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Talks about architecture, Robert-Jan de Kort en Sander van Schaik

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The same location, four evenings, four talks about four current architectural practices. TALKS about Architecture, a forum we have launched for talking about architecture, isn’t much more than this. Succinct, you might call it. Yet there is more to our initiative than you might think.

To illustrate the point, we refer to a little grey book called For an Architecture of Reality. It was published in 1987 by the American academic Michael Benedikt. The booklet is an essay written between 1979 and 1984 that discusses the notion of ‘real architecture’. It concerns a definition, introduced by Benedikt, of architecture that is ‘real’ and integrates concepts such as presence, gravity, materiality and vacuity. Benedikt’s motives for creating this booklet is in many ways comparable to our motive in initiating TALKS about Architecture.

For an Architecture of Reality was a response to the prevalence of Post-Modernism in the United States at that time. The work of Robert Venturi in particular was slated. To Benedikt this architecture was ‘unreal’ because it was littered with nostalgic, ironic and humorous references to elements outside of architecture itself. With the aid of a series of pictures, ‘real’ (good) is repeatedly presented opposite examples of ‘unreal’ (bad). Benedikt feared that architecture would be consumed by the sphere of the media. Architects would become little more than well-intentioned communicators. By staying ‘real’, architecture could continue to distinguish itself from the media.

What resonates after reading this essay is its defence of timeless qualities in architecture, in which ambiance, light, spatiality, texture and material form the building blocks. Few – at least we think so – would deny the value of these qualities. Nonetheless, Benedikt apparently felt the need at the time to petition the case, not by shouting it from the rooftops but by writing a strong polemic and publishing a book that attempts to formulate his own position on architecture.

From a similar position we felt the need in 2013 to state the argument for ‘real’ architecture again. Why is this necessary? While Benedikt was countering other views on the type of architecture being produced, we are responding to the slow disappearance of architecture from social and cultural agendas. In short: talking about architecture has made way for talking about processes that lead to building. The culture of architecture has also become diffused within the realm of the creative industry. In the first case the role of the architect was called into question, and in the current case architecture itself is becoming increasingly invisible. This does not demand a new polemic, but rather a new platform. So we conceived TALKS about Architecture, a beacon for ‘real architecture’.

TALKS about Architecture presents inspiring practices taking place in the countries around us. The speakers are involved in a wide range of projects, from socially engaged spatial planning to architecture that pushes the boundaries, or perhaps oversteps its boundaries into the realm of art. While For an Architecture of Reality was the culmination of a philosophical process, the TALKS about Architecture platform is the onset of further exploration into the values and position of ‘real architecture’ in these challenging times.

Robert-Jan de Kort and Sander van Schaik, 26 March 2015


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