Architecture’s Public

Please post your reading response for Gianni Di Carlo’s “Architecture’s Public” and Barthes’ “Death of the Author” due October 24, 24 hours before class, here by replying.  We will have guests: will be coming to class on Friday in the second session of the class at noon. Please be prepared to ask them questions. Thanks!


12 thoughts on “Architecture’s Public

  1. De Carlo’s lecture is profoundly resonant when read and understood with architectural education, the Architecture School, as an analytical lens. Who are the users of an architecture student’s school projects ? It is a simple question many might find irrelevant, but I think it is very telling of how architecture students are taught and prepared to be architects and to create and develop architecture(s). A possible answer is to say that these projects are for hypothetical or future clients and users. Ultimately, this would make the project a “practice” for the professional future. If it is so, I believe these projects lack credibility immensely. The use, context, client, needs and requirements of the project are shaped by the student, revealing at the same time the complete artificiality and fragility of the studio project’s structure and the real answer to the question of who the public of this project really is : the author-student and his portfolio.
    As in authoritarian planning, given studio projects will be tackled by students within the frame of the “how”, and, more precisely, “how to make it better and how to make it different (from the other students)”. Authorship is everything, it is a job, it is a grade, it is success. Guest critics for architectural project reviews, ignorant of the real – and not conveniently distorted – context (if there is any), of the studio project’s, can only understand and evaluate a project through the presentation and seduction operation of the presenting student, fishing for internships and distinction. “Classic criticism has never paid any attention to the reader; for it, the writer is the only person in literature” says Barthes. The subconsciously (or not) institutionalized “good” (the grade ?) for a student project is profoundly individualistic and competitive. All the constraints and settings for studio projects are instrumentalised to produce authorship-driven images in a completely alienated, isolated and self-centered understanding of architecture. Architectural education will end up being an uprooting process, fueled by a survivalist necessity for students to innovate, to compete and gain distinction and controlled by the established, global system of architectural evaluation and by the role imposed on instrument-architects by the power authority. Architecture students are at the mercy of the elite’s shaping of architectural work as highly formal, tourism-enhancing, profit-driven icons. “By distancing itself from the real context of society and its most concrete environmental needs, the elite attitude of the Modern Movement just accentuated the superfluity of architecture”. This is as true today as it was at the height of Modernism, and this institutionalized distancing is initiated in school through alienating standards of quality and evaluation for architectural projects.
    This is probably why De Carlo stresses that “architecture has become too important to be left to architects”. The education of architects today is aligned with the current reality of architects’ architectures being instruments for the author’s fame and permanence in history, not with producing good architecture. The reality of concrete spatial needs of the physical world is rarely seriously investigated in school, and subsequently, in real life. The “why” behind the choice of architects that are exemplified in different courses , the “why” behind the importance given to autonomous, a-referential formal explorations and absolutely irrelevant, inhuman shapes and the “why” hidden behind the structure of the studio projects and its teachers are rarely questioned by students, too busy strategizing on “how” to succeed and climb upwards within these parameters. Why are studio projects graded and why are they graded that way ? Why are they so rarely in teams, and only in very small groups ? Why is the context of a given problem so redundantly researched by all students individually, and so different during presentations ? Why are exterior actors from other fields never present for collaboration, critics or for designing studio project themes and situations ? Why are practically all aspects of societal living left out of the education of a profession whose origin is inseparable from it ? Why is it that so often, the life of a student’s or professional’s architecture project is purely virtual ? Why is it so difficult for non-architects to understand architects and architecture ? Why is using architecture not understanding architecture and why is understanding architecture not knowing how to design for architectural users ? What aspects and elements of what architecture is or was remain in what we are taught today, and who decides what we are taught ? Who tells these people what they should decide that we should learn and why ? Is it for better architecture ? What is the name of the activity of designing appropriate physical environments and spaces for the concrete, cultural, societal and human world of today ? Architecture ?

