And, no doubt, between the critical rigor of the later Kahn, of Lundy, Stirling, Tange, Kallmann and the subtle balancing tricks of Rudolph and Pei there is a difference of objectives. For the former the critical probing is communicated directly, as a process to go through in the architectural experience itself; for the latter the probing in interrupted and diverted towards the most subtle evasions hiding the original intentions.
Architecture as game, then; a game played, however, to dissolve a too intense problematic charge. The alternative between jeu and sérieux recognized recently by Garroni in the tendencies of the 33rd Venice Biennale, can equally apply to architectural culture.
At this point, we think no one will be surprised if we say that architectural criticism puts in crisis the critics of architecture. On the contrary, since the traditional task of criticism is already realized within the architectural structures, one could say that an independently critical architecture has the objective of destroying any critical intervention from outside. In structuring itself by reflection, speaking of itself, analyzing its own language, architecture takes the form of a continuous and taut discourse,
Mitchell/Giurgola Architects, Acadia National Park Headquarters Building (1965).
tries to demonstrate and, at the same time, to persuade one of its active role as configurator of space-environment at every dimensional level; and also tries to show, without false modesty, the genesis and the tricks of its organization as a metalanguage.
The second purpose of this activity is not as immediate as it might appear. Behind the anxious digging into its own raison d'être is the constant fear of an authentic critical process. Until the probing is conducted according to formal and organizing principles inside the adopted languages, there is no danger of a radical eversion. Nor can one say that the linguistic contests of the most advanced experiences show a real and decisive revolutionary charge. (As is shown by Kahn's last works and by those young American architects in opposition.)
But we would not be fair to the present architectural tendencies if we did not consider the possible contributions of this way of working. To provide a design object, an architecture or an urban organization containing a strong charge of criticism, means--on condition that the process is carried through--giving to the space thus formed a high degree of communication; it means, above all, showing the way to a critical existence, to a conscious fruition and to a correct use of the image.
Works like those of Kahn, of Samonà's last work, of Copcutt, of Stirling--as we have seen--are not satisfied with structuring forms and functions. They aim, first of all, at making their approach to form readable, they want, in short, to historicise themselves and to lead to a deeply reflected historicised fruition. It is by far the most important contribution made by this type of architectural research. But it is also where their dichotomy shows. On one side they direct their efforts towards a more and more conscious fruition of the city and the architectural object, by pulling the observer away from any automatic response: we have shown this by considering how, in many ways, they are trying to go beyond the condition of absent-minded perception without losing its acquisitions and within the complex stratification of the communication levels. On the other side, what somehow gets transmitted to the architectural culture is something more than a tranquilizing tradition, but something less than the result of a constant and systematic examination of one's assumptions.
There are, in fact, two types of critical values in these analytical perspectives. On one side the object of criticism is the architectural situation. The style of the studies confirms it: the very kind of appraisal of the renewing qualities of the formally and functionally complex and multi-valent (or, on the contrary, simple and mono-valent) systems, spread in regional areas and without a proper physical structure (or precisely located and perfectly structured in an architectural dimension), open to time and space (or closed in their definition of monumental objects) gives a typically operative angle to the reading of the architectural phenomena.
The approach, for example, of Louis Kahn to the typological theme of the center of Dacca starts from a system of figurative and functional values resolved through a closed, definitive and institutional configuration on all levels (from the symbolic to the formal): and we know very well that for Kahn every project is a pretext for a typological criticism. In the series of projects for Dacca, Kahn separates the parts to be considered fixed from those that his system of values allows freedom of formal aggregation in space and time. ) Cf. Louis I. Kahn, 'Remarks' in Perspecta, the Yale Architectural Journal, 1966, nos. 9-10, p. 303ff.: lecture at the Yale school of Art and Architecture, Oct. 1964; and the publication on the Dacca Capitol, Yale School, 1967.) Canella's system of values, used by him in his diagnoses on directional structures, on educational and theatrical systems, is based on the possible absorption by the urban continuity of a complex, differentiated and articulated system of functional 'loci' not necessarily architecturally defined. (Cf. Canella, op. cit.) This example can demonstrate the weight of initial choices in even the most objective analysis, and also their verifiability as regards formal choices with an independent raison d'être.
By not taking for granted an a priori existence of well-defined forms to which the idea of organism related--in extreme situations, as in some studies on city services, one can deny the necessity of a precise configuration for structures such as educational and tertiary systems in favor of their diffusion in the city--typological criticism continuously takes its problem back to the origin of the architectural phenomenon. These studies are compelled to continuously redefine architecture and then, each successive time, to reject it, to salvage it, to upset its meaning; not on the basis of abstract generalizations, but by founding the research for a new quality on the solid ground of the partial questions asked by architecture of architecture. It is in this sense that these studies are far more linked to Illuminist criticism than to orthodox functionalism. Not taking for granted even the physicality of the organisms or the possibility of defining some functions (we are thinking, for example, of the debate on the containers), typological criticism puts again in question all the opposite quarters, both Louis Kahn and Aldo Rossi have insisted on this theme--and the models formulated in the laboratory begin to create new instruments to check their hypotheses. Here we find the entire inheritance of the Modern Movement undergoing a operative critical valuation. The point of view of typological criticism is not exactly historical: but it manages to become historical by using instrumentally the results of historical criticism as a support for its current analysis.
When Kahn, Copcutt, Samonà, and Aymonimo, in their experimental projects for directional systems (we are here referring to the project for Market East in Philadelphia, for the Glasgow regional system, for the Turin Directional center), set up a dialectic between symbolic value and the organism in its complex but finite articulations, and open and flexible functional systems, they put in crisis the entire tradition of the città di tendenza typical of the Modern Movement. It is for this reason that those projects lean on complex analyses, bring nothing more than possible exemplifications of their results.
Typological criticism, in this sense, is beginning to create independently a new critical history of the Modern Movement: the interaction between literary instruments and graphical instruments ensures an easy operative diffusion, charged with new responsibilities in respect to the traditional typological studies. And we must add that its deformations, typical of every operative criticism, are perfectly justifiable: it historiographical instrumentalism, with its perspective on experimental planning choices, is taken for granted.
We find, therefore, that the codification of the system to be deciphered may change and involve the entire history of Architecture because of the appearance of a single work that throws light on a previously unclear process--which has, in fact, partly happened with the appearance of Louis Kahn's work on the international stage between 1958 and 1961--or with the discovery and critical evaluation of unknown or inadequately studied works such as Michelangelo's Florentine fortifications and Elizabethan architecture. From this it follows that one of the first and most important operations of historical criticism is the exact identification of the reference codes.
The comparison between the codes of the past and those of the present happens, therefore, in several ways:
A. As comparison between the general structures of the conception of space in history: in this sense 'perspective as symbolic form' can, as regards late Gothic and Classicism, be compared with contemporary codes that assume, in their turn symbolic form, the manifold, the fragment, the lexicons and the co-presence of opposites.
B. As comparison, carried out by the artist, between his own particular lexicon and the lesson derived from past works (a typical operation of architects like Kahn and Johnson).
C. As actualization of history realized by the critic (and here we are within the more general chapter of operative criticism that we have already dealt with).
D. As an automatic and not always controllable deformation of every product of the past, carried out in the very act of perception and interpretation.