BOOK LAUNCH: ARCHIPELAGO OF PROTOCOLS Review

by Gili Merin, MA History & Critical Thinking student

 

30 January 2017
AA Bookshop, London

 

On the occasion of the launch of Archipelago of Protocols by Aristide Antonas at the AA Bookshop, Pier Vittorio Aureli was joined by the author, collaborator Thanos Zartaloudis, and the book’s editors and publishers Ethel Baraona Pohl and César Reyes (of DPR Barcelona). The book- a rare combination of imaginative architecture and concrete legislation illustrated with captivating collages of black-and-white ambiguity- is a non-monographic collection of works by a single architect who also happens to be a poet, an artist, a philosopher, and a published author. As the name suggests, the book’s inventive protocols, devised by Antonas and Zartaloudis, are a group of unique islands of enclaved sovereignty and makeshift authority, suspended between the law and the people.

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Pier Vittorio Aureli (right) Thanos Zartaloudis (centre), and Aristide Antonas (left) at the AA Bookshop. Photo courtesy of: Gili Merin.

Aureli began the discussion by revealing Antonas’s first ‘project,’ one which he calls a “very radical one”- the changing of Antonas’s own family name; a seemingly marginal anecdote that shows how “for Aristide, the architectural project inevitably affects the way in which we construct our own life… For him, it is as if life itself is a part of the design project.” Aureli’s own encounter with Antonas’s built work was when he visited the Amphitheater House in Hydra, which he notes to be an “impressive project, almost a manifesto of everything that he will build afterwards or has built before… it proposes a theatre in the most unlikely place where one would expect such a public form, and yet, when you see the project- the combination of the two archetypes- it makes total sense.”

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The Amphitheater House by Aristide Antonas in Hydra, Greece (2007) on the archetypical combination of a theatre and a home, explained by Aureli as: “…it proposes a theatre in the most unlikely place… and yet it makes sense.” Photo courtesy of Aristide Antonas.

As a further introduction to Antonas’s work, Aureli raised a ‘provocation’ by praising the incredible visuals found in Archipelago of Protocols- a showcase of Antonas’s virtuosity in architectural representations– which he claims to be both a strength and a weakness: “Today, when images proliferate everywhere, there is always the risk that we might miss an important part of architecture which is architecture as a project.” A fascinating question, and even more so when presented by Aureli, principal of the Brussel-based practice Dogma, whose strictly symmetrical, single-point perspective, painting-like collages are now an established aesthetic mimicked in international competition entries and graduate portfolios alike. This topic isn’t new to Antonas, who touches upon the topic in the book (p.188): “Drawings are for me starting utterances, propositions similar to phrases. I do not like to think that in the office we do beautiful drawings… it is true I cannot escape a certain aestheticism… [yet] a drawing by itself cannot change the world…We have to consider a drawing as a system of different factors.

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‘The Trench and the Arcade’ portrayed in beautifully crafted collages. Aristide Antonas: “Representation always fails to substitute the represented; this is its definitive rule; it is proposed as a mourning of something envisioned and necessarily lost.” Photo courtesy of DPR Barcelona.

An architectural drawing is always presented in a double bind: it explains something as a concrete promise but it also never gets concrete enough. It formalises the answer to a technical problem but it remains definitively unable to stand in the place of the represented. Representation always fails to substitute the represented; this is its definitive rule; it is proposed as a mourning of something envisioned and necessarily lost.”
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Photo courtesy of DPR Barcelona.

Indeed, Archipelago of Protocols presents a compilation of beautiful drawings and thought-invoking collages, carefully edited to depict each of the five ‘Protocols’ proposed by Antonas for the city of Athens. These delicate proposals – The Diagonal Commonhold, The Invisible Council, Radical Non-Use, Rhizome of Non-Proprietary uses and the Parasite Council – outline spatial proposals which “do not suggest policies for urban planning,” explains Keller Easterling in the introduction. Instead, she describes the protocols as “not fixed, finite things, but instructions for how to make evolving things. Protocols—whether used to describe diplomacy, software, manners, or space—establish sequences, routines, or relationships between parts, that unfold over time.”

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‘Radical Non-Use’ is one of the five protocols presented in the book. Photo courtesy of DPR Barcelona.

A key collaborator in the book was Dr. Thanos Zartaloudis; a lawyer and a researcher in the fields of philosophy of law and legal history, who has been teaching at the AA since 2014. Far from being a typical lawyer, Thanos contributed to the re-appropriation of Antonas’s proposals, making them legible for legislators and bureaucratic-friendly. Together, these protocols can become a strategic tool, as explained by Aureli: “The appropriation [of space proposed by Antonas] is no longer performed in order to achieve a new ownership of the place but a use of that space that does not imply ownership.”

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Thanos Zartaloudis between Antonas (left) and Aureli (right): “We saw the law as a ruin.” Photo courtesy of Gili Merin.

“There is something interesting about law and architecture,” replied Thanos to Aureli: “You used the word appropriation, which is of course a legal term, and within it- the term proper- betrays the essential linearity or symbiosis between architecture and law. We are obsessed with the proper as much as with its opposite, and law is, of course, the most obsessive definer of what is proper and what is improper.”

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Publisher Cesar Reyes: “For us it was inspiring to see that it is possible to find a way to challenge and disturb bureaucracy…while the most wonderful thing is that they are already happening, and you just gave a language to something that is already undergoing” Photo courtesy of Gili Merin.

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In the book, Antonas elaborates on this topic in his search for “distortions in the city’s status quo”, often by asking “how can we intervene in the specific field of the Greek law? What rules could perform what condition? What type of micro legislation do we need in order to program parts of the urban space? How a piazza can be converted to something different through the intermediation of a minimal legislative layer. How can we shape architecture as a legislative regulation?” Thanos concluded: “the Greek word paranomia which means to cause an illegal act, also means, in reverse, to be beside the law; to neither break the law nor to apply the law, but simply to study it, mock it, to make fun of it, and I think that our projects do exactly that.”

 

Is Archipelago meant to be a legislative tool? “Don’t get confused,” declare Ethel Baraona Pohl and Cesar Reyes in the afterword: “Antonas’s protocols are a trap. Written in the way a bureaucrat can understand and thus approve, in reality they are addressed to the inhabitants that refuse to accept the city as a static reality ruled by a set of norms and standards…The Urban Protocols are meant to introduce legal temporary occupancies of the abandoned city centre that will be finally accepted and allegedly controlled by a municipal authority.”

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“…if I have to go back,” said Antonas, “there is something that is very related to my childhood in Athens and living in a city of ruins…the reversal of the idea that form follows function.” Photo courtesy of Gili Merin.

When attention was directed at the audience for questions, a student simply asked “why a protocol?” Antonas answered: “The idea of the protocol started with my collaboration with Thanos. It’s a predetermined content that can be repeated, stabilise, and materialise; it is a kind of external way to look at it. It also relates, once again, to the theatrical aspect of the script; it can be repeated once and again and withhold the possibility to form… while it’s also a way to be both particular and complete. A table, for example, is already a protocol, by accepting those sitting around it; some of the elements of architecture are scripts. Thus, a protocol is not unrelated to the materiality of architecture, and some protocols are formed around us- even if we don’t know it yet.”

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Aristide Antonas, Thanos Zartaloudis, and Pier Vittorio Aureli at the AA Bookshop. Photo courtesy of: Gili Merin.

For more information:

Aristide Antonas Website
DPR Barcelona Website
Dogma Website
AA Bookshop Site
History and Critical Thinking MA
HCT Microsite