Absolut – architectenweb.nl

One of the most essential features of the design profession is making choices. Each meter you draw could have been arranged differently. Each building represents the preferences, decisions, and architectural theories of the time. Together, a collection of buildings forms the culture of the city as a whole. But how does it really work? How does each architectural object relate to the rest of the city? What role does autonomous architecture play in modern, complex urban planning tasks? The Blessed Book revolves around those questions The possibility of an absolute architecture from 2011 by Italian architect and theorist Pier Vittorio Aureli.

The possibility of an absolute architecture is an inspiring and enigmatic book. It buzzes with ideas, with commitment and with a love of architecture. But it is also confusing. Aureli does not care about ordinary urban planning discourses. He is not interested in the shape of the city nor in the continuum of more or less public spaces. The worldwide growth of cities and the problems this entails, Aureli classifies simply as ‘urbanization management’. What he is interested in is the idea of ​​’polis’, where the city’s culture is defined. Aurelis absolute architecture focuses on the opposite of modern urban design: not on the continuity of the city, but on the end of the space, not on the urban context, but on the value of the separate building, regardless of its context.

As vague as it may sound in words, it becomes apparent in pictures. The book’s strength lies primarily in gathering examples. After all, Aureli’s positioning has a long history in architectural theory. Through the democratic monuments of Boullée, the City-in-the-City super-blocks of Hungary, the city hotels of OMA and the Field of Mars of Piranesi, it becomes clear which spatial image belongs to these words. These are rock-solid architectural statements that make an independent contribution to thinking about the future of the modern city; theoretical exercises intended to deepen a spatial principle in a razor-sharp and diametrical manner. It is no coincidence that they are purely unrealized works, for what matters is the elaborate thought, not the proven result.

For today’s city planners, this view of the city is a bit of a shock. For those who think in terms of overview, inclusiveness, growth and accessibility for all, Aureli’s fascination with the bounded object, the border and the ending is a thorn in the side. But this fascination is also a useful confrontation. For Aureli does not exactly draw attention to an issue that threatens to become more and more invisible: What significance does the autonomous architectural object within the force field represent for increasingly complex urban design? Is not the architecture of the contemporary city primarily a result of planning ambitions, urban planning requirements and economic interests, rather than the result of a spatial, independent position? Aureli has a point when he calls most of urban planning ‘management’.

The possibility of an absolute architecture recalls that meaningful architecture is about making choices. After all, every city has places that demand radical spatial statements, places that must express the spirit of the times and the place-specific cultural values. There are times when absolute sharpness is needed, such as when you want to rebuild the largest museum in the city or build the tallest tower in the country. These moments require a design that brings together the city’s future and past, a design that has an independent force that transcends all everyday interests. For those places, precisely the future is projected, which will later be regarded as a cultural past.

Or in Aureli’s words: In a sea of ​​urbanization, you need islands of absolute architecture. Is it vague? Maybe. Is it necessary? Absolutely.

Violette Schönberger works as an urban planner for Rotterdam municipality and teaches at KULeuven and Rotterdam Academy of Architecture. She writes about architecture and urban planning at www.fromscratch.work. In 2019, she won the Geert Bekaert Prize for Architectural Criticism.

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