Mapping Controversies

Please post your reading response for Jeremy Till’s “Lo-Fi Architecture” and Albena Yaneva’s “Mapping Controversies as a Teaching Philosophy in Architecture,”  due October 10, 24 hours before class, here by replying.  Yeneva will be coming to class on Friday morning. Please be prepared to ask her questions. Thanks!

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8 thoughts on “Mapping Controversies

  1. Nina Mihaylova

    I have always had the feeling that our profession has developed a certain snobbism with respect to others and in general, with respect of the external world. I remember during my first year of studies, Peter Eisenman came to give us a private talk and at some point he would say: “If you don’t have Le Corbusier’s book on your tables, you are not worthy to be architecture students.” It struck me because when I enrolled in the school I did not know who Le Corbusier was and I was not aspiring to be a super-human architect that would change the world. I followed my studies in the field as I wanted to contribute my artistic aspirations to the built environment without necessarily imagining it as a tabula rasa. As pointed out in Jeremy Till’s “Lo-Fi Architecture”, the profession (and all other professions it seems) continually promotes its supremacy over the population, thereby feeding the need for its services, as if the common man has lost all together his instinct on housing himself. Not that architecture is useless, but “before architecture”, as pointed out in the essay, crafts were pretty much handling the built condition; construction did not use to be as mystified as it is today… Why should we follow Le Corbusier’s golden rules of “proper” architecture, which restructure the natural course of things in view of a higher social structure based on cleanliness of the geometric form? Mechanization and the possibility of cleansing through industrial means was, and still is, too tempting for the architect-artist who needs to almost selfishly fit his ideal project on a site (and why not even multiply it infinitely to create a neighbourhood, a city). This is a very harsh critique of a great architect, and as Till, here I am stepping on the profession’s enormous ego, but this only to note that it has not changed since Le Corbusier.
    “Starchitects” get increasing amount of media attention thereby “selling” their projects through beautiful and irresistible renderings, but very rarely have I seen an actual mapping of the existing site compared to the new proposal… We seem to forget to point out what the existing conditions are and why are they so undesirable that we want to change them radically; what do we gain from the intervention socially and not only in terms of number of condos, pools and terraces. And the more starchitects get promoted, the more they get “creative” and I would argue, ridiculous, in their ideas. Here, I have in mind the BIG pin proposed by BIG architects which just sounds like a joke to me: why do people need to build this atrocity over a predominantly horizontal landscape? Why did the architect not mention to the client that this situation should be approached differently? Because the architect has a responsibility to the client, which blinds him to his social responsibility towards the urban fabric (in material terms) and the social fabric (as in the population). The bolder the move of the architect, the more fame and interest it receives. I don’t mind boldness in form, but it seems to me that boldness follows carelessness of context and this is something hard for me to accept. The layering of the built fabric provides the environment for the development of social networks, of neighbourhoods and communities. New architecture should be conscious of this condition and should learn to work with it, rather than around it.

  2. Kevin Botchar

    In Jeremy Till’s book entitled ‘Architecture Depends’, the chapter regarding “lo-fi architecture” opens up with an anecdote about Elvis Costello’s recording process and how, once a piece of music is recorded by top-of-the-line engineering equipment, it is played back through a “cheap radio”. Costello’s reason behind all of this is fundamentally simple. It is to “hear how it sounds in real life. How it sounds over the noise of a breakfast table.” Because, after all, songwriters – and architects alike – do not have the “luxury of knowing the precise circumstances under which their work will be received.” Although Till identifies this tale as being possibly an irrelevant analogy, it turned out that – for me, at least – this idea set out a clear path as to how I would understand his grounding ideas about Architecture, Architects and their practice, as well as Dr. Albena Yaneva’s methodology of “Mapping Controversies.”

    I would begin by pointing out that – although having a similar or comparable understanding of the complex network of architecture as a whole – Till’s and Yaneva’s writings differ greatly in their respective ‘field of applications’. Between Till working as an architect, writer and educator; and Yaneva working as a social scientist, the difference between their point-of-views could not be any clearer. Although both have solid bases and sources alike in relation to the ‘social’ realm, the books presented for this week’s reading seemed controversial. Here I will try to explain why.

