A major conference on Manfredo Tafuri took place in New York City
in April 2006. The fulcrum of the event was, according to the organizers:
the introduction of the English translation of Tafuri's Interpreting
the Renaissance: Princes, Cities, Architects (Yale University Press
in association with the Harvard GSD, 2006), translated by Daniel
Sherer. Their stated intention is to use the event "as an occasion
for a new assessment of his critical legacies."
Lang, Ph.D., è Professore di Architettura
presso la Texas A&M University. Santa Chiara Center.
first glance the roster of heavyweight participants and the slate
of rigorous subjects presented were very impressive indeed. The list
of participants reads like a who's who of architectural theory, but
this prestigious roll call for Tafuri curiously circumvents several
critical issues that Tafuri should also be held accountable for,
not the least his leading role in squelching the many effervescent
experimental movements that were emerging through the sixties. Tafuri's
ridged Marxist dogma some don't hesitate to say Stalinist, should
also be examined for what it could not accept, namely a level of
architectural heterogeneity that remained largely marginalized throughout
his work. And moreover what does the Tafurian critical discourse
bring to the table today with issues of globalization, post-colonialization,
urban peripherialization and the clash of civilizations are foremost
on our cultural palette?
Few would dispute Tafuri's genius, or his critical contribution to a field that until his arrival was struggling to break free from the Hegelian hold on modern architectural history. But things have changed in the meantime, and a conference of such weight and import that remains faithful to Tafuri's opus without considering contemporary and alternative viewpoints from surviving opponents as well as the next generation of critics, risks appearing regressive or simply irrelevant. To be fair to both Tafuri's legacy and to those individuals who were not considered for the present conference, I would like to make a call to establish an open forum for discussion, to give opportunity to dispute, cajole, tamper, or pay respect to Tafuri's theses, or doctrines however one wants to look at them. It's a space for open debate, we will seek to feature critical voices representing all contemporary generations and from all parts of the world.
NB: The following nine essays were submitted for this forum, several of them quite rapidly after the initial request went out in early April 2006. Instantaneity, when it comes to translations and corrections is however a relative concept.
DAVID GRAHAME SHANE
| ANDREA BRANZI
Branzi, architect and designer, born in Florence
in 1938, where he graduated in 1967, lives and works in Milano.
April 2006 a meeting on the opus of Manfredo Tafuri was held at the
IUAV in Venice (organized by Bernardo Secchi, Marco Biraghi and Marco
de Michelis, coordinated by Paola Viganò) in preparation for
an international congress that was to take place only a few days
later at Columbia University in New York. In a university environment
that contributes avariciously little to the masters of theory this
initiative could not be but not surprising.
The great historian had in fact marked an intense phase in international culture on architecture and he conditioned an entire generation; not just in the world of the project. Tafuri's seminars with the philosopher Massimo Cacciari demonstrated that architecture was not (and had never been) on the "art of building;" but corresponded to a complex philosophy, to a specific form of knowledge in human thought and its forms of construction throughout history. From this theoretical legacy architectural production, in only a small part (and not the most important) is destined to become edification, while its more vast activities illuminate the more profound levels of a society's history.
The works of Manfredo Tafuri straddles two contrasting historical epochs: the one in full political ferment during the sixties, when the schools of Architecture were the theater for a sort of disciplinary psycho-drama, from which the early vanguard radicals drew their first conceptual energies. And immediately afterwards, these very same schools of architecture during the seventies became the theater for a vast reactionary plan, engaged in the restoration of an academic order of Discipline and of the Authority of History, interpreted through the Italian post-modern (à la Paolo Portoghesi).
This singular double-front condition, first revolutionary and immediately after reactionary, took place under the auspices of Manfredo Tafuri, who had taken up in his first works the central themes of the Soviet Avant-garde, constituted on the idea of the "approaching death of architecture" as an expression of a bourgeois culture advancing towards its inevitable decline. But in the succeeding works Tafuri demonstrated that only the history of architecture goes to the foundation, and therefore any evolutionary process introduced by modernity should be refuted.
In this manner "the death of architecture" was achieved through a sort of conscious "suicide:" modernity as the possible salvation of the bourgeoisie had been refuted in the name of a political strangulation of the same modern culture. Between the two poles of this obscure and fascinating theorem, there lies in between the Italy in terrorist degeneration; the formation of the Craxi government and its call to (corrupt) bourgeois order; the passage of the Revolutionary political model from Mao to the genetical Pol Pot...
I hope that a reflection on Tafuri is not limited solely to his contribution to the history of architecture, but that it knows how to extend its gaze also to the imbecilities of that era; to the obscure and dangerous landscapes that the works of Tafuri, maybe more than anyone else, represents in its congenial internal mechanics. This could be the occasion to reflect on a profound aspect of our recent history, in an era where architecture did not only offer its usual contribution of edifices, but had constituted a laboratory of ideas that guided the political towards a profound involution.
There was a moment in Italy (and in the university) when a sort of "triad" of "bad masters," was constituted, that in diverse forms and responsibilities marked this delicate epochal passage from the Revolution (impractical) to the Restoration (impractical). These masters were: Manfredo Tafuri, Toni Negri and Aldo Rossi. Three authentic geniuses that restored to Italy the concept of Authority, making way for our country to pass through the Party, towards a free market of ideas. But their precocious deaths (Tafuri in 1994, Aldo Rossi in 1997 and the Toni Negri's imprisonment) left a great cultural void, as demonstrated in the almost total impracticality of their teachings; teachings marked by an intransigent auto-referentiality.
The absence of any attention whatsoever to the complexity of contemporary times and to the necessity of elaborating more ductile and dynamic strategies and practices, ties them inexorably between those phenomenon that have marked the end of the XX century: and not to the weak fluxes of the new century. Their ideas, both in the good and in the bad, still belong to that late logic of Modernity that dangerously considered research on the possibility of "definitive solutions for forceful and permanent projects." All told they were the sons of the epoch of Revolutions and not the prophets of the symbols and philosophies of a society perennially auto-reformist like our own.
Manfredo Tafuri's cultural lag relative to the emergent contemporary time around him can be noted reading his essay published in 1972 in the exhibition catalogue "Italy: the New Domestic Landscape" for MOMA in New York. Emerging from outside the historical maximums is not only his incapacity to comprehend, not only design, but through this the contemporary world.