  2. Since I have started my studies in Architecture, I cannot help but feel that there is a new “Revolution” of form and method that gradually takes over the student and employing body of future and present architects. The digital era is upon us and I can see this as yet another and even more destructive interpretation of space than the Modern Movement, mentioned by De Carlo as an example of misguided professional practice. His concept about the “faith in ‘how’ and ignorance about ‘why’” seems to me has reached an extreme condition, where rather than turning towards a more human-driven discipline, the practice turns towards the machine as ‘God’ capable of solving almost any formal issue; however subjecting to the robotic interpretation of what form should be. This term of “form” so widely used in our profession already gives us the impression that something is missing: why are we talking about “form” rather than talking about “place” or at least “space”. The abstraction of form generated by the machine leads to unclear design choices taken from the artistic spirit of the designer who, confronted with limitless possibilities of construction and design methods and platforms, ceases to inquire how his decisions apply in a human context, why would people appreciate this form, how would they use it, is form enough to satisfy the everyday user… Using graphic tools is a real advancement in the construction process; however I find that most “digital” buildings lack a human scale, attention on material and detail, and total ignorance of the future use and possibility of different appropriation of the space by its users. How could it be otherwise? The architect has become this computer guru, scripting his way through the design process, ultimately deciding what the “best form” for the envelope is.
    Participatory design to me is a utopian aspiration in architecture, unlikely to be realized on mass scale in the next years. It is also easier to apply on certain types of projects than others; smaller scales and personal projects such as housing are easier to approach in this way than, say, a common building with a social purpose where limitless and probably opposite hypotheses as to the development of the project take place. It is beautiful in theory, but extremely hard to apply: especially in the continuous alienation of the architect from his humanitarian role. Bjarke Ingels opened his lecture with the statement that the architect doesn’t possess any other power, but the power of his ideas. The clients, the money, the schedule are the restrictions within which one has to work. As discussed in the essay, these powerful forces are rarely concerned with the common user, if it is not to direct his purchasing power to generate more money. This is where the problem starts in my opinion. In order for the common user to participate in a design process, the system (and client) should allow him a more democratic power in decision-making. Then, and only then, it is the architect’s possibility to realize his responsibility to listen, compare and choose between hypotheses.

  3. A fine line exists in architecture between participatory design and the reality that its logical end point reduces the role of an architect in a building project. It could be argued that by involving building end-users in the design process the role of the architect is expanded into the management of many forces in the design process. The ‘sense-maker’ in the design process, to continue the rhetoric of previous discussions. In a traditional sense the architect has always played this role which is noted, at the least in Canada by the term ‘prime consultant’ which in the more recent past was always filled by an architect. The role of the ‘prime consultant’ is to filter information coming from other disciplines through the design process, maintaining the goals of the project, defined by the earlier stages of the process.
    In his writing Architectures Public, DiCarlo defines an architectural work as “[something] that cannot represent itself or establish purposeful relations with nature and history; because its purpose lies in its ‘fullness’ – in the whole set of relationships established with those for whom it was designed.” (Blundell-Jones Petrescu Till 3-22) I feel what Dicarlo is touching on is the importance of a focus in design on the end-user, on the people who will actually use the space. This of course, can easily be solved by participatory design for buildings such as an office tower, a house, and other typologies where the building end user is easily defined. Where the efficiency of participatory design becomes questionable is when typologies with un-defined end users are considered. How does a participatory design process work in a high school, where students change on a cyclical basis and the needs of each successive group of students could vary greatly? Sure, the teachers and administrators of the school could be involved in the process, but will they be able to accurately define the various realities of high school life for teenage boys and girls experiencing the roller coaster that is puberty? In addition, how can the opinions of these teachers be vetted , as not all teachers, school boards and various administrations are equal . In response to this deficit of important knowledge, contemporary building design has responded by becoming an extremely specialized field. Since Architects are not sure of their designs, and the portion of the end users which can be defined cannot be trusted, third party consultants have begun to develop knowledge in extremely narrow aspects of building design and feed their knowledge into a design process for a fee to the architect who is at the present time just barley grasping onto the title of ‘Prime Consultant’. As a side note, the logical endpoint in the present trend of project delivery will result in the architect as no more than a design consultant, paid a fee for a nice idea which ‘can be implemented by the people who actually know what they’re doing’ (a dystopian idea I know) (luckily for architects in Canada the existence of each provinces ‘Architects Act’ generates a certain level of certainty against this dystopian future).
    In tandem with the issue of participatory design come the issues of authorship in architecture. We are all familiar with the way this is perceived by the general public, and we are all aware of the realities of an architectural design process, which, for a large enough building could include hundreds of individuals working for hundreds of entities. This problem of authorship presented by the reality of current project delivery methods is easy enough to solve, each entity is given credit for the work that they did. Traditionally it could be said that the architect did the architectural design, the structural engineer did the structural design etc.. The question that participatory design raises is what does architectural design encompass? Is it limited to the parti sketch done by an architect at the first client meeting? Can it any longer relate to the detail design of a building when so many other design consultants are involved? Is it even possible to say that a building was designed by a specific firm, let alone an individual architect? In his text Barthes states “To give a text an author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing,” (Barthes 147). I think that this idea can be considered through architecture in two ways, first the question of whether it would be in an architect’s interest to remove their name as designers of the building? In my opinion, this removal would be extremely detrimental to an architecture firm who builds a reputation for design on their previous work and who gains further contracts based on that experience. I think a firm would loss credibility if they weren’t attributed as the designers of the building. Second, considering a building over the course of its life, it may actually beneficial for it to be un authored because in a sense attributing the design of a building to a specific firm gives that firm a metaphorical ownership over that building which in some ways detracts from the real owners occupation of that space. Will they feel that the building is really their building?