    Firstly, even though I agree with his statements, the fact that Till – being an architect – questions the field of architecture is in itself ironic. Ironic, but his opinions were well taken since all of us also do the same thing subconsciously. We architects do seem to live the secluded hermit-like life all the while being submerged into a network of plethoric actors. Most advocate the idea of architects as all-knowing beings or conductors of orchestrated complexities. And most negate architects as workers ‘for’ the public or social realm. Specifically, it is here that Yaneva and Till articulate. Both bring forward the notion that the practice of architecture should be more receptive towards external forces; architecture should mediate more than ‘just’ form and function. The architect must stop throwing his sketches in the faces of others while he waits for them to be brought to life. As Till said, we should move from the idea of expert problem-solving architects to that of citizen sense-making architects.

    Secondly, it is also clear to me why Yaneva could be interested in this ‘shift’ of practicing architects. After all, she is a social scientist and they tend to relate more to the implications of architecture on the parts and the whole instead of architecture itself. According to her, it is the intertwined relations between the many actors and controversies that want to define the aspects of architecture and design for the future. In a way more strongly anchored in the practice of architecture, Till’s views merge with those of Yaneva which are more oriented towards a ‘complimentary’ method of education that would in turn influence and engender a mutation of the profession. Although I am sceptical of the end results of mapping controversies since, to me, it resembles a method of stating facts once they have passed. It is not preventive-based research – or sense-making of what will come – but more likely reflective-based – or making sense of what has come. Yet I can still vaguely see how this methodology could be brought to academia to better educate – or open the eye of – the ‘ill-educated’ to the multiplicity of the profession.

    Finally, the transition from the practice and the processes of architecture from a ‘totalitarian’ single-gestured art to a more meshwork-like system of relations shakes and cracks the once stable grounds on which architects use to stand on. Questions of ethics, egocentrism, narcissism and fantasies – formulated by both Till and Yaneva – are brought back into the light of discussion. Like modernism, with industrialism and wars, future changes in architecture would inevitably necessitate ‘social’, cultural, economical, political and scientific alterations – or breakthroughs – in order to attain radical shifts of our present models.

    Architecture has gone through so many stages, styles and eras; can we avoid another calamity by compromising, on both sides, the changes that need to be done within the profession? Are there common grounds between the egocentric architect and the socialist worker where both can meet and mediate controversies?

  3. In order to understand the writings of Jeremy Till and Albena Yaneva, one must first acknowledge the tradition of network theory in sociology. Gilles Deleuze describes desire as an “aggregate”; you never desire a specific object, rather an ‘assemblage’ of elements that become desirable. The sociologist Bruno Latour continues in this tradition with his Actor-Network-Theory. He defines a network of objects that interact while keeping their individuality within the ‘assemblage’ that they form as a whole. Consequently, all object are at the same level and have the same value within a network. Yaneva advances this concept by applying it to the field of architecture. Mapping controversies notes the disagreements emerging within any given architectural project, recording every time a number of actors confronted each other.

    In Jeremy Till’s ‘Lo-Fi Architecture’ and Albena Yaneva’s ‘Mapping Controversies as a Teaching Philosophy in Architecture’, the authors point out the architect’s current supremacy over the profession. Only ‘he’ has the proficiency to understand and ultimately promote a ‘better’ architecture. Therefore, one must not challenge the architect’s vision for everything to go smoothly in the design process. Both Till and Yaneva challenge this idea, and instead assume that the architectural proposal is already a controversy simply because it presents a singular vision of the future, which is conceivably inconsistent with others simultaneously working on a building. Therefore, Till explains that “it is not about the architect as the detached polisher of form and technique, but as the person who gathers the conflicting voices of a given situation and makes the best possible social and spatial sense of them.” [1]

    We must challenge traditional design in architecture. However, understanding the writings of Yaneva as a critical analysis of architecture’s traditional top-down design approach, ‘mapping controversies’ doesn’t necessarily suggest anything in this regard – simply a matter-of-fact tracing of the ‘cosmogram’ of different actors within any given architectural project. We can suggest a ‘bottom-up’ design strategy in order to remedy this – one that interrogates the different actors and involves the community in design decisions – but our current model already half-heartedly promotes this approach.