Manfredo Tafuri understood the Italian "revolt of the objects," but criticized the surrealist component and he confronted the hedonistic results with those hypothetically that would have derived from a programmed economy under the guide of an Entrepreneur-State. Tafuri desired the intervention of IRI (Istituto Nazionale per la ricostruzione industriale) in the urban construction sector an intervention that "cannot not have irreversible consequences also in the design sector." His old fashioned Marxist and technocratic analysis signals a political and cultural lag (with the complete dismissal of the new centrality of the market relative to production); but what is even worse than this is a testament to an academic-university syndrome that moves to refute with intolerance the invasion of design in the name of the centrality of Architecture.
There emerge already then the congenital defects of Italian contemporary architecture, that finds itself operative in a "city of objects," but like the Sages of Salamanca with respect to the discovery of America, hold that all this "is an evil" and therefore has to be dismissed through a moral condemnation. Personally I hope instead that from this reflection on the works of the great historian a different outcome will emerge, that will consist finally in the interruption of that traumatic silence that the disappearance of Tafuri (and of Aldo Rossi) has left in the debates on architecture in the course of the last ten years, especially in Italy. A suspension in judgment, a frightening prudence to confront the sacred confines traced by the Masters, characterized by a generation of Aldo-Rossiani and of philosophers of the "progetto". The orphans of authoritative fathers are incapable of confronting their ideas with those that today they neither know nor have any idea of what to do with, and maybe they don't know ever existed.
Grahame Shane is Adjunct Professor of Architecture at Columbia
University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.
OF TAFURI. Despite the Cold War, there was a flourishing European
Marxist critique of the capitalist city in the late 60's and early
70's ranging from Henri Lefebvre to British Marxists around the London
School of Economics, from which Marxian geographer David Harvey would
later emerge. The British Marxist critique with which I was familiar
in the 60's was at a large scale in terms of capitalist economic
development and colonialism, yet empirical, in terms of attacking
precise forms of speculative development. Following Ruskin and Morris,
the Leftist critics took a high moral tone towards speculators of
every kind, indeed when I was at school no one dreamt of working
for a developer, only "Colonel Seifert" (the leading British
commercial architect) did that, we all dreamt of working for public
agencies and producing mass housing. Mrs Thatcher and Tafuri changed
The idea of the autonomy of architecture cut both ways, freeing architects to work in the commercial, normative, "mediocre" sphere and at the same time producing a bubble of high end "boudoir" architects whose work might be innovative and formally expressive, the origin of our current star system. Politics was a separate sphere, an argument Tafuri brought forward from the Frankfurt School, and Architecture as a formal language, an idea he brought from Russian linguistics.
Personally as a young person, 10 years in the wake of Tafuri, I never could completely accept his rhetoric and rationalization of the complete detachment of architecture from society, despite studying with Colin Rowe at Cornell who sometimes made the same arguments for autonomy. I accepted Tafuri's analysis of capitalist standardization, rationalism and mass production and its effects which was derived from Walter Benjamin and Siegfried Giedion. But I saw this as a result of the faulty towers of Modernist urban analysis. Tafuri was important for me because he highlighted aspects of modernism neglected by Giedion, the socialist tradition in Germany, the Russian Revolution, Dutch innovations etc... and drew them into a larger historical narrative. An argument about modernism and its universal products, standardization whether in Stalinist Russia, Hitler's Germany, Mussolini's Italy or US Tennessee Valley. Here his roots in Antonio Gramsci and Italian Communist analysis gave him an edge in his critique, wanting a better product for everyone, while most modernists still beat the drum for reductive, Fordist mass production.
Being a fan of Archigram as a student, the message of moving beyond standardized mass production to a more customized product did not seem so strange, even though Tafuri castigated Archigram and others as utopian dreamers, inadequate successors to the French Fouriersts, St Simonians etc (he was clearly wrong here). But when it came to urban questions, Tafuri, taken in combination with Rossi, was important. Here he could contribute a useful critique of Archigram and the constant "Merzbau" of Dadaist flow, change and dreck that piles up in our civilization as a result of capitalism's enormous and uncritical productive capacity. Where Archigram and Superstudio understood the network implications of this, globalization and communications, Tafuri focused in on the instruments of capital, skyscrapers and enormous mass society facilities of symbolic representation, the US Capitol etc etc. Rossi and Tafuri, as Italians, could talk to us about the culture of the city. Here I am not thinking so much of Architecture and Utopia as his book on the Italian Renaissance in Italy. But Architecture and Utopia was important. It placed urban production within the framework of mass production and demonstrated the role of utopia in preparing the way for future technical innovations, setting the goals for the future (although this privilege was extended to his contemporaries, whether Archigram, Superstudio or Archizoom, all of whom understood the role of media and communication better than the sage of Venice).
Where Tafuri provided the historical dimension and understanding of historical production process, Rossi with his understanding of the rules governing European urban structures and production provided the guides for autonomous design, at once in touch with the cultural context and detached (in a modernist and yet retro-Stalinist style as a monument in a vernacular, populist fabric). Tafuri's writings on the American City with Dal Co, were very important. His essay in "Oppositions" on New York and the Skyscraper preceded Rem Koolhaas. His analysis of the power of the Jefferson's surveyor grid as an instrument to establish a network was not new, but a welcome reminder. His understanding of the symbolic, diachronic importance of Washington as a capital city in contrast to/ dialectic with dynamic, syntagmatic New York, linked to the enormous productive dynamic of American capitalism gave us all a shot in the arm.
The Tafuri of Architecture and Utopia was important to me as a stepping stone that enabled me to move out from my local environment in London and the US East Coast colleges, to another platform that would open up eventually to globalization, post -colonial studies and gender studies via David Harvey's work and Ed Soja's studies, radical urban geographers of the 1980's. Tafuri did not provide for such plug-ins to universal rationality in Architecture and Utopia, but his work on Sansovino and Venice, and his work on the urban history of the Italian Renaissance did provide such a framework.