  4. Death of the Author

    When I began attending the Contemporary Architecture course and listened to the lectures about spatial justice, I asked myself: What is the benefit of these lectures or this course generally to a person who is interested in architectural form and design issues. This question kept recurring especially when we discussed the relationship between people and regimes, architects and users, the architect and his design. I was feeling at that time that something was wrong. Although new information was presented in the lectures, I still could not find an obvious reason why this should be a mandatory course for CMT students. What is the relationship between it and the path that I am travelling? This feeling continued till week 6, when the lecture was about Mapping Controversies. At that time I became very interested in the subject and the texts that discuss it. Furthermore, I felt a little change in my interest in the course. This feeling was enhanced in week 7 when we discussed Architecture without Architects, which was about the meaning of architecture when it is designed to reflect people’s needs and the message shifted from the elite to poor people. On that day, something happened to me and I started to see architecture from different point of view.

    Why am I saying this?

    I think this introduction briefly depicts the concept of this week’s topic (week 8). Although the title of topic points to Architecture’s Public and Participatory Design, there is another title that explains the idea I want to deliver here. The concealed title is “The Death of the Author.” Actually, it is not easy to accept a concept that calls for changing the role of architect and replacing the workplace with a round table, especially if architects has expended all their previous time designing projects reflecting their perception of architecture and interpreting architecture from their perspective as experts who have all the knowledge and technical solutions for design issues and humans needs. As well, they could refuse the principles of participatory design because it would conflict with their ego.

    The death of the author as a literary theory has severed the relationship between the author and his or her writing: “Classic criticism has never paid any attention to the reader…[; therefore,] the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author.” 1 This transformation in the relationship between an author and writing on the one hand and between writing and the reader on the other hand has created a space for the reader. We could say it changes the reader’s role: “The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed.” 2 If we transfer these ideas onto architecture, a major influence on our understanding of the purpose of design, or architecture generally, is exerted. For example, when an architect designs and completes a project without seeing the site or sitting down with the people for whom the building is designated, there is a defect in the architectural process. Therefore, an architect like Hennery Sanoff, when he designed a project without visiting its location,decided to return to architecture school even after having graduated from it.3 The relationship between the design, society, materials, the economy and the culture reflects the role of architecture in life. Hennery Sanoff discusses this ideas in explaining the differences between industrial designers and architects: “Industrial designers were always dealing with materials, with strength of materials, with cost of materials, with a lot of details,that were quantifiable. Now, some of the architects at the time were trying to take those same methods, which came from general systems theory and apply them to architecture. But architectural design unlike industrial design lacked critical information related to use needs.” 4

    Developing the role of design parties reveals a new principle of the design process that depends on cooperative action rather than singular action. In the context of the US civil rights movement and the women’s liberation movement of the 1950s and 1960s, the Design Community Center emerged as an institution providing technical and design advice to communities that could not otherwise afford it. At that time, the political climate led planners, architects and designers to view themselves as advocates for those excluded from the design process, and to see urban planning and architectural design not as a technical or bureaucratic issue but as a political one. 5 Thus, the architect’s role in community changed: “We are concerned with changing the architect’s role. We envision a change from the architect representing the rich patron to the architect representing the poor, representing them as individuals and as an interest group.” 6 In this light, San Diego/ Tijuana project designed by Teddy Cruz offers an example about the real role of architect in community and a different view of design process in which the actors exceed the architect’s ego. The individualistic view of architecture relates to the current situation of San Diego/Tijuana, where two cities are made to repel each other through the creation of boundaries that have transformed San Diego into the world’s largest gated community and segregated the rich people from the poor. However, the other side (Tijuana) is a recycled area of San Diego. Therefore, if we are looking for a way of coexistence between two parts, we should consider that San Diego and Tijuana are actually symbiotic. But this coexistence cannot be achieved if the design decision continues as the individualistic action of an individual architect. This answers the question I posed at the beginning of this text.