    I believe the true value of actor-network-theory is twofold. Firstly, “architecture’s dependency, far from being its weakness, becomes its opportunity, with the architect acting as open-minded listener and fleet-footed interpreter, collaborating in the realization of other people’s unpolished vision.” [1] As Till clarifies; the architect no longer acts as the narcissistic head of a project coercing others to follow his fantasies. He acts as the common denominator, listening to the many voices, mediating their many opinions, in order to move the building process forward. Architecture depends on many factors and to reduce it to a singly vision would inappropriately lessen the overall quality and richness of a project. Second, and perhaps more importantly, mapping controversies in the design phase will allow for the truth to come forward by going beyond the surface of any given problem. A controversy is defined as a specific element that a number of actors disagree on. I see its importance in revealing hidden notions within a project that would otherwise be overlooked or forgotten over time. One can easily imagine political motives concealed within an architectural project. Yaneba’s mapping of controversies in architecture will help all actors reclaim equal rights, an ethical notion illustrated by Latour – all of which is orchestrated by the architect.

    1 Till, Jeremy, “Lo-Fi Architecture” In Architecture Depends, 135–195, Cambridge, MIT Press, 2009.

  4. Osama Al-Sehail

    The topic of this week is different to a large extent from the topics we discussed during the previous weeks. That difference is that all the previous topics talk about existences as results and how they affect human beings. But the topic of this week takes another slant; it argues human action itself create existence, which is design. Also, there is another side of that difference which relates to Mapping Controversies. Personally, when I read the title of the sixth week’s topic, I thought it was a continuation of the previous topics, especially the term “mapping”; it gave me the feeling that it is related to geographical issues. Therefore, I started first by reading “Lo-Fi Architecture”. But, after reading a few paragraphs, I thought I was reading something that belongs to a different course. And first question that arose in my mind was :What is the relationship between spatial justice and this subject?

    I might have made a mistake in downloading the files!

    After checking the blogs and my files, I found everything is correct. But still the question is in my mind. So I have decided to start again, but now I am beginning from the basic “Mapping Controversies as a Teaching Philosophy in Architecture”. What does Mapping Controversies mean?

    Changing a design as an act from a personal matter to a collective act in Mapping Controversies is considered a revolution in the design process because it transfers a personal matter (design) to another level that tries to involve the maximum number of parties. Furthermore, increasing inputs in a design, which come from different parties, will help to accomplish a high level of efficiency that can rarely be achieved at the individual level. This is what Albena Yaneva approves in her argument when she shows the varieties of inquiries that can be raised by students in the designing stage. The concept “is not about designing a building and trying to fit it into a slot but about weighing up the impacts a building could have and evaluating the consequences of design and its implications. The mapping does not advance by a subsequent re-framing of the problem or by the sketching and re-sketching of different options and possible scenarios; it progresses by following all extending webs and multiplying their proliferation through the inquiry.” 1 Moreover, Mapping Controversies transfers location of design from a closed and limited space (studio) to an open and unlimited space, changes audiences from students and teachers to people who have different backgrounds and changes the language of design from pure architectural language to a public language encompassing society, economics, culture, politics and health as well as architecture. If we look to architectural/urban design from this perspective , I think we are in front of a radical transformation of the principle of design that has resisted change since Vitruvius’s time. But there is a valid question here: What does it mean to say that ordinary people have a voice in affecting design. Usually, any project stays on paper and nobody knows about it except the people who are working on it. Any opposition against a project comes after approving it and starting work on site, which mostly loses its influence in making any changes gradually because of many factors that can enter to keep the project going on. In Mapping Controversies the roles are changed: the opposition’s voice is part of project from the first day, and at the end there are prerequisites and trade-offs to reach to final decision. But, there is a valid point here which relates to the design itself: What is the effect of the size and complexity of the design on this kind of action? In other words, perhaps this kind of design procedure can be effective when we are dealing with a large-scale project such as an urban plan or development; but when we talk about small project like houses, the matter will be completely different. I think still a small project has a level of controversy that needs mapping in order to be dealt with. Of course, this does not exclude the effect of the complexity of a project on the size of mapping controversies. Actually, this procedure is not new as a concept. In the architectural field architects try to reach maximum satisfaction in their designs through matching requirements according to a site’s conditions, but in the last decades and because the ability of technology to size matters, this principle has started decreasing gradually until the point has been reached of ignoring almost all site requirements. And we have been seeing what is going on in the city.