For me Tafuri's use of the theater was very important, showing how in the Renaissance the stage was the cradle of utopias, utopian urban spaces that the Italian urban bourgeoisie dreamt of building. His work on Urbino as the "Perspective Laboratory" of the Renaissance where Raphael was trained for instance, and then on Raphael training Peruzzi from Siena in Rome, training Serlio who worked with Sansovino on Piazza San Marco in Venice provided an eye-opening account of the power of perspective to shape the world, as a symbolic urban form, that could be continued by inference into his studies of the Jeffersonian grid in America. This virtual schema could be transported as verbal and visual, virtual, instructions in a book and yet lay out a continent. This was local history with a vengeance that linked to a global perspective. Indeed Tafuri was one of the first to open his eyes to central Europe and the many new towns built there by settlers in the Renaissance using Italian models. Yet Tafuri did not make this connection to global models and died before this virtual aspect of his logic could unfold. His involvement at the end of his life with Foucault, Georges Teyssot and the concept of the heterotopia is something that has become very important to me, but was never developed in his work.
Alienation in his day, meant the alienated male, European subject, Existential style, not identification with the "other" or those excluded as individuals (his agents of "History", the masses of workers, was clearly a different "other" than the one we pursue today). Theoretically Tafuri remained trapped for me in a narrow, Germanic (Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger), rationalist tradition, even though his close studies of historical elites showed a very aspect of his preoccupations. Theoretically he was incapable of seeing the world except in terms of hierarchical orders and power structures, that could not open out towards participation, complexity theories, complex-feed-back mechanisms, new media and conceptual modeling, the suspected mass consumption, the mass as individuals, where an empowered, local and global public had a virtual dimension creating the new forms of the network city.
|Born in Macerata in 1974, Manuel Orazi obtained a PhD in History of Architecture and of Cities at the School for Advanced Studies in Venice. He has published essays and reviews in magazines such as Domus and Log. He currently works for the publisher Quodlibet.|| THE
PROJECT, UTOPIA AND FAILURE. All of Manfredo Tafuri's theoretical
production, in hindsight, appears to me like a continuous eulogy
of the project. In each of the historic spaces investigated by Tafuri,
the project remains the pivot of his analysis, even and above all
in his books dedicated to the Renaissance, though ways that are less
evident. Not by chance that the most vehement reactions he reserved
at the two extremes of the project: from one side the merry utopias,
somewhat dusted off today, from the era of the megastructure, and
on the other side the absence of the project, that is to say professional
necessary however to recognize the discontinuity that has characterized
the Tafurian intellectual itinerary. Disgusted and annoyed by the
Italian architectural culture's historiographical carelessness that
surrounded him, Tafuri always sought out diverse and new interlocutors,
broadening in one sweep his own public with Per una critica dell'ideologia
architettonica (1) and then narrowing it down after 1980 to his most
exigent and expert readers. In any case his critique shed light on
the radical mutation of the architect's role. Neither apocalyptic
nor integrated, Tafuri experimented with heterogeneous historical
instruments changing them as required: from Walter Benjamin's historical
materialism to the formalist critique of Viktor Sklovskij, from the
history of mentalities of the Annales school etc., to a criticism
full of pathos that was often excessively allusive.
He had however, the courage to recognize a few of his errors -following the lesson of Ludovico Quaroni, master of the auto-critique - for example it's clearly evident that for his last study on the Renaissance he had already put aside his Marxist categories. Furthermore, already from the first part of the Seventies while working collectively with other historians gravitating around the IUAV, he had become a protagonist in one of the most formidable works of historical revisionism dealing both with architecture in the Fascist period as well as socialist; in particular soviet architecture and urbanism were un-pitilessly denuded by Tafuri of any mystification tied to the "ideology of the plan."
Writing prophetically in Progetto e destino (1964) Giulio Carlo Argan, one of Tafuri's highest points of reference, stated: "Its easy to foresee that the phenomenology of tomorrow's world will be entirely founded on the image. If the world won't be able to value images then it won't be able to value itself and it's going to exist without the conscience of existing." Today this condition has been completely realized: in mass, architects produce images unshackled of any theory or socio-economic necessity; having renounced to modify realty they limit themselves to pleasing decoration. But that's not enough: the project has been undermined and discredited through the increasingly substituting plan and diagram models. In other words, the project seems to have become no more topical, victim of the phobia of what had come past and the anxiety that are some of the ridiculous aspects of culture as up-to-datedness.
This long essay published in the Marxist magazine "Contropiano",
n. 1, 1969, pp. 31-79, was later enlarged and published as a book
by Tafuri, Progetto e utopia. Architettura e sviluppo capitalistico (Rome-Bari: Laterza, 1973); Architecture
and Utopia. Design and Capitalism Development (Cambridge-Mass.: The MIT Press, 1979).
|Manfredo Tafuri has described the crisis of modern utopia that consists in maintaining the possible adequacy of the reality to the project, of disorder turned to order. We can even claim that he looked at all modern architecture like an expression of crisis and consequently the contemporary city as an irresolvable problem in the making. And yet Tafuri always maintains the centrality of the project. As Alberto Asor Rosa noted, "for the creator of forms, for the builder of cities [...] the maximum possibility of a project corresponds inevitably to the maximum possibility of a strategic failure," (2) but the opposite is also true. It is precisely in the moment when we feel most impotent in face of reality that it is necessary a reaction through the project. In the end this is the ultimate sense of Tafuri's Humanism.||
Alberto Asor Rosa, Manfredo Tafuri, Progetto e utopia. Architettura
e sviluppo capitalistico, in "Bollettino di italianistica",
n.s., anno II, n. 1, 2005, p. 187.
|Born in Ankara, Turkey, architect Esra Akcan now lives in New York, where she works as a postdoctoral lecturer at Columbia University.|| The
two basic symptoms concerning the reception of Tafuri seem to swing
between making him an unmistaken hero and blaming him for blocking
the chances of "experimental architecture." One way of
having a more balanced view about the historian may arise from carefully
analyzing his own historical accounts about specific architects.