    1. Di Carlo, Gianni. “Architecture’s Public.” In Architecture and Participation, edited by Peter Blundell–‐Jones, Donia Petrescu, and Jeremy Till, 3–22. London, New York: Spon Press, 2005. Page 148
    2. Ibid
    3. An Architektur, and Mathias Heyden. “On Consensus, Equality, Experts, and Good Design: An Interview with Roberta Feldman and Henry Sanoff.” In Agency: Working with Uncertain Architectures, edited by Stephen Walker, Donia Petrescu, Tatjana Schneider, Renata Tyszczuk, and Florian Kossak. London, New York: Routledge, 2010. Page 64
    4. lbid
    5. Community Design Centers. Web. 20 Oct. 2013.
    6. Ibid

  5. Barthes’ definition of the Author is really close to what the architectural world is facing today. The architectural object is known for its architect, not for itself. It makes me think about the definition of the ‘archistar’ stood by La Cecla in Contre l’Architecture (Against Architecture): the architectural object does not gain value through its quality and its pertinence, but through the name behind it, affixed almost like a brand. Even in schools of architecture, we are taught the architects’ way of thinking and historical importance before being explained why the buildings they have conceived are so qualitative (when they are).
    The problem stated by Barthes in The Death of the Author, once applied to architecture, is that it puts the architect at the center of the architectural process while the very actor of this process should not be the architect, but the user.
    This has been the biggest issue in the last decades: users are not involved in the architectural process in any other forms than preconceived and fixed stereotypes determined by clients and political powers. The phenomenon starts in schools of architecture. Even today, when we are aware of the place the users should have in the design process, schools are lagging and still teach the old, reassuring doctrine that has been taught for years. If theories of community design are now taught in some schools, the vast majority still uses the ‘authoritarian planning’ methods in studios, as defined by De Carlo and which state the user as one among many other variables. It results in a poor quality architecture which, once delivered, is not questioned anymore, and in which the user has to fit in rather than having an architectural object adapted to his or her specific needs. In this conception, the architecture ends when the architect is not involved anymore.
    De Carlo suggests an alternative method: the ‘process planning’ which consists in defining the users’ needs, presenting design hypotheses, having the users’ feedback, and repeating these operations until a state of equilibrium between refined needs and perfected design is reached. This process does not stop when the architectural object is built. The architect is not a part of it anymore, but the building evolves through the users’ needs, and is adapted little by little until it becomes obsolete.
    Since architectural failure comes from the users’ incapacity to appropriate it (because it isn’t understandable, because it isn’t adapted to the real needs), I think involving them in the conception of architecture is the only way to be assured of the relevance of the project.
    Nonetheless, De Carlo remains very evasive on how to define the users. He warns us about selecting a too global class (selecting the ‘universal human being’, in the case of the Modern Movement, led to its failure: by wanting to build for everybody, no one felt truly concerned), highlights the importance of having concrete presence of the users, but does not give any method on how to define and select these users. I think that the emerging method consisting in mapping controversies could help define them, and thus be the starting point for De Carlo’s approach consisting in redefining the very actor of the architectural world: the user.

    Additional source: La Cecla, Franco. Contre l’architecture. Arléa, 2011.

  6. De Carlo is clear in the direction that architecture must take,
    “In reality, architecture has become too important to be left to architects. A real metamorphosis is necessary to develop new characteristics in the practice of architecture and new behavior patterns in its authors: therefore all barriers between builders and users must be abolished, so that building and using become two different parts of the same planning process, Therefore the intrinsic aggressiveness of architecture and the forced passivity of the user must dissolve in a condition of creative and decisional equivalence where each – with a different specific impact – is the architect, and every architectural event – regardless of who conceives it and carries it out – is considered architecture.” (p. 13)

    De Carlo’s reading of architecture, urges the architect to recognize their position within a power structure. By working out of a place of subversion and the work must be cognizant of its position of its surroundings, at an ideological, political, social and cultural level, because it changes these contexts (p. 14). However, De Carlo does recognize the limitations that come with subversion, stating that there must also be changes within the structures of society, which is a slow process. Architecture is a reflection of society, as much as it is potential for change of society. Architecture’s value, setting it apart from other disciplines, is that it, “produces concrete images of what the physical environment could be like if the structure of society were different.” (p. 14). However, because much of the change allowing for the production of these images and space for change must come from the institutions and the larger society, architecture cannot expect to be the bearer of this transformation. But by bringing back the argument for the definition of architecture’s public, De Carlo calls architects to not be passive and wait for the larger change to bring about internal transformation to the discipline, rather, architecture must begin to, “change the whole range of objects and subjects which participate in the architectural process.” (p.14). This can be read by opening up the definition of what is architecture and who participates in architecture.