    In a nutshell, this way of thinking can change our perception about design matters and qualify a generation of architects and urban planners who will look at design as a life matter. From this perspective, I can say that my answer to the question I raised at the beginning is the following: solving a community’s problems should start from making decisions, and any solutions that come after that are similar to patching torn cloth. If we are looking for a dignified life, we have to begin from the education system that still cultivates learning and making decisions as an individual matter.

    Notes:
    1. Yaneva, Albena. “Mapping Controversies as a Teaching Philosophy in Architecture.” In Mapping Controversies in Architecture, 68–82. Surrey, Burlington: Ashgate, 2012.

  5. Michael Hasey

    Recently, there has been an increased awareness of architectures entanglement within the complex realm of the built and unbuilt fabric in which we live. Such awareness has given rise to new theories, practices, and schools of thought that envision, promote, and materialize architecture that radically changes ones perception of what can be accomplished through the deep integration of buildings within the constructs of society.

    Two proponents of this shift; Jeremy Till and Albena Yaneva, support this motion in their respective writings “Lo-Fi Architecture” and “Mapping Controversies as a Teaching Philosophy in Architecture”. Though coming from different backgrounds, they both agree that pure form and visual centric design strategies are no longer valid in the web of social, cultural, technological, and natural environments in which we live. They each propose in their own way an alternate system that reintegrates architecture back into these complex interrelations in order to actively, and efficiently address wider issues beyond the confines of site.

    To begin this discourse, Jeremy Till, an architect, writer, and academic, describes the issue of “high art vs. low-fi reality”, or the current dominance of form and “dazzle” over reality and human experience. He suggests that our architectural gaze needs to be focused away from the dominant realm of form driven design and visual connection and towards the complexities of contemporary, everyday life. Similar ideas are compounded by Albena, whom describes visual centric approaches; in particular Schon’s “Reflection-In-Action” design methodology, as being static and uninvolved within the realities of contemporary living. As a solution, both Jeremy and Albena present a hybrid design model and an accompanying set of rules that they hope will move architectural practice towards a level of deeper societal integration and involvement. Jeremy proposes the idea of “lo-fi” architecture, or an architecture that tackles both “hi-fi” issues of technology and ocular driven form and “low-fi ” issues of the “status quo” such as politics, social responsibility, culture, and other issues of everyday life. He believes that such a system will bring architecture down from its high pedestal of purity towards the earthly realm of complexity in which it resides. Respectively, Albena proposes an academic solution that uses controversy mapping as a tool to identify and respond to site and context based problems at the social, cultural, economic, and environmental level.

    Although both authors are quick to criticize form centric and “hi-fi” design strategies, one can hardly ignore possible issues that may arise when context is ignored and site is treated as a tabular rasa condition. It can be argued that “traditional” modernist ideas of formal purity and cultural/historical rejection are no longer valid in the 21st century, and that architecture’s responsibility now flows into the “soft” realms of society that were formerly ignored. However, by flipping through the pages of even the most prestigious architectural magazines, one can easily find buildings that may although be visually stunning and complex, continue to ignore the important issues and realities of site and everyday life. Both Jeremy and Albena argue that these types of buildings exist in a purified and static form, and are in fact largely disassociated with the realities of our world. In the article “Lo-Fi Architecture”, Jeremy states that “The task of “purification” is impossible, because the more one turns upwards, the more one needs to ignore and turn ones back on the social constructs of the world”. This resounding statement further solidifies the dangers of disassociated, form driven and perhaps even egocentric architecture that is nearly fetishized in our hyper-visual driven culture. However, by abandoning “hi-fi” design and ignoring beauty in support of purely socially driven goals, many important architectural qualities would be lost. Instead, the balanced hybrid model as described by Jeremy and Alba could be an interesting model in which to explore the evolution of architecture towards positive growth within the greater complexities and challenges of contemporary society.