To that end, here are just a few extracts from the conclusion of
my conference paper, presented in the "The Future of Manfredo
Tafuri" panel at the SAH 2006 Conference in Savannah:
Manfredo Tafuri's words "there can never be an... architecture of class, but only a class critique of... architecture" have provoked numerous architects and critics to question the possibility of a critical practice in architecture. This paper argues that Tafuri's conclusion was historically grounded in a particular interpretation of a few urban reform projects in Europe, particularly Weimar housing. By historicizing Tafuri's conclusion and demonstrating its partial dependence on specific historical conditions as well as on his own intellectual project, I would like to criticize subsequent essentializations of the historian's claim as a prescriptive truth for architecture's critical role in society. By putting Tafuri's class critique of architecture in its proper ideological context, I hope to begin evaluating the limits of class critique itself, and arrive at other relevant projects for ideology critique.
I will raise two main objections against Tafuri's analysis. One of the strangest aspects in Tafuri's treatment of the Weimar urban reform is his claim of the failure of these finest achievements in social housing. His strong class critique is still valid: The Siedlungen did not eventually achieve "the positive transcendence of private property" to quote Marx. But aren't these projects nevertheless "enclaves of social transition" and did not Tafuri himself imply something close to this "enclave theory" when he referred to the Siedlungen as "spaces left open by the 'social contract'" that contradicted Weber's iron cage? Why does, then, Tafuri start his analysis by appreciating the Siedlungen as enclaves of equality, but return to a position that perpetuates Weber's assertion afterwards? Why would Tafuri call it a failed attempt, the eight productive years of Wagner and Taut who succeeded in building over 10,000 affordable houses in about twenty different housing settlements all over Berlin?
Tafuri considered the final destination of the avant-gardist project, which was the predecessor of the Weimar housing reform, as the total destruction of the architectonic object within the city structure. Only two unrealized projects achieved this final destination: Hilberseimer's Grossstadt and Le Corbusier's project for Algiers. Only these two projects conceived the entire city as a single unity, as a 'social machine' with elementary cells building up the urban organism as a whole. The single building was no longer an 'object', because the "architectural object has been completely dissolved." These projects, on the other hand, can only be practiced in a propertyless environment, where no individual property can dictate over the urban structure conceived as a totality.
Tafuri's condemnation of the Weimar housing projects as failed critical practices has to be assessed, therefore, within the background of this very particular and quite idiosyncratic intellectual project, rather than using it as a justification for the impossibility of critical practice. The finest achievements of social housing in world history that could nevertheless accommodate large sums of financially challenged populations would seem as a failure only to the eyes that are committed to the total dissolution of architectonic object into urban mass, of architect into anonymous producer, of private enterprise into property-free existence. To others, they should still be known as critical practice.
My second comment is on the moral arbitrariness of Tafuri's class critique. Why does the exploitation of the working class labor get priority; why not the exploitation of domestic labor, of colonized labor, of animal labor? While the working class definitely stands out as a group that deserves utmost attention, Tafuri was awfully silent about other oppressed groups of history, such as women, colonized populations and so on. In exposing the oppressions due to class-based categories, it is not unfair to say that he overlooked the gender, race or ethnicity-based categories. The historian's relative silence on the overtly colonialist implications of Le Corbusier's Algiers project is a case in point, as it has been pointed out later in postcolonial criticism. For Tafuri, Le Corbusier's urban plan for Algiers was the "most advanced" and unsurpassed project of modern urban planning, since it grasped the whole city, the entire landscape under its unifying gesture. Preoccupied with the telos of total architecture, Tafuri failed to see the oppression of the casbah and the African population in this project, and excused urban apartheid for the sake of a unified urban image. It is hard to claim that Tafuri invested any time in criticizing the place of architecture in Italian colonization of Libya and Ethiopia either.
So, why then did I decide to write a paper that aspires to assess the future importance of Tafuri? Today, Tafuri's continuing relevance does not necessarily reside in his conclusions, but in his analytical methods of exposing the tight relations between architecture and domination, design and power, space and oppression. His narrow focus on class critique may be questioned, but his methods in analyzing class-based exploitation can be fruitfully translated into unmasking other types of exploitation. This realization of architectural ideology leaves each architect and critic with the choice of enjoying or criticizing the establishment. The latter is still possible. It is only when one reduces the meaning of "criticality" into a narrow zone of class-based analysis that one would fail to see the continuing urgency and possibility of critical practice.
Rosa, architect. Lives and works in Caltanissetta. He's
curator of the "Lanterna Magica" section on ARCH'IT and
participates in the editorial committee of Casabella. He taught
architectural design in the School of Architecture of Enna.
once theorized about a hybrid critic whose name was Brunedo Tafevi
(or Manfruno Zevuri) who would be capable of swallowing down the
two major Italian critics spitting out like small bones the indigestible
ideological schemes of Bruno Zevi and the sententious Germanic judgments
of Manfredo Tafuri. One that would have
the light footedness of the first maintaining however the capacity of the second
to wear a pressurized diving suit; so as to permit himself to tap dance in the
deep, there where the light beams don't reach.
The two, alas, never became fused themselves in reality and in the hybrid, remaining unfortunately only in my imagination. On the contrary, not only did they not fuse together, but they grew increasingly distant to the point of losing themselves out of sight completely, each transformed within the realm of mythological stature, swamped, in one, by an over lively avant-gardism, the other by a dusty eruditism.
Time, however, is not always a gentleman, and is often a master of irony. Time has made Bruno Zevi ultra victorious, but in making him a super champion time has also made him an ultra loser. Thanks to the planetary scale invasion of volatile spoken products in series that spell out like a rosary his litanies there have emerged in fact discouraging inconsistencies in these stainless Zevian certitudes. The seven invariables are celebrated, but unfortunately I don't remember any other proclamations in the history of architecture that would be capable of producing stupidities with the same emphatic efficiency.
The delicious bow tie (Tafuri always wore a bow tie) that gave to those enunciations an air of wildness and for whom they never seemed to be taken that seriously, unfortunately isn't around anymore. What remains is only an arrogance of the material's performance: these butcher the victim without setting out more than a sum of the parts necessary and sufficient for slaughter.