    This opening of architecture raises further unstructured problems of vagueness. Wider participation brings about wider values, views and needs, all of which are unpredictable (p. 15). De Carlo saw that society was moving towards abolishing classes and with the growing population and advances in technology and from this architecture needed to identify its ideological role within these changes, in order to stay relevant. Here, one must pause to consider why architecture must have one ideological role? Like many other fields, and here we can start to consider Bathes, Death of the Author, there is value that rises from conflict and debate. Is architecture being passive when there are these constant debates over its positionality within the larger structure and whom it serves and whom it should and should not include as a user or as a member of the public or member of the elite and power structure? From Barthes we can understand the author as the architect in this reading on positionality, whose work will not be read in the same context as it was written. Architecture is the constant negotiation of this positionality is important for the individual architect to situate themselves within the design and social process of design, rather than seeing themselves as outside the process. Often here, we see architects and the dialogue around design as setting architects as outside and at the whims of the higher powers, at the whims of clients and as the key holder for the public to access design. However, architects and architecture is actually within these systems and processes already and requires this type of self reflection in order to identify ideology. To better involve the public, the architect must understand that it is also a member of the public and by situating themselves outside of the social process; they have the capacity to repress, even when allowing the public into the process. By identifying others and not themselves within the process, the architect will not be able to access this public.

    De Carlo makes an important distinction for architects in the article to better serve users, he writes, “ but identifying with the users’ needs does not mean planning ‘for’ them, but planning ‘with’ them…it means enlarging the field of participation through the definition and use of the plan, introducing into the system a whole set of complex variables which could never be composed into balanced situations except with procedural systems based on a continual alternation of observations, propositions, and evaluations: i.e. the use of scientific method”. (p. 15). Unfortunately, De Carlo’s call for the scientific method cannot control for the plurality of users, their needs, expectations, values and beliefs. The scientific method is useful at controlling a set of variables that can be defined to gather results of an averaged whole. The scientific method uses experiments to determine solutions, however the public is not part of an experiment (this has been a top down approach that has led to marginalization and further oppression of those who are the victims of social experimentation). The “public” as such does not respond well to the failures of experiments. Additionally, the scientific method closely aligns itself with utilitarianism, whereby it attempts to find solutions for the greatest number of people possible, which is good insofar as it has the potential to further marginalize outliers, distill and overgeneralize individual needs as an aggregate of the whole.

    However, to his merit De Carlo highlights the common practice of creating a fossil from consensus, where consultation in planning ‘for’ people freezes decisions made in order for the project to be completed because the people are no longer part of the process beyond the designated consultation period (p.15). Planning ‘for’ people is a top down activity. Whereas, when planning ‘with’ people, because of their constant involvement with the process, the consensus process remains active and changing, so must the project. De Carlo sees the potential in planning ‘with’ people to be liberating and promotes further participation. For this reason, De Carlo states that this is the reason for large scale or ‘wise’ plans to fail, because most often participation is limited and therefore the user and the wider public has no real reason to support the plan that they had little ownership over. A pause in reading De Carlo here, we can consider the example from last week’s class where we discussed the potential of failed plans for future users’ appropriation. Although the projects can fail immediately or over time because of poor community involvement and management, the future of that project can be adapted and changed by the future users to better suit their needs. This is a constant evolution that De Carlo does not touch on because he is concerned about the initial process of architecture and the public working together on the original concept. However, it is an element to consider during the process as well, how can current users be supported and encouraged to take ownership, while creating flexibility for adaptation by future users, without threatening the consensus process?

  7. Between Giancarlo De Carlo’s writing on Architecture’s Public and Roland Barthes’ Death of the Author, the relations were evident. ‘Creators’ of ‘things’ – whether they are artistic or scientific – must disappear in order for these things to strive. In other words, like Barthes’ idea that the birth of the reader must come from the death of the author, or De Carlo’s idea that architecture must be designed ‘with’ the users and not ‘for’ them. In my opinion, this idea is utterly simple, but entirely controversial because it calls for a total backflip of today’s hierarchy in the ‘making of things’. Although simple and controversial, these ideas are inset in a line of similar thoughts dating back to the early elitist modernists.

    By playing the devil’s advocate, I’d like to point out what, in my opinion, seems like a possible contradiction in these participatory ideas – as great and as contemporary they are. Starting off with Barthes’ thought that “writing is the destruction of every voice”, and by translating it through the architectural realm, could we come to the precocious conclusion that architecture – the process and the physicality in itself – is the destruction of the architect? What could this possibly mean? In order to clarify this, we can extract another one of Barthes’ concept in which that writing – “a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture” – takes on personal importance or meaning once it has been read and decoded by the reader himself. Therefore, couldn’t we determine again that architecture – in its meaning, conception and building – is this ‘tissue of quotations’ knitted by the architect that the user decodes? Simply put, architecture then becomes meaningful once decoded by the reader, therefore giving birth to him as a user. Thus, the “birth of the reader comes from the death of the author”, or the birth of the user comes from the death of the architect… The process of creation of architecture, though it implies an architect at first, brings the death of him once physically finalized and consequently gives birth to the user who’s ready to inhabit the architect’s architecture. In this view, the users could ultimately replace the architects in their hierarchical importance… But this is purely theoretical.

