A Response to Frampton’s “Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance”


I married an architect. He became a graphic designer. Architecture migrated beyond the creation of physical buildings to the creation of systems in general. And in my working life I have seen the term architecture applied to buildings, to software, to interfaces, to experiences, to smells and beyond. What would have in the past been an engineer, the mechanisms of delivery of an architecture, are now removed in favor of the architect who creates the plan.

I think about systems. Above is a painting (42″x78″) I made that include some of these systemic systems in my unconscious. Professionally, I analyze software systems and hardware system and processes. In the past when I would think of factory systems, I would think of the components of a system and how they interact. For example, I would think of a conveyor belt and the different widgets on the belt and the different things that happen to the widget on the belt.

When an architect designs a building, a cathedral for example, he also creates a belt, a movement pipeline, the movement of the congregation through the aisles, the priests, the smell of the incense, the movement of air, the movement of light from the stained glass window, the movement of spirit – whatever that may be. But really, when I think of architecture I think of the creation of an atmosphere and the impact of the atmosphere on the psyche and on the creation of an affect, perhaps a religious affect we could say. Here is an idea that in designing the flow of the space we create the atmosphere of the space, and that these two things are not different exercises but two sides of the same coin, the negative of the photograph and the developed photography.

The essay by begins with a discussion of architecture. And while I read this I hear echos of Le Corbusier and the commodification of architecture. How this comes from the enlightenment is via the notion that there are laws for everything. There are laws of gravity, of morality, we can legislate everything even buildings. There is an optimal law for buildings. How we interpret this can be different. A law can be something veridical – true or false, or it can be dynamic based on variables, like F=MA, or it can be addressed hermeneutically or interpretively like the talmud or the US legal system.

This is contrasts regional diversity that by its very nature cannot claim to be a “universal” law. There is this tension then of integrating the universal with the regional or the populist or something else. This in the essay appears to express itself idiosyncratically, from the personality of the artist. And this is probably the problem with art. It is the quirkification of art rather than the groundedness of art. The groundedness of art is the application of the particular, of what is particularly regional to the universal.

Towards the middle of the essay there is a meditation on the architecture of the gallery and its effect on the artwork. When I recently reread Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” I alighted on this line: “Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.” Our attention creates the reality we experience, just as the climate of the western united states creates the Douglas Fir. And so I was treated to this paragraph:

“Until recently, the received precepts of modern curatorial practice
favored the exclusive use of artificial light in all art galleries. It has perhaps
been insufficiently recognized how this encapsulation tends to reduce the
artwork to a commodity, since such an environment must conspire to render
the work placeless. This is because the local light spectrum is never
permitted to play across its surface: here, then, we see how the loss of aura,
attributed by Walter Benjamin to the processes of mechanical reproduction,
also arises from a relatively static application of universal technology.”

A commodity exists within an environment of commodification. The commodity, in particular, exists within the environment of the capitalist system. Perhaps objects with auras cannot exist in this system. If something has an aura it has a place, it is grounded, it interacts with it’s environment. Perhaps something created according to a universal law cannot have an aura, perhaps auras are enhanced by the particularity of a thing. I can maybe talk about the Heidegger reference that we need to talk about BEING. As I wrote this I thought of two things, the being of Hegel that there are Being and beings and the morphology of Goethe, that something exists as a capacity and can satisfy that capacity in many different ways – like the capacity for a finger can exist in many different lengths/thicknesses/hair density/melanin etc.

Towards the end of the essay we bring back in the body, perhaps a phenomenological experience of architecture. What does it feel like to look at a painting in a gallery, a mosaic in the Duomo of Siena, or a painting in Lascaux? There is a discussion of the techtonic vs the scenographic. That the construction of the thing has more impact than the surface design, the scaffolding of the interior building more than the curtain wall – Goethe would approve. There is a notion of mythmaking in current art. That the great artists are the ones that create complete mythologies or universes and I am reminded of this in the reference to Visconti using real parquet floors in “The Damned.” How do the actors react or act differently according to the set. A set that is scenographic rather than techtonic will interact with actor in a different ways. Perhaps only the techtonic way will create an aura. Acting becomes not a facade but an experience an exchange between the actor and the set and the system of filmmaking that produces the aura of the film.

This all sounds beautiful romantic and particularly brooklyn all things that I love. However I also love Chandigarh – so how to reconcile these things – the Being and the beings. The Now the Then and the Tree that exists now and here – this is a reference to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Frampton says, “The tactile opposes itself to the scenographic and the drawing of veils over the surface of reality.” But this notion that there is a reality, is such an enlightenment notion! Lets examine the veils and the auras that each veil produces.

I could end here but I am going to provide an epigraph.

A friend has recently been diagnosed me as being quirky. I do not experience myself as quirky but I definitely experience myself as regional or niche. As a child when I was sent to summer camp I was diagnosed as “odd” which is perhaps different from being quirky – in that it is more singular – it is the third thing – the singular thing – the point of the spear – the source. This is perhaps why I named my son Eero, not arrow the pointy thing as he tells his classmates.

I do not follow the universal laws- I do not watch popular tv shows or listen to popular music. It is not that I am intentionally doing this, but that my attention does not go there – I do not recognize these universal laws of popularity. However what I do recognize is the ecological niche, in the exploration of a particular habitat. Is this quirky, Is this idiosyncratic? I would say this is regional. And just like the taste for stinky tofu is perhaps regional to parts of Taiwan, the the taste of blue cheese is regional to the taste of parts of France, my taste is likewise regional, arising from the regions of the imaginal rather than the regions of my ego (my idiosyncrasy).