On the other hand, where officially he is lost, is when the snow falls in flakes and every once and a while a deer goes by. Tafuri's beard is by now a bunch of brambles and bushes. There isn't a soul to be seen around. Only cold and silence. If you happen to go by on Christmas eve you can be sure you will end up in the glacier like Konrad and Susanna in Stifter's Berkristall: to enjoy the Aura Borealis. In exchange there won't be any of those international types that, with paper in hand, explain to you how silicone architecture should be in order to be attractive.
The way I see it Manfredo Tafuri is there for us like the Pope. When from time to time I pay a visit I don't find my stay all that bad. It's enough that I take with me, in my backpack salami for breakfast and a thermos with some hot punch to keep me warm.
Well, all told, in the end, Tafuri is saved by his executors. Zevi is not. In a few years, when the hyper current drunkenness will pass, maybe we can discuss this again. That is if, at that time, someone among the practicing architects will have survived.
Mirti, Torino 1968. Id-lab Partner,
I received an email from Peter Lang. The theme is intriguing, architecture after Tafuri, Tafuri after architecture, reflections on a conference that took place in New York last spring."
Every now and again I run into fragments of the distant and forgotten past on the edges of our thoughts. If my head holds the Marianas Trench, Tafuri is clearly there.
The Marianas Trench is the deepest oceanic trench in the world, the lowest point on the earth's crust. Its located North East of the Pacific Ocean, east of the Marianas islands, at 11°21' latitude north, and 142°12' longitude East, near Japan. The trench sits between two tectonic plates, in an area where the Pacific plate goes under the Philippine plate. The trench forms a light arc about 2,500 kilometers long. The deepest point is over 2,061 meters, the height of mount Everest, at 10,911 meters below sea level. At the bottom of the trench the water pressure exceeds 1086 bar. (source: Wikipedia).
Manfredo Tafuri is part of that category of persons, concepts and things that at a certain point in our lives are extremely important, colossal floats on the surface that everyday one bangs one's nose up against. Later, little by little, their weight causes them to sink, and without being aware of it they go the entire 10,911 meters until they come to rest on the aforementioned Trench of Marianas. Curious. Why is it that some things sink in an implacable manner and others don't?
However, just like when we find in our hands an old album with Panini stickers, to receive an email for a symposium on Tafuri is pleasurable (because it makes one feel young again). The theme is very stimulating: "The fulcrum of the event was, according to the organizers: the introduction of the English translation of Tafuri's Interpreting the Renaissance: Princes, Cities, Architects (Yale University Press in association with the Harvard GSD, 2006), translated by Daniel Sherer. Their stated intention is to use the event "as an occasion for a new assessment of his critical legacies."
Mmmmhh, but what kind of critical assessment can one do on the critical legacy of Tafuri?
I don't really know. If there was one we all forgot it by now, but some reason would have been there for sure. Once we have established that no one like him succeeded in understanding and explaining the Renaissance and its principles, its cities and its architects and that at the same time he could not understand anything of the contemporary society in which he lived, what else is there to say? I would be curious to read what all these very important guests at the symposium wrote to understand better.
I therefore send around some emails and make some telephone calls to find out, and most concede that Tafuri devastated architecture in Italy for a couple of decades. I think, great, this is what I believed too, lets all write something together?
But this is where everyone blocks up.
I asked five different people and in the end they all had too much to do. Its like Tafuri is Vito Corleone... However it may be, or not be, still today, few are willing to write that Don Manfredo Tafuri didn't really understand anything of today's world.
- "That's my family, Kay, It's not me" (explains Al Pacino as Michael Corleone to an dumbfounded Diane Keaton who plays Kay Adams in the film "the Godfather")
Chatting around no one succeeds in making a shred of an argument to defend him, to say, "yes, however, that piece there was very important then and so it is very important today." Coming to the point, however, (and we are writing something) no one has time to research, to read to pick up that book as it was and say whatever.
In year 2007, you don't want to talk bad (you can't talk bad) about don Manfredo.
As a student I liked a lot the clarity of Zevi and the practicality of Frampton. That however was not possible (now I don't know, because I don't follow these things nearly as much) to ever mention. And instead you always went for these two volumes written by Tafuri with Dal Co and other essays that with different titles were absolutely illegible and incomprehensible.
Tafuri, besides the incredible and unbelievable resemblance to Stanley Kubrick, what else did he leave us?
I don't know, to me he seems a classic 20th century intellectual with all his (not that many) merits and his (killer) defects. He constructs an image of the world and then everything that doesn't belong inside he cuts out, destroys or tries to eliminate. Renzo Piano, three lines in a footnote cited in the history of Italian architecture from 1944 to 1985. Oh well.
See how they run...
like pigs from a gun,
...see how they fly.
(as John Lennon would have said...)
Sitting on a cornflake, waiting for the van to come.
Corporation tee-shirt, stupid bloody Tuesday...
Man, you been a naughty boy, you let your face grow long...
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen, I am the walrus,
coo coo coochoo
(said don Manfredo to young Renzo...)
And then there was this other paradox. Tafuri wrote in an Italian no one understood. As a student you read a page and in the end understood nothing. Then you reread it and didn't understand anything any better. You went to the next page and it wasn't any better. Some years later you would pick up the same book and try it again and you will still understand nothing.
The only book that you could understand was the history of Italian Architecture: 1944-1985. It had this singular characteristic that it was a history of a world that was clearly in Tafuri's head but did not correspond to the world around us as we knew it.
Bizarre, not to mention when you went abroad, when you would be at XYX university and someone would meet you and say: "Italian! How lucky you are, you can read Tafuri in his own language. How I envy you. For us it's a disaster because of the translations, because you lose so much..." And you answer: "That's right sir! It must be the translation, in Italian its very smooth and clear. Sorry." Then you turned your head away not to look the person in his or her eyes.
Yellow matter custard, dripping from a dead dog's eye...
Crabalocker fishwife, pornographic priestess,
Boy, you been a naughty girl you let your Knickers down.
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen, I am the walrus,
coo coo coochoo...
(continues John Lennon in his well-know song written in honor of Manfredo Tafuri writing: The Sphere and the Labyrinth)
Peter Lang in his brief email writes:
"Tafuri should also be held accountable for, not the least his leading role in squelching the many effervescent experimental movements that were emerging through the sixties. Tafuri's ridged Marxist dogma—some don't hesitate to say Stalinist, should also be examined for what it could not accept, namely a level of architectural heterogeneity that remained largely marginalized throughout his work."