    But then, what do we do with the idea brought upon us in De Carlo’s writing on the architect and the users and their respective role in the conceptual and design processes of architecture? When he mentions the introversion of schools and the self-proclamation of the profession, I believe he is absolutely right. When he speaks of the shifts needed in the profession that aim to ameliorate the relations between creator and user and end result, he couldn’t be any more spot-on. I also agree with De Carlo when he says that architecture is “too important for architects”, and possibly not important enough for the users. All of this is true. From the errors of the Modern movement, we shall prevail. My problem with all of these ideas is that they seem to aim at practicality and pragmatism of the process, while staying wholly theoretical and vague on the appropriate means of action. To some extent, even this discourse of “architecture must change at all costs” is authoritarian. Of course, theories and ideas are extremely important; they are the start of all things. This being said, what is the next step? What could be an appropriate and correct course of action that we – students, teachers and professionals – could undertake? What concrete ideas, engagements, programs and actions can we commence now in order to start turning the slow wheel of change?

    In the end, both De Carlo’s and Barthes’ propose the possibility of removing the architect from its present position in the conceptual hierarchy of architecture. But in order to achieve these high goals, one must resolve the problem at its source: in architecture schools. It’s where we are now. We are speaking of it. Why not move on it? If architecture is too important for architects, then maybe the answer is no architects at all – especially if we are doing anything about it. Because, let’s not forget, architects grow and learn in a purely architectural environment. So, unless this environment changes, what are other means of action? No architects? Maybe. Another would surely be architecture without architects.

  8. In “Architecture’s Public,” Giancarlo de Carlo talks about architecture that is a social and lived experience, as a design process and a built environment. As a reaction to the dismemberment of architecture that occurred during the Modernist movement when it “took on an elite position on the side of the client”, the text speaks of an architecture that is derived from the idea that all the people who use architecture are its public (De Carlo, Architecture’s Public 8). Through a daring search for newness, the role between the architect and the user is redefined. The user is endowed with a participatory and creative role where “the intrinsic aggressiveness of architecture and the forced passivity of the user must dissolve in a condition of creative and decisional equivalence (De Carlo, Architecture’s Public 9). The reformulation and re-invention of the relationship between the architect and the user is achieved thorough a dialogue between those who design it and those who use it. But, it is not only the interaction that is challenged but also the actual use of space, and it is in the use of space that the notion of time becomes present.

    What is extremely interesting about Carlo’s view of architecture is the way it becomes a complex process, which deals with the transformation of the public through time. The purpose of architecture is described as being a way to “organize and shape space for use, to consign it to individual collective experience, to expose it to the effects of time” (De Carlo, Spazio E Societa 4). Architecture is given the potential to change by its the ability to constantly reinvent images of a reality in transformation through the use and participation of those who inhabit it. Architecture becomes an idea constructed of what these relations could potentially be through the participation of the future users. Therefore, space is meant to provoke directions of change, support them, and nurture them in a symbiosis with the people who inhabit them. And it is through time that the architecture becomes enriched and begins to re-design itself, and be witness to the human events of its inhabitants.

    A similar sentiment is echoed in “The Death of the Author” by Roland Barthes that a “text’s unity is not in its origin but its destination,” demonstrating a sense of transformation of the work. Like Carlo, Barthe’s text rediscovers the prestige of the individual, notably put as the “human person” (Barthes 143). And it is through a complexity of occurrences that Barthes argues that the work can exist:

    “[…] made of multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations of dialogue, parody, contestation, but there is one place where this multiplicity is focused and that is the place of the reader.”

    The detachment of the author, or the architect in the case of Carlo, lends itself in a way that the work no longer relies on the author’s identity but that of the reader or inhabitant, and it is in the deciphering the text, a “tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centers of culture,” that it’s meaning becomes apparent (Barthes 146). Therefore, like Barthes explains, the reader is “the space on which all quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost” (Barthes 148). The work becomes “perfomative”, a transforming multi-dimensional space through the individual, and not the author.

    1 De Carlo,Giancarlo. ‘Architecture’s Public’ in Architecture and Participation, ed. Peter Blundell Jones, Doina Petrescu and Jeremy Till (Abingdon: Spon Press, 2007), 3-22.
    2 Giancarlo De Carlo. “Editorial.” Spazio e Società, 2001
    3 Barthes, Roland, and Stephen Heath. Image, Music, Text. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977. Print. 142-148.

