Sunday, September 15, 2013

94. Why I Blogg

A couple weeks ago I was invited to write an opinions article on Architizer. 
I  wrote a piece with the working title "An open call for the De-Jesus-ification of Peter Zumthor and a Plea for Critical Journalism and Objectivity when Reporting on His Work" .  It was edited to fit Architizer's format and the title changed to "Zumthor is not God" You can read it the original version here

The piece was in the form of a letter to architectural critics and journalists and discussed their lack of critical engagement when reporting on Peter Zumthor and his work.

Interestingly enough though, the piece was not critical of Zumthor or his work. I don't think I have ever been critical of his work before. I enjoy it thoroughly and I have even gone as far as calling myself a fan. However, I have been critical of Zumthor the man himself and his deceptive self-promotional practice as evidenced here and here.

Christine Murray, a writer for Architects Journal, identifies Zumthor's followers not as followers, not even as fans or fanatics, but as a broad church. In doing so, she references the classic definition of church, not as a building, but as the whole body of Christian believers. 

So before I even put pen to paper to write, I anticipated some blowback. Though Zumthorism is not an officially recognized religion, I understand it as such. So when you go out in public and write a piece that is in anyway near critical of a religious icon (that which they hold most dear) you expect that.

And like clock work the blowback came in. You can see it at the bottom of the article here.  It is hilarious! perhaps a little sad. As also expected, most of them mistook my criticism of the journalist as an attack on Zumthor, his work or his stature. For some the notion that one can both enjoy something and be critical of it at the same time is a little difficult to grasp.

I really love the comments sections, even when they get really nasty. I sit down with my laptop and have a good laugh and interact with the lovely and even with the unlovely ones.

However, I was really floored when I saw this one below, it was something that I was not at all expecting. It nearly brought me to tears. really! It validates what I do. If there is only one person out there that can see the value of what I aim to do with this blog, then it is worth every second of time that I pour into it. So here is to another 100 notes:

Well, you sir, are just begging for trouble!
This is actually a profoundly relevant topic. As for trying to assertively discuss it on the internet... well... good luck with that!
There is, of course, a problem with the use of the word "architect". Peter Zumthor is an architect. I am an architect. Therefore I could conclude that "I am like Peter Zumthor".
I would be wrong. Just because we use the same words doesn't mean we are talking about the same things. Peter Zumthor openly claims that he is not a service provider. He doesn't work to comply with the promoter's needs or wishes and he is proud of his uncompromising nature.
No, Peter Zumthor is not one of us.
Of course, I'm not going to say that being uncompromising is a virtue or an evil. I will say that it is questionable. I would recommend the documentary "Peter Zumthor - Der Eigensinn des Schonnen" (although it is very difficult to find it nowadays) to witness some of the implications, both good and bad, of that approach to the field of architecture, and how it impacts other people.
The problem with the deification of an architect - or anyone for that matter - is that it narrows down and eventually shuts the possibility of debate. The pernicious aspect of having this cult status being promoted by architectural institutions and media - and when I say media I'm talking about critics that often have ties to official associations and academies - is that it becomes an obstacle to an open and healthy debate about architecture.
The corresponding symptom to that ill environment can be witnessed on these comments already. A possible debate gets shattered, not because the arguments raised are questioned, but because they were substituted by a lawyer type approach where (1) the author's credibility is questioned and, once that is done, (2) any argument presented is deemed irrelevant. A known way of sidestepping any discussion.
Keep in mind that Peter Zumthor's quality as an architect is not being questioned here - although it could, why not? But this is true all around the world. Every nation has its set of highly reverenced architects. If, for watever reason, one of their works becomes controversial, architectural institutions and critics will often close ranks around the defense of "the architect", whose personal qualities or overall body of work are not being questioned, to minimize the debate around "the building".
That is why you will have great difficulty finding architects openly questioning buildings such as Calatrava's City of Arts and Sciences, Peter Eisenman's City of Culture of Galicia, Zaha Hadid's Zaragoza Bridge Pavilion, and so on, and so on. And if you are an architect and you question these buildings out in the open, trust me, doors will shut on you and you will be on your way to become an outcast.
The real issue here, therefore, is that the glorification of architects is detrimental to a democratic environment where ideas, including architecture, can be questioned through rational considerations from which we can all learn and evolve.
And if we deny that, if we deny the possibility of that to happen because whoever is pointing the finger doesn't hold the seal of some ubber-institution, then we all run the risk of becoming another silent witness standing among the crowd, paying tribute to naked kings.


Enoch Sears AIA said...

Another thoroughly entertaining (abeit slightly disturbing) post from Mr. Newel.