I am not sure I agree. That which Peter describes as the "many effervescent experimental movements" is the departure point for that which is contemporary architecture today. Without Superstudio we would not have Koolhaas and the star system. The Metabolist Kikutake is the point of departure for Toyo Ito and Sejima. To label Cedric Price and Archigram as effervescent experimental movements seems to me somewhat reductive.
Those whom Peter defines as a sort of foolhardy set were those who understood how the world would be thirty years before their time. Sottsass who goes into the desert is the same Sottsass that some years later will flood the global market with his line of furniture Memphis. Other than "effervescent," Isozaki, Hans Hollein, the Radicals, were assassins, (in the complimentary sense) who were turning upside down the rules of the game.
This idea that the Radical Architects were sympathetic personalities that made fun drawings and listened to the Beatles is a typical Italian equivocal. To me they were incredibly lucid, they worked systematically and implacably, using terms like "global network," "society of image," "project of desire." Clearing away an entire generation of architects and critics that used horribly blunt formal and conceptual instruments not particularly useful in overcoming contemporary circumstances. That Tafuri in all this understood nothing seems evident to me (from this point of view its not that the work of Tafuri marginalized these movements, but it was the affirmation on a global scale of these movements that marginalized Tafuri.)
After which I admit my limitations. I am not a historian, and I am not a critic, maybe I didn't understand the book by Tafuri because I am an idiot. Possibly. I have an IQ to understand Frampton, Benevolo, William Curtis, Zevi, but in front of don Manfredo...
But then, among all these intelligent people, there is no one who can explain why Tafuri was important then and why he should remain so now?
Attention. Without any tricks please. Writing in an Italian I can understand. As it would be Cliff notes. If we could only explain the entire universe on the back of Cliff notes, there would have to be a way to translate Tafuri's theories for types like me.
Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun.
If the sun don't come, you get a tan
From standing in the English rain...
I am the eggmen, they are the eggmen, I am the walrus,
coo coo coochoo coo coo coo coochoo
Expert expert choking smokers,
Don't you think the joker laughs at you? (ho ho ho, he, he he, ha, ha, ha)
See how they smile like pigs in a sty, see how they snide.
1973, Phd History of architecture and city, IUAV, Venice school
historical-critical opus of Manfredo Tafuri are so complex and delicate
that it has produced above all epoch-making misunderstandings.
I don't want to side with those who defend without question his works (because there would be several issues to put back into the discussion) nor among those who seek forcibly in Tafuri the determinant causes for the deaths and anxieties of contemporary architecture, in that I recognize that his works, for good or bad, is buried and forgotten. To say in no small way ignored, especially in the Italian architectural culture, with the exception of some recent important studies.
Nor would I want to enter into the themes that Tafuri confronted and analyzed, in that the form of this instant discussion proposed here, for obvious reasons of brevity and dynamics, doesn't offer the appropriate context for a detailed and adequately complete analysis of the single arguments. That which I feel I can examine instead is a sort of premise, or better, an auspice for whatever type of future debate that would take place on Tafuri's opus.
That which I believe is increasingly emerging, and in that New York conference became all the more evident, is that one needs to begin making several theoretical and practical distinctions before getting into the argument in sufficiently rigorous, "scientific" or if you like "historic" terms. With this one does not intend to bury the extra-philological will to discuss Tafuri, but only to render clearly obvious that only by profoundly knowing the problems that one confronts is it possible to avoid solely negative or even insignificant results.
To begin with one needs to return to a study of his writings. It is necessary to clear the discussion of the academic chatter, of the opinions, of the continuous aggressions against the problems exposed by Tafuri, based solely on ignorance or partial understandings of his reasons and causes. The only way, in my opinion, is to become familiar with the most recent published studies and essays, with the doctoral theses published here and there over the world, confronting oneself constantly with the primary source: the texts of Tafuri.
The second step necessary is to make a sort of generational separation to select the appropriate interlocutor. I don't think that Tafuri's generation or those who had the occasion to work with him, or had dealings with him (whether in the American or in the Italian contexts, but even here there are some rare exceptions) have the capacity to add much more to that which we already know, or could step away from the imposing and conflictual individuality of Tafuri's character. In New York, there were few who really took on Tafuri, while most spoke about their relationship with Tafuri, or their memories of Tafuri.
The third point, even if it seems quite banal, is to seek to respond to the fundamental question: why go back to working on Tafuri? What are we looking for in Tafuri? A proposal that can't simply reflect a post-structuralist fashion, that seems to be quite American, or from a simple ambition to investigate within a closed monography that is in itself completely inoperative, as often occurs within Italian academic circles.
The fourth step that has to be considered before re-initiating a discourse on Tafuri is that of distinguishing two discussions that I see in this specific historical moment, each quite distinct from each other: on one hand the relationship between Tafuri and the world of the project and on the other Tafuri and the historiography of architecture. They are two worlds that use, read, and elaborate the discipline in a substantially different manner and that seek in Tafuri answers that are completely different (this doesn't exclude their engagement in the future).
Historians have the responsibility to historicize Tafuri, to render evident the diverse phases of his historical production, to illuminate the fundamental paradigms wiping clean the messianic and resolute aspects of his opus, placing in discussion his theses that are only partially present in Tafuri's works. He is also, and sometimes above all, an intellectual that belongs to a historic epoch, that conceptualized reality and architecture in a specific way. Understanding the widenesss of the topics analyzed by Tafuri gives an interpretative frame for understanding an entire period of thought, to which we are still partially anchored.
For that which deals with the world of the project I think that the knowledge of Tafuri's texts is unfortunately at a level that still, without any scornful aspiration, informative: Theories and histories of architecture, Architecture and utopia and The sphere and the labyrinth.
All this could engage Tafuri outside of diffused and hurried convictions, like here in Italy, that Tafuri killed Italian architecture, or in America that sees his works as Marxist-orthodox, or even, as I read, Stalinist. These are labels that are completely useless and irrelevant, and don't offer any real critical instrument in which to engage his works.
If I may be permitted to comment on the New York symposium, I think that the American world can be faulted with two types of incomprehension; the first is, the conviction, diffused among the participants, that thinks it can find in Tafuri a political-critical outlet for the contemporary project, transforming him into a sort of messianic Marxist that can open a view on the hard world of a post-democratic Bushism (many of the interventions at the New York symposium sought to extrapolate Tafuri's "Research on the Renaissance" the notion of "sprezzatura", of a transgression of the classical rules used by the architects from the Sixteenth century, for a new conceptualization of the contemporary project, but that, as it appears evident to everyone, is formulated in an epoch in which there is a total absence of rules and therefore has nothing to transgress).
The second is they are not able to detach themselves of the idea of the critical format of the publication "Any" (n. 25, 2000) and from the possibility to engage in his work in a manner a bit more complex relative to the commentary and consciousness of the English translations, however good or bad, of Tafuri's opus (it is singular to note that a large part of the articles and essays by Tafuri published in the Italian reviews were always accompanied by translations, at the bottom of the review, in English. These have always been ignored in the American studies.) I consider in the end the translation of Daniel Sherer excellent, with an excellent introduction, and I think that in the future this could be determinant in the Anglo-Saxon context, I am convinced that it will open further paths and new studies and fresh understandings on Tafuri.
I think that the only true way is to return to reflect on these arguments from the point of view of our own generation. Tafuri did not suppressed anyone, nor did he kill anything (besides maybe many young historians attempting to gain a teaching chair): he simply historicized contemporary phenomena, illustrating their contradictions, which is very different. He wrote above all some books and essays that remain some of the canons of architectural historiography. And it is from here that one needs to start again.
Garofalo, principal of Garofalo Miura Architetti and
Professor of architectural design at the Faculty of Architecture
in Pescara, has published books on Italian architecture, Adalberto
Libera and Steven Holl.
attended the Tafuri conference in New York I would like to take advantage
of this opportunity to further develop my contribution to the debate
that ended the two-day event. Hoping to clarify why Peter Lang's
position does not convince me at all, I would like to propose a different
reconstruction of Manfredo Tafuri's impact on contemporary architecture.
Since 1994 I have been asking myself why we avoid this issue: the
commemorative edition of "Casabella" while rich in content,
does not contain even one article about the relationship between
the historian and architects. Marco Biraghi begins to do this, but
in having to reduce a difficult book to a one-liner, it seems to
me that he speaks more of the influence architects had upon Tafuri,
rather than the other way around. If we set aside Biraghi's book,
what we are witnessing is a hurried and superficial elimination that
tends to attribute the Roman-Venetian historian with the responsibility
for the troubles faced by architecture today. In particular, there
is a desire to make him responsible for the creative paralysis of
Italian architecture, which lacked the power to shake off the radical
nature of his ideological criticism.
From the outset at the New York conference it was said that we need to overcome such clichés as the attribution to Tafuri of a "death sentence for architecture". All the same, little has been said of the architecture that his corrosive, though selective criticism actually encouraged. That he contributed to the shipwreck of the radical utopian sympathies of the late 1970's can worry Peter Lang, and the numerous fans of the current revival; for me it leads to no particular nostalgia. Instead I feel that Tafuri's words were "translated" by a few architects, or at least found in their work a substantial consonance. To be brief I will limit myself to mentioning Kahn and Scarpa, and above all Stirling and Rossi. What is the common paradigm that unites these figures, before they established their liaisons dangereuses with historicism? It is the idea of the project as the mise en scene or narration of the fragment, the fracturing of the unity of the architectural organism, and the diffidence towards a utopia. This is a powerful paradigm, also because for the first time architecture incurs a special debt to philosophical reflection, transforming itself into a self-reflexive activity. This leads to what was called critical architecture or Critical Practice (an English term that allows a resonance with both "profession" and "practice" in the Foucaultian sense).
It is worth noting that at its base the paradigm of the fragment lasts throughout the 1980's, beyond the superficial forms and the philosophical revisions, and is never truly overcome by deconstructivism. The latter proposes a new, determinist Zeitgeist that is of the opinion that a chaotic and "indecidible" world should correspond with an architecture that is equally so. This philosophy also functions as a justifying base for the signature works of the latest generation of superstars, and leaves us with a great number of clumsy works of architecture that are deformed by the necessity of corresponding to the intellectualism of their authors.
One could ask: what was the alternative? I believe that the trace of a different position has been visible for many years now. It is a position that allows for the re-conquering of the unitary, without slipping into the recovery of an organicism that is either modern or post-modern. It is a position that has developed in the triangle between Basel, London and the Spanish peninsula, based on remote Italian premises. The first sightings can be found precisely in Ignasi de Solà Morales' criticism of Tafuri, above all if tempered by his other text: "Weak Architecture". A new notion of realism and even of monumentality is not extraneous to this possible escape route. On the other hand, does anyone see any other option? Or is someone courageous enough to propose the digital palingenesis?
Recently the United States has become home to a thesis that is defined as "post-critical" (Cf. "LOG" n. 5, 2005), that I must confess I have not been able to fully understand. It would appear to me that its supporters appropriate the results of Koolhaas' latest incarnation, that which is more oriented towards content and "performance", in order to definitively place the figure of the architect-intellectual, embodied by Peter Eisenman, in a position of check-mate. To be coherent with what has been said so far I would like to express my definitive opinion only when faced with convincing works of architecture. Nonetheless, the move must be insidious enough if Eisenman himself dedicated his presentation during the conference to this issue. Beginning with Tafuri, he synthesised the entire cycle of contemporary architecture as the result of a "policy of close attention" that coincides with the critical paradigm that I have described. To those who see its end he replied not with a defensive move, but with the proposition to move forward, something that has yet to take the form of a complete project. In fact, he explained this idea by loosely speaking about the storyline of a French film. In doing so he offered us one of the few presentations that was capable of actualising the topic of the conference without rendering it banal (together with Marco De Michelis, Reinhold Martin and Antoine Picon). At the same time he reminded me of the Baron of Munchausen, who saved himself from drowning in a swamp by pulling up on his own hair.
| GABRIELE MASTRIGLI
Mastrigli is an architect and critic in Rome. He
teaches theory and design at the Ascoli Piceno School of Architecture
and is researching publishing as a critical form of architecture.
