Ole W. Fischer: Post-Structural, Post-Critical, Post-Political?

Architectural Debates Following the Fall of the Wall

Lecture (german)
Friday, January 9, 2009, 7 pm

So-called “critical” architecture (criticality) emerged in the nineteen-seventies, parallel to the rejection of postmodernism and late modernism, as a theoretical construct meant to, following the failure of architectural and social utopias after 1968, secure a place for architecture as autonomous art in the scope of the prevalent social conditions, namely capitalism and mass consumption culture. It didn’t take long for “critical” parameters to become established, such as post-functional formalism, abstract manipulation of geometric elements, display of architectural conventions, a disdain for traditional architectural values like location, materiality, detail, or construction, and so forth. In this respect, projects that often remained on paper or as models were accompanied by not-easily-penetrable theoretical texts that, borrowