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Brief Reviews - Architecture
by Francois Lachance

"Theorists are forced out of the sanctuary of theory. Practitioners are roused from sleepwalking practice. Both meet in the realm of building and engage with objects." (Mark Wigley)

Architecture Theory since 1968 (MIT Press, 808 pages, $80 US cloth) is a hefty volume. It is not the theory that makes it dense for, as editor Michael Hays promises, the selection stresses accessible pieces rather than the more famous writings. Indeed, given the length of the average selection and its friendly prose, one almost wishes for the book to be broken up into three volumes for commuting convenience.

However, if the book existed as three separate volumes, one would miss the benefit of the cross-referencing in the dialogues and polemics. Hays provides brief and illuminating prefaces to each selection which help to situate it in a history of exchanges and gives handy marginal references to other selections. Readers are invited to see and compare. The plan works in most instances. There is one case where the absence of a cross-reference is remarkable: in his preface to the piece by Jacques Derrida, Hays fails to point to the beautifully deconstructive reading of Derrida's collaboration with Peter Eisenman which is signed by Jeffrey Kepnis; however, in the preface to the Kepnis piece, there is an invitation to compare the Derrida. Some lines are one way.

Another way of approaching the volume is through the blocks which it establishes. The 1977 piece by Anthony Vidler on typology, the 1977 piece by Charles Jencks on postmodern architecture, and the 1997 piece by Rem Koolhaass on congestion culture are located in close proximity; yet, they push the reader in very different ways than do a triad of theorists like Habermas (1981), Foucault (1982), and Jameson (1982). With groupings such as these, Hays manages in his editorial practice to capture some of the amazing time lags in translation and adaptation of the non-English writers in the Anglo-sphere. It is perhaps no accident that he includes a reflection on the circulation of ideas and texts in the form of Jean-Louis Cohen's work on the Italophiles in France as so much of the theoretical polemic since 1968 has raged over the International Style.

Amid the blocks and lines there are still the solitary buildings such as Alberto Perez-Gomez on Husserl and Massimo Cacciari on Heidegger-solid, clear expositions of fine rank. Of quite a different construction are the pieces by Mary McLeod which sound a sharp note of political engagement, and by Jennifer Bloomer, who is so eloquent on the hypersemanticism of ornament.

Whether they are approached as affiliated lines, aggregated blocks or detachable pieces, the selections tell the story of modern architecture translating the habits of thinking in terms of vistas into those of circulation, of viewing into reading. Yet, united together in one volume, they continue to insist on the delicate tension between a will to inhabit and a desire to build. The stories and the struggles over meaning continue.

In uniting this impressive display of collective cogitation, Hays avoids closure. The volume is built to remind one that there is still time to ponder the shapes of form, function, and force. As Stanford Anderson states, "Architecture is known by the temporal experience of a sentient being."

Francois Lachance


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