OF THE RENAISSANCE. (1) Sometimes it is useful to begin at the end.
Interpreting the Renaissance, the last book that Manfredo Tafuri
published, today appears to be the Venetian historian's most complete
attempt to reach the highest levels of contemporary architectural
thinking; it brings him back full circle to his early hypotheses
which, initially, were shaped by the Renaissance. In so doing, Tafuri
identifies the heart of the matter: the Renaissance was, in fact,
the age of representation, the moment in which the classical ideas
of beauty, purity, order, and truth appeared for the first time not
as reproducible, but as representable through experiment, invention,
author wishes to acknowledge Francesco Altea, Stefanie Lew e Daniele
Pisani for their support in the preparation of this text and their
help with the translations in English and from German.
imitation of antiquity -the theoretical topos of the architects of
the Renaissance- swings between two extremes: on the one hand, conscious
of the irretrievability of the desired ideal, imitation falls back
on artifice and invention; on the other, Tafuri explains, it does
not renounce the idea of surpassing its model and finds, precisely
in the construction of a specific representative device, the sense
and purpose of the "rebirth" of architectural practice.
It goes without saying that representation is not understood here as the simple medium that refers to documenting a construction. It is rather the specific point at which the theoretical efforts and concrete practices of the architect converge and overlap. In other words, it is the moment in which the project becomes legitimate on its own and the theoretical construction manifests itself, as shown by representational practices which were the real innovation of the sixteenth century. It was not so much the language of the classical orders but rather its reformulation on the part of the treatise writers, the rediscovery of the exemplary nature of architecture, and, above all, the invention of perspective that became the loci of representation. Through this process, the architect sanctions the move to surpass antiquity and in doing so makes himself responsible for its very transformation. At this moment, "point of view" becomes "vision" and therefore not only representational practice but, literally, theory.
Tafuri, it should be noted, is much more cautious when it comes to emphasizing the role of the architect and he repeats, on numerous occasions, the arbitrary and conventional nature of the rules instituted within the new canons of representation. Nevertheless, if one looks beyond the surface, underneath the thick skin of Tafurian disenchantment, one discovers the extraordinary tension that fuels the historian's driving force (and it is much less "weak" than Tafuri leads one to believe). This is a force whose ultimate ambition does not seem simply that of "leaving verdicts undecided", but, on the contrary, of reaffirming the role of an art and an architecture that courageously confer upon themselves the status of hypotheses prepared for a -though uncertain- future, "with all the rule-breaking that that might involve." As a demonstration of the tension which stimulated the historian (and thus, the architect), it is worth revealing an extraordinary falsification engineered by Tafuri on one of Panofsky's most famous passages, in which, through a risky interpolation, he tries to get rid of what he considers the last idealistic residue of the Renaissance representation, i.e. the visionary character of the perspective gaze as it was understood by the German historian. Tafuri (mis)quotes from the last page of Perspective as Symbolic Form:
"Perspective denies religious art access to the realm of the visionary, where the miraculous becomes a direct experience of the beholder, in that supernatural events burst into his own, apparently natural, visual space and thereby permit him to really 'penetrate' their supernaturalness." (2)
But Panofsky actually wrote:
"Through this peculiar carrying over of artistic objectivity into the domain of the phenomenal, perspective seals off religious art both from the realm of the magical, where the work performs the miracle, and from the realm of the dogmatic-symbolic, where it bears witness to, or foretells, the miracle. But then it opens it to something entirely new: the realm of the visionary, where the miracle becomes a direct experience of the beholder, in that the supernatural events in a sense break into his own, apparently natural, visual space and so permit him really to internalize their supernaturalness." (3)
According to Panofsky, perspective blocks the road to the magical realm in order to open up to the visionary realm, namely to the construction of a specific figurative space that is built up from the elements and schema of empirical visual space. It is true, as Tafuri would summarize further on, that the new (that is, new in comparison to the Middle Ages) element, is only one -though substantial- thing: the introduction of a completely representational system in which it is not the "contents" that are new, but rather the process which allows their formalization into a systematic "imagining" of the world. It is not true, though, that this, as Tafuri continues, surreptitiously leaning on Panofsky, leads to the "decline of the visionary." On the contrary, it is precisely in the visionary dimension inaugurated by perspective that representation becomes an immediate experience which, Panofsky concludes, "seems to reduce the divine to a mere subject matter for human consciousness; but for that very reason, conversely, it expands human consciousness into a vessel for the divine"; a dimension that presents itself as one of the notable ways in which architecture and culture in the humanistic age -returning to the Tafuri passage- firmly hold together two opposing polarities: that which is based on stable foundations and that which follows subjective judgment.
If it is true, however, as demonstrated by the tale of the fat woodworker [La novella del grasso legnaiuolo] with which Tafuri opens his book, that it is transgression that makes the rule and not the other way round, then one can read the distortion of -the infidelity to- the Panofsky passage effected by Tafuri as the explicit legitimation of inaccuracy in the historian's line of work; an inaccuracy that operates in service of an ideology that writes history, necessarily forcing on it the same rules which are broken not for the desire to shock or, worse, for any kind of deconstructive theory, but, on the contrary, to rediscover the sense of the very act of research and therefore of design.
For, as Cacciari recalled in the funeral oration he gave for Tafuri, "the book is much more than a work of research on the Renaissance: it is the vision of the Renaissance as research." Interpreting the Renaissance is not just "the Wittkower of the nineties," as Joseph Connors suggested, that is the model of a new historiographical genre that redefines the figure of the humanist-thinker by erasing the boundaries between history, architecture, culture, and science. It is, above all, the attempt to restore the history (of historians) and the project (of architects) as two sides of the same coin of representation, which is the vision, and thus theory, that "troubles our present times" and leads us to question reality in ever more radical ways. When asked, in an interview given in 1992, what might be the secret of the great works of the sixteenth-century architects and why they still continue to elicit interest, it was not by chance that Tafuri replied: "their secret is us."
The ARCH'IT cover picture is by Giovanni Klaus Koenig.
"Interpreting the Renaissance: Princes, Cities, Architects"
Yale University Press / Harvard University GSD
buy the book online and save!