Letter from a Young Architect
(originally published in AArchitecture 20)
20 July 2013
Buster Rönngren replies to tutor Fabrizio Ballabio, on his reference ‘what is the contemporary’, in a discussion over the First Year brief ‘Architecture and Time’.
Some time has passed since I received your last letter. Notwithstanding, time can be viewed a case in point (of a coordinate system, rather than as a dimension in itself). For example, I have not worn a watch since leaving school, and for this reason, I did not see the point, despite having the time to prove it to you. Post hoc, I have taken the assignment of writing an article for AArchitecture addressing the First Year brief that you co-wrote entitled ‘Ever, Never and Forever’.
Located within the framework of the last term, I wish to seize this moment to recall our discussion over architecture and time, in order to advance the matter at hand, and to draw near the reference of contemporariness that you proposed. Acknowledging the speed of correspondence, this text will already be dated when passed on. Just as any building stands as an argument of the past, perhaps about the future, but recognised in the present, a reading of the untimely calls for a commonplace. Furthermore, I will make an attempt to part the established linearity of the above-mentioned title, to present three different axioms of space-time in this particular response. Along these lines, or against them, please advise me where to draw the line. For, I am working towards a deadline, and what is contemporary about that in any case?
Time remembers one time once. Whenever an architectural type is found, it seems to be accepted as another truth. Because it was there all along? The portal to the future, named in the verse of Dante I sent before, can shift between open and closed. Inherent to the type is a moment. Making a distinction between two literal rooms, one of anticipation (not yet), and one of remembrance (no more), the portal is a figurative room – one of the present (a point). Still, a portal has definite dimension; it is briefer than the rooms apart. Near real-time, types take place: the portal is a room in itself, but through its intermediary function, the truth, a critical action seldom defaults an operative one. An architectural practice negotiates the threshold. What if it would be confined to the limits of such a room, to exercise an ideal? A disjunction and an anachronism tell why waiting by the gate of an airport seems ever so contemporary.
And all at the same time, the typology pointed out by the portal in ‘Dilation’ is an aircraft factory. A celestial map of the AA, this specific response to your brief depicts an entrance into the realm of architecture. The adjacent typologies: a cemetery, a library, a city, an amphitheatre, a bath and a garden, form a field of the archaic, what was and could still be, but moreover, a diagram of an avant-garde institution which has lost itself over time. However, underlining the text of Giorgio Agamben I received from you, the origin does not cease to operate while situated within the past. The transformative device of ‘Dilation’, the portal to the AA, leads to a rediscovery of itself. And to be contemporary means in this sense to return to a present where we have never been. As a novice at the school, one is distant from the cemetery path, but the theatre typology shows an approximate way under the subject. Being the constituent of the prism submerging the horizontal plane, it not only leads down to Dante’s inferno, but also against the direction of the portal: towards the dark behind man.
One could leave the future behind, not as a form of passivity, but to question whether time is really moving forward. If only we see, the things that are distant from us, then the contemporary is unattainable, or even irrelevant, embodied in a shadow. This is the point, Agamben argues, to perceive in the darkness of the present, this light that strives to us but cannot. Picture that standing outside the AA, an architect is burning the midnight oil. A light that, while directed towards us, indefinitely distances itself from us. A contemporary is well aware of the shadow cast on Bedford Square. For it belongs to and detaches from the moment. The fault line is a point. And even at night, the school acts as a sundial.
Too soon to write farewell.
For more information:
Read AArchitecture 20 online
See more First Year 2012-13 work