  6. Andrew Brown

    Complimentary arguments run through Yaneva’s work on Mapping Controversies and Till’s chapter entitled Lo-Fi Architecture. Yaneva advocates an architecture that acknowledges the political complexity of a given situation, addressing the many players who share an interest in an architectural project. She criticizes the practice of designing at arm’s length from the comfort of the drafting table, removed from the political implications of a project. At the outset of Lo-Fi Architecture, Till describes Elvis Costello judging his music by playing it back through a mediocre kitchen radio as a methodology which deliberately acknowledges the flawed reality of everyday life. This is in support of his argument that the ideals conceived of by Architects, deliberately removed from actual users, do not accommodate real world complexities.

    The conflicting interests involved in a given project are analogous to the static of the kitchen radio. That complexity is the messy reality of real life, which obscures whatever high Architectural ideals were conceived in isolation. Both pieces take aim at architectural design undertaken without acknowledging the full political context. Architecture does not exist in a vacuum but has immediate implications for a community. The growing divide between the general population and the community of Architects and the often unrelated agendas of these groups therefore presents a problem. Till is particularly critical on this point, illustrating through James Stirlings’ criticism of Le Corbusier’s church at Ronchamp that the architectural establishment is not interested in catering to the general public. Till challenges Architects for referring only to one another and rigidly adhering to ideals which ignore the complexities of reality to which both he and Yaneva refer.

    The Architectural implications of these two pieces are vague. How does one use a map of the political landscape to inform design? Moreover, Till’s reference to the articles by James Stirling on Corbusier oversimplify Stirling’s position. Till is trying to make the case that the architectural community lashes out against change, as in the case of Corbusier’s church at Ronchamp. But Stirling ends that same article by calling the work a, “Masterpiece of a unique but most personal order.”i It is less a piece characterized by the anguish that Till describes and more a sincere assessment of what this unusual work by a pioneer of modernism means for that movement.

    Good Architecture is able to communicate ideas and aspirations through space. Modernist architects were driven by optimism and the desire to reflect a changing society in built form. Though it may not have been appreciated immediately, we now see that work as an important reflection of its time. That act of translation was done by individuals, by imagining and drawing. A contemporary recognition of the collaborative nature of architecture, and the many players involved in a given project is positive. But there remains value in theory which may not be immediately understood by those outside of Architecture, and in the individual architect’s exploration of form and space through sketching. Removed from the political complexities of the situation, the ability of the Architect to imagine an idealized world has brought us many of the world’s great buildings.

  7. Manu Sharma

    The Topic “lo-fi Architecture’ in Jeremy’s tills book ‘Architecture depends’ is about the contradiction between architecture as a contingent practice that deals with everyday reality and architecture as a self-directed discipline which doesn’t deal with any kind of reality. Till describes the similarity between the singers and architects that they do not know how their work would be perceived by their audience by giving an examples of Elvis Costello recording his tracks on the highest electronic equipment and the immediately listening it through a Lo-Fi transistor radio in order to understand how it will sound to the lowest listener. He ignores a theory against contemporary architecture culture, the cause of the stereotype and gives Architectural Education a reason for all the causes and the same idea is shared in Albena Yaneva’s “Mapping Controversies as a teaching Philosophy in architecture”. The topic of mapping controversies attempts to embrace the complexity of unknowns, multiple stakeholders and shifting negotiations throughout the planning and design process, the process utilizes the basic computer modelling to decode and display the relationships and priorities of those driving complex projects as well as those affected by them. The Process of mapping controversies drives the exploration of architecture students far beyond the limits of sociology and history of design towards neighbouring human sciences.

