bakhtin- architectonics and architecture

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    February 2011

    Universitat Politcnica de Catalunya Josep Muntaola Thornberg. Architect.

    Av. Diagonal 649, Barcelona 08028

    Universitat Politcnica de Catalunya Magda Saura Carulla. Architect and historian of Art.

    Av. Diagonal 649, Barcelona 08028

    Supported by Research Project EDU2010-16299

    KEY WORDS: architectural education, architectural cognition, architectural theories.

    Starting with the Professor Holquists extraordinary introduction in the translation of the early Bakhtins writings into English, Art and Answerability1

    My contribution starts with the relationships between these writings and the work of Lewis Mumford, Jean Piaget, etc., who during the same years and without direct connections uncovered until today, developed parallel sociological concepts and similar philosophical aesthetic ideas. A first link to Aristotle is at that point necessary, in spite of Bakhtins clear intentions for detaching himself from classical Greek philosophy. Secondly, I will comment recent works in PhD thesis in architecture that have intended to apply for dialogical concepts in architecture and urban planning. Finally, the basic concepts of architectonics, chronotope, etc., will be used in relation to architecture, taking care - as Bakhtin did - of the qualitative difference in between architecture and the rest of arts, since architecture - as Aristotle understood very soon - is in between art, science and politics, and in those three basic dimensions of human life architecture is, in fact, a stranger.

    , and the rare texts in which Bakhtin talks about architecture, I will try to analyze the significance of Bakhtins dialogic work in terms of architecture and very specially, in relation to the present situation of architecture and urban planning after the huge impact of computer design.

    With the inestimable help of Paul Ricoeurs work, a philosopher who also wrote a very few texts in architecture during the last days of his life, only a few texts but incredibly dense, modern and clear2

    1 I refer to Art and Answeribility (early philosophical writings). Texas University press, 1990.

    , with his help, I repeat, I will try to define how the dialogical

    2 I was allowed by Paul Ricoeur to translate part of his writings into Spanish. See Architectonics n4 Architecture and Hermeneutics, Edicions UPC, Barcelona, 2003

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    philosophy by Bakhtin and his Architectonics of Answerability

    The conclusions will try to show how architectonics - the deep aesthetic content of art in general according to Bakhtin - is the aesthetic structure bellow any building, city, etc. Architects situated in the empty place between art, science and politics (ethics) should take advantage of the way dialogics analyze this intersection between art, science and ethics (politics), in order to understand the different architectures when architectonics is either eliminated or transformed in pure science or pure political intentions. Just look to architecture today and you will see which architectonics we are building up, and if you uncover which architectonics relay bellow some parts of our cities, then you will discover why they are so poor

    can be an excellent theory for architectural and planning design today, whose activities have been deeply transformed by the use of computer and by the enormous speed of technological development, by globalization and finally by digital communication.


    The critical of Bakhtins thought about the lack of clarity in this distinction between the cognitive, the aesthetical and the ethical components of human life is, at this point, an inestimable help for architects and - almost one hundred years earlier - the writings by Bakhtin forecast todays formalistic nature of the material esthetics totally present in the architectural and planning design of contemporary practices and theories.


    Finally, thanks to Bakhtins architectural cognition and logics, architecture can be liberated from a yes/no rigid argumentation, so often used by architects, in order to start a new logic of spatial configuration, where identity and difference substitute the yes and the no, opening in this way a complex range of architectural variations and human places, where chronotopes force will be clearly understood.

    3 See Architectonics n13 Architecture and Dialogics, Edicions UPC, Barcelona, 2006.

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    From the very beginning of his work Mikhail Bakhtin had a very clear final goal: to fight against the formalistic view over art, science and politics, defined by him in the artistic realm as material aesthetics, in order to attain this goal he conceived the key concepts of: architectonics, chronotope, heteroglossia, dialogy, and a lot more. All of them constitute a tool against the view that art and science are the same thing and also against the view that, in both cases, the author has


    no ethic and politic responsibility

    So architectonics is different from architecture and just because it is different it can be made a theoretical and practical revolution in relation to the present architecture and urban planning practices and theories. Because we should start to say clearly that thirty thousand architects in Spain have carried a lot of money before crisis (the bubble), with four million buildings, now empty, and nobody in the profession has criticized this ecological and social speculative process until now. Of course, now architects dream about a new financial development, in order to be, again, the rich victims and slaves of an inevitable global process of production and political corruption.

    for his artistic or scientific actions (or deeds as he used to say). I have observed these days in Barcelona to my surprise, that a lot of professors have convinced students of architecture to accept that architects should not be blamed at all for the urban planning corruption or the financial crisis linked to architectural and urban planning design in Spain. They say that architects have been simply victims of a wrong productive and global political system, totally alien words to architectural and urban design itself and, I guess that Mikhail Bakhtin would have been also as surprised as myself have been. Thirty years of Spanish democracy has produced, again, a clear and very dangerous fascist and conservative young generation, that can not realize the very dangerous trap that lies below a global monolithic and monological model of urban planning speculative development, leading, again, to the right wing Parthies control and to anti-democratic social forces and institutions, including the control of freedom of speech.

    Thanks to a few resistant professors and students with some PhD thesis and Master Programs1

    Men step always upon the same stones, so we never learn enough from historical mistakes.

    , dialogical views about architecture are growing, and we can now look for architectural design and planning alternatives, however it will be extremely difficult to reinforce these ideas, in a similar way that was difficult a hundred years ago.

    1 The international Review Arquitectonics: Mind, Land and Society (22 volumes) is a dialogical product and a lot of PhD dissertations are important examples. See

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    Bakhtin himself advises that architecture has no implicit heroes, and that aesthetics have in this case, an architectonic structure without heroes, only with potential heroes


    2, that are the users, in a similar way that readers are to literary aesthetics, but very different too. These potential heroes play a role in the authors designs (or architects) in the building itself as a work of art, and in the use of buildings and cities. All of this is clearly outlined in the Concluding Remarks (fifteen pages) written in 1973-19743, a fascinating summary, again, against all kind of a formalistic way to deal with ethical and political significances of aesthetic processes of communication, as was the case of student of architecture in Barcelona. In these fundamental pages Bakhtin warns again about the confusion between the role of the author in the work of art (the building) and the personal psychology of the architect, leading to an aesthetic evaluation of the building only as the conscience of the genial character and attitude of the architect-author. He also warns about another misunderstanding: the confusion between the object (the construction) and the aesthetic value (the architectonics), making the object meaningless because it is analyzed without its cultural, historical and social context, defining a work of art as a new creative chronotope which is able to produce a new con-text fitting very well with the hermeneutic analysis of Paul Ricoeur about the action full of signification because it fits with a historical and geographical context on its own4. Finally he advises about the confusion between the potential hero (the aesthetic dimension of use) and the use without cultural dimensions, for example the financial exclusive spatial use is not the unique potential hero, and if it is the unique dimension of use, then architecture has no aesthetic dimensions and becomes a pure technical and financial product. At this point, the Concluding Remarks ends with and almost enigmatic definition: The works (of art) faces outward away from itself toward the listener-reader (the user) and to certain extend this anticipates possible reactions