  9. The culture of the architectural community is very paradoxical; we claim to design buildings and space for the benefits of the users, but where are the users in the design process?

    Our architectural education is focused entirely on individual expression. We work individually on our own studio projects, we focus on developing our own individual ideas, and we assert our visions onto the hypothetical site and its hypothetical users. We attempt to interpret the needs of the user, without actually engaging directly with users. And what, then, becomes of our projects? What of their purpose? We use them as symbols of individual expression, a little piece of ourselves manifested into a series of A1 panels and a laser-cut model. We present these projects to a panel of architects. They are judged, critiqued, transformed, and modified by our professors – who are also architects and architectural professionals. We compare these projects to our classmates, a sort of mini-competition of one-upmanship to see who is the greatest designer. But throughout the entire educational process, where are the users? Where are the other professionals we design in collaboration with? Even when we study architectural history, every building is associated directly with – and only with – the architect. It is a manifestation of the architect’s ideals, and every other person who had input into the project is forgotten. These are the ideas that di Carlo presented and attempted to resolve in his paper – the inward-looking condition of architectural education and profession that is completely at odds with reality – which I completely agree with. It is an education completely at odds with the profession; I believe that every one of us, as students, has experienced how far apart both worlds are. But this mentality of the autonomous architect pervades in the way that buildings are perceived. Journalism associates buildings directly with architect, and thus, the public, caught up in the culture of ‘starchitecture’, associates buildings to a single personality. Indeed, even architects judge each other based on this perception of autonomy. Though di Carlo’s proposal for a new design method is intriguing, I don’t believe it goes far enough to resolve the problem. The real change needs to begin at the educational level, so that it is carried through gradually into the profession. Nevertheless, it is a thought-provoking step in the right direction.

    The ideas presented in Barthes’ essay concerning authorship can easily be extended to the architectural profession. We are taught, from the beginning, to engage in an architect-client relationship, in every step of the design process rather than a more realistic collaborative process that includes users, consultants, and other professionals. We are then instructed in defending and selling our ideas – in other words, how to impose our views upon others, how to convince others that our idea is the better idea. This point of view is carried into the profession, where the first interaction that the public has with a new building is when the renderings are presented to them. Renderings in themselves represent a further mode of isolation between architects and users. All architects know that every rendering is a lie – an embellishment, an exaggeration, a fabricated image. Not every room will be as bright, or as shiny, or have a lens flare in every photograph, when it is actually built. Not only do we impose our ideas on the public, but we blatantly lie to them, in order to sell our ‘product’, and convince them that this is the right solution to their needs.

    So where, then, does the professional architect stand? One could argue that the general user does not know enough about architecture to properly design their own environment. Even if this were true, the disparity implied in this view has been created by the idea of an autonomous architect. If the general public today seems to be completely disengaged with architectural design, it is simply because the architectural profession has completely disengaged itself from the general public.

  10. Di Carlo, in “Architecture’s Public”, makes a critique of the position of architecture -and the architect-, struggling in between trying to detach itself from the conservative tradition and accepting a new language, right after the large scale liberal and equalitarian protests of 1960s.

    The author argues that there is an inconsistency between the “field of architecture” and “facts of reality” which is due to the dominancy of political power over architect. Since the bourgeois professionalism pulled architecture into the “realm of specialization”, the question of “how” gained importance while the question of “why” and solutions to it were taken as granted.

    Di Carlo intensely criticizes the Modern Movement which was a significant opportunity to achieve cultural renewal in architecture. He states that while focusing on the interests of a specific economic and social class -and their relationship- such as clients, entrepreneurs, and land owners etc., Modern Movement ignored the economic, social, cultural and aesthetic values and needs that were not shared by the ruling class which ended up with “superfluity in architecture”. Clarifying his point by giving the examples of CIAM Congresses of Frankfurt -Minimum Housing- and Hoddesdon -Heart of the City- both of which failed to take a position on the side of the user rather than the client, Di Carlo strengthens his argument and reveals the reasons for the “crisis of credibility” that affects architecture.

    What he suggests is that the gap between the architects and the users should be bridged by participating in architectural projects collectively in order to generate new characteristics in architectural practice. In other words, the actual needs of the users should be identified by their participation in the design process, which prompts architects to embrace planning “with” them instead of planning “for” them. Eventually, the proposed three-phase strategy -discovery of needs, formulation of hypothesis and actual use- contributes to the quality of the architectural object by considering the way it is used. Di Carlo clearly brings forth the argument that architecture depends on the transformations of the society. Architectural work cannot represent itself or develop meaningful relationships with nature and history, as its purpose of existence is tightly connected to the interconnections created with the users.