    I think a way to bridge the gap between what architecture actually is and what architects want it to be is, mixing anecdote, design, social theory and personal experience. Architecture must move from self-confidence on the impulsive imagination of the lone intelligence to a confidence in the collaborative ethical imagination from fixing to actions of total control to a purposeful approval of letting go. As both of the authors are form different fields their vision corresponds to different purposes. But still they share a common ground on relating the social aspects. Both Mapping controversies and lo fi architecture states that its only the architect who can recognize a need of better architecture through different solutions. So they both have a common saying on changing the ways architectural education. So I think mapping controversies can be really help full till the design stage but as its not in the hands of architects what they will get in return, even a Simple project can become a controversy.

    So as if the definition of lo-fi architecture follows the definition of lo-fi music (lo-fi recording), I would say it has to do with the production. So we are talking about lo- fidelity, after all, which makes me think of the difference between what is input and what is output. Following from this, then would lo-fi architecture be defined by its production? . I am not thinking of hand-drawn production vs. Cad production, I am thinking of room for uncertainty in the builder’s interpretation arising from the way the plans are produced. Instead of a lot of details, maybe we have very few details to accompany the plans and rendering that describe the design. This gives liberty to the builder and occupant, rather than giving the architect all the decision making power.
    I guess this take lies somewhere between the slum and the Guggenheim Bilbao. I cant think of much architecture that follows from this depiction, except for maybe B V doshi’s Aryan development in India, where occupants fill in the framework the architect develops. I guess my take is democratic decision instead of an aesthetic decision.

  8. The Topic “lo-fi Architecture’ in Jeremy’s tills book Architecture depends is about the contradiction between architecture as a contingent practice that deals with everyday reality and architecture as a self-directed discipline which doesn’t deal with any kind of reality. Till describes the similarity between the singers and architects that they do not know how their work would be perceived by their audience by giving an examples of Elvis Costello recording his tracks on the highest electronic equipment and the immediately listening it through a Lo-Fi transistor radio in order to understand how it will sound to the lowest listener. He ignores a theory against contemporary architecture culture, the cause of the stereotype and gives Architectural Education a reason for all the causes and the same idea is shared in Albena Yaneva’s “Mapping Controversies as a teaching Philosophy in architecture”. The topic of mapping controversies attempts to embrace the complexity of unknowns, multiple stakeholders and shifting negotiations throughout the planning and design process, the process utilizes the basic computer modelling to decode and display the relationships and priorities of those driving complex projects as well as those affected by them. The Process of mapping controversies drives the exploration of architecture students far beyond the limits of sociology and history of design towards neighbouring human sciences.

    I think a way to bridge the gap between what architecture actually is and what architects want it to be is, mixing anecdote, design, social theory and personal experience. Architecture must move from self-confidence on the impulsive imagination of the lone intelligence to a confidence in the collaborative ethical imagination from fixing to actions of total control to a purposeful approval of letting go. As both of the authors are form different fields their vision corresponds to different purposes. But still they share a common ground on relating the social aspects. Both Mapping controversies and lo fi architecture states that its only the architect who can recognize a need of better architecture through different solutions. So they both have a common saying on changing the ways architectural education. So I think mapping controversies can be really help full till the design stage but as its not in the hands of architects what they will get in return, even a Simple project can become a controversy.

    So as if the definition of lo-fi architecture follows the definition of lo-fi music (lo-fi recording), I would say it has to do with the production. So we are talking about lo- fidelity, after all, which makes me think of the difference between what is input and what is output. Following from this, then would lo-fi architecture be defined by its production? . I am not thinking of hand-drawn production vs. Cad production, I am thinking of room for uncertainty in the builder’s interpretation arising from the way the plans are produced. Instead of a lot of details, maybe we have very few details to accompany the plans and rendering that describe the design. This gives liberty to the builder and occupant, rather than giving the architect all the decision making power.
    I guess this take lies somewhere between the slum and the Guggenheim Bilbao. I cant think of much architecture that follows from this depiction, except for maybe B V doshi’s Aryan development in India, where occupants fill in the framework the architect develops. I guess my take is democratic decision instead of an aesthetic decision.

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