the room, tonight is only going to ask questions!”
I am glad I stayed.

Red is not a colour – book launch and lecture
Image credit: Valerie Bennett

Bernard Tschumi presents Red is Not a Colour in the AA Lecture Hall
Image Credit: Valerie Bennett

 

For more information:

Bernard Tschumi – Red is Not a Colour Lecture Video

Bernard Tschumi Architects