    At this point, it would be meaningful to point out the relation between Di Carlo and Barthes; because what Barthes suggests in “The Death of the Author” criticizing the author-centered approach in literature -which concentrates on the author’s life, passions, tastes etc.- is a re-evaluation of the author-reader relationship which is evidently parallel with Di Carlo’s architect-user relationship. Both texts suggest that in both of the professions – as subjects- a collective and multidirectional way of thinking is necessary in order to establish a purposeful dialogue with the intended objects.

    What I personally find quite interesting is that if we change the words author with architect, text/ language with architecture and reader with user in Barthes’ piece, things remain as meaningful as they were in the original text such as “text’s/architecture’s unity lies not in its origin but its destination”.
    So can it be asserted that “the birth of the user must be at the cost of the death of the Architect?”

  11. Manu Sharma

    The point that De Carlo wants to make is that “architecture is too important to be left to architects”. In the “ Architecture’s Public Giancarlo de Carlo raises a question of credibility that challenges the ability of architecture to be involved publicly. He subjects to what an architectures public is? Is it the clients who commission the buildings? Or the people who use architecture?

    He believes, under the appearance of neutrality, contemporary architects have chosen the wrong public as they sided with the client, rather than the user. With the advancing era of architecture, through its detachment with the reality of the society, it would lead us to believe that it was perhaps the clients or indeed the architects themselves that were presumed to hold the role of an architectures public. The logical answer to De Carlo’s Question would be the people as a whole refers to architecture, due to the all-inclusive nature of ‘public’. It is this dissociation from society and misleading definition of architecture’s use that De Carlo opposes. He claimed that architecture was only sensible when engaged with society ‘An architectural work has no sense if dissociated from use.. It’s purpose lies in its “fullness”.’

    De Carlo suggests throughout process planning, the user should be treated as a leading character. A subversion of the architect as an authoritarian ruler takes place; the architects role transformed from sole author, to collaborator. What we need is a system for planning “with” the users, taking their actual needs into account, not “for” them, while in reality acting as a puppet of those that want to exploit them. This system he calls “process planning”, as opposed to the conventional “authoritarian planning”. In this framework, architecture is being seen as a tentative hypothesis in an open-ended process, constantly being reformed by the changing needs of the users, and the actual use of the building(s). It is through this relationship that architectural procedures can be transformed from the presumptions of an architectural object to that of an analytical process of participation. De Carlo realized the new potentials of working through a framework of participation. He believed that architectural growth and flexibility would be made possible through the users interaction with the planning process from its conception.
    Today throughout our different means of media we face overcome of user removal from our built environment, commonly failing to admit the everyday use of buildings. De Carlos questioning of architecture without a public as end user is raised once more as we see the removal of the everyday user from the built environment. As a result, architecture is further removed from its real context. It could be argued that this hesitance to acknowledge the user could result from a certain threat posed by the user. It is this threat that participation takes up by the horns, seeing it as potential for real change.

  12. In the reading “Architecture’s Public”, Giancarlo De Carlo argues that architecture has lost its credibility. By becoming merely a reflection of the needs of the governing and elite powers within society, he believes that architecture has become completely detached from reality. To resolve these issues of representation, De Carlo suggests a shift in priority away from the elite and towards the direct inclusion and involvement of the “public” or users. This proposed shift intends to render the user as an essential participant within much of the architectural design and decision-making process. Through this method, the design emphasis will be placed on the needs of the user rather than that of the authoritative powers. By redirecting these priorities, De Carlo believes that the profession will be able to regain its credibility through the increase in user participation and social and cultural connection and responsibility. Although user participatory design is essential to the effective implementation of architecture in todays complex and interconnected urban fabric, it can be argued that they will also ultimately cause a significant shift in the role of the architect within the larger scheme of architectural design.

    With the advance and implementation of user-friendly design tools such as open source architecture, 3d printing technology, and digital design software, design is becoming increasingly “democratic”, where anyone can “take on” the roll of designer. As these tools and processes become more available and efficient, the role of the user as an active participant in architectural design becomes increasingly significant. Will the user in fact become so involved and important in the design process that the role of the architect becomes irrelevant? Will it lead to a condition of building architecture without architects? De Carlo suggested this possibility in “Architecture’s Public”, when he boldly stated that “Architecture is too important to be left to architects”. Of course, this statement cannot be taken literally, however, the question remains as to how architects will adapt in a progressively complex built environment where the “public” takes on an increasing important role. Will the architect as a professional continue to exist within the practice? Or will the architect take on the role of consultant, addressing and guiding the needs of the multitude of players within the web of our society?

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