Sunday, February 24, 2008

FLASH: Grammarian Police State Rules Architecture

I was watching a lecture at Temple University this past Thursday. My wife and I were hoping to learn a little more about the principal of a design firm whose work we found interesting. We lasted 20 minutes. Her lecture was all in terms of semiotics: subject-object and the concepts that bind, illuminate and confront these grammatical components. And it went on and on and on. I was so furious (that shows my weakness. But it was architecture theory as practiced in the late 80’s all over again. Or… and here is my fear… it is STILL the late 80’s).

I watched the students in the audience. They were listless and uninspired. To those inside the current discourse on architecture, in other words my peers guided by critical theory and semiotics, it must seem like they are part of an inspiring rebellion. But from the outside, it looks as it did this night, like they are part of the boring old Academy.

And they are losing their audience: young designers.

This kind of discourse is just not relevant enough. I won’t reject the critical theory/semiotics mix out right – everyone has a right to a steak cooked to their taste – but it isn’t relevant enough. There is no soul in it. There is no love. There is no beauty. There is no spirit.

The primary paradigm that this kind of theory operates within is oppressive. We can’t go stamping people (the bourgeoisie) on the head with our (academia) awareness, and we can’t reject people’s uninspected impressions because of what we believe about ideology and culture (and the subconscious).

This is the new police state at work: The Grammarian Police State of the Arts. Art and design theory grounded in sign and message has become “The Academy”. It replaces the “Academy” that was overthrown at the turn of the last century . Semiotics and Critical Theory are the hegemonic bonds that now constrict the architecture profession.

Watching this Principal with degrees and merits given by the Harvard Design School and Cornell speaking about the work of her office in these terms was watching the Grammarian Police State in full wing.

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