Paesaggio Urbano /// SPECIAL ISSUE Knowledge Landscapes
Notes for an anthro-political approach to architecture and the city
An interview with HERMAN HERTZBERGER
by Alessandro delli Ponti
Paesaggio Urbano, 1.2012
Knowledge Landscapes and “Interpretativity”,
Notes for an Anthro-political approach to Architecture and the City
“It’s only when the relational is revealed in the absolute space and time of social and material life that politics starts living!” Don Mitchell
Otterlo 1959, in the last turbulent days of the CIAM, Aldo Van Eyck called for a new way of looking to the space of the city, a way that should not disregard “the semantic universe of dream and soul”.
Those where the days in which the Modern’s Dogmas seemed to be rapidly crumbling, revealing, under the aging mask of the most unwavering certainties a “terrain vague”, that “something of subterranean, between wine and life” evoked by Tristan Tzara in his Parisian DADA (1) days.
Herman Hertzberger has been, since from the early sixties, a protagonist of those heteronomic forces that tried to build a new, alternative path to Modern.
Animated by the programmatic will to surpass the auto-referential certainties of disciplinary autonomy, he has followed an extraordinary personal and professional path, built through the collaboration with Aldo van Eyck, the review Forum, Team X, the debates with Alison and Peter Smithson, the exchanges with De Carlo, Rossi, and the foundation of the Berlage Institute, but most of all, realizing a corpus of buildings that substantiates coherently his peculiar approach to structuralism.
HH, though convinced that practical awareness and realizations are the real playground of architecture, has always cultivated a particular relation with the text of architecture, initially in the form of the pamphlet or of the article, as editor of the review Forum, and, then, offering to a wide public the monographic synthesis of his critical and designed reflections; we must remember his “Lessons of architecture” (Edizioni Laterza), “Articulations” (Prestel), and the recent series published in Holland by 010 Rotterdam, particularly “Space and Learning” (010, Rotterdam, 2009).
The edifice of his lessons is still an open construction site and the recent publications confirm his predilection for the leading theme of his critical reflection, that is to say: the relation between the Project and Knowledge Spatialization (mise en espace).
In this sense, the term Knowledge hands us with some interesting semantic feed-backs.
If in Scholar buildings the term can be seen banally as a system of codified information to be communicated to a given public, the Knowledge Hertzberger refers to has a deeper nature and relates to the development of the spatial-relational awareness of those who live in space.
Van Eyck’s relativistic revolution within the CIAM, and the contextual foundation of Team X, has opened the way for the integration of architecture in a deeper anthropologic structure, following the suggestions of de Saussure and Levi-Strauss.
Herman Hertzberger’s approach originally follows this research path, in the attempt to articulate the primatus of absolute typological spatiality with the revelation of their relational potential.
The Autonomy of Architecture is thus redefined by what HH calls “Spatial Interpretativity”, a notion that gives a leading role to usage and human components rather than focusing exclusively on the object’s tectonics and aleatory functionalism.
Interpretativity is thus to be meant as a category synthetising the dialectics between Interzia and Autonomia of spatial values, it’s a principle that illustrates the architects awareness of the “non-univocity” of forms, of their potential misinterpretation and reveals the hope, the project, of a “spatial-tentation” positively opened to the inhabitant’s voluntarism.
In this sense, the buildings for teaching become representative of the way HH looks at Architecture and the City.
The designers attention is not primarly concentrated on the space to be assigned to explicit knowledge and thus to ex cathedra teaching, but rather to that Psicologic Landscape (Focillon), the maieutic Structure, linking inhabitant to inhabitant, intellect to intellect, helping the emergence of a tacit, inter-individual knowledge that stands “between things” and founds the legitimacy of Space in the heart of its communitas.
Revindicating the primatus of the relational on the quantitative might appear as a neuter and “ecumenical” operation, but it actually reveals all its strength when we read in these terms the continuity between Hertzberger’s vision of architecture and of the city, transposing his projectual, architectural reflections on the condition of contemporary urbanity.
The distinction between the absolute, the relative and the relational conception of urban space proposed by Henri Lefevre and David Harvey, becomes thus a useful epistemic instrument to understand, at a urban scale, what HH demonstrates in his architecture.
If the in-between, the space between things and people, emerges as the founding dimension of the project, we must notice that this relational principle is conceived through the design’s spatial concreteness, in the Architects material and technical choices.
Techné becomes charged with profound social values and with a specific relational potential.
In this sense, to give a concrete example, different from those which will follow in the interview, we can associate the pauperistic choice of materials in HH’s projects of the sixties and seventies to Lina Bo Bardi’s approach (they’ve been cooperating on various workshops); in both these masters’ attitude, the materials-technical choice is not reducible to an artistic issue (Eduardo Subirats) but is rather a condition for an easier reappropriation, both in a practical-phisical sense, than in an imaginative and symbolic one.
Listening to Hertzberger’s words becomes thus particularly interesting in a moment in which, in Europe, in reason of strategic-political wills of national and over national level, the policies of “culturalization” of the public realm are integrating in a vision of economic instrumentalization all the remaining creative forces (Eco), researching the improbable demonstration of Richard Florida’s paradigma and selling the operation as the construction of the new creative city, ending in the “in series” production of urban scenarios and singularities, ever more similar to review-like archetypes, to historic centres transformed in museums rather than being truly inhabited, exploring all the possible perversions of the originary Guggenheim effect.
What new possibilities are unveiled for the re-interpretation of these urban products? And which lesson can we get from Architecture?
The present crisis, and the wage launched by the necessity to envision a sustainable decreasing development, might demand us to find a new Continuity between Space, Architecture and the society that inhabitants them, a continuity that might leave behind the dictate of normative strings and procedimental “t-ordures” that pack usages in functions and these last in programs reducing the space of the city to a measured list of admissible lives and interpretations.
- Alessandro delli Ponti
Followed by an Interview and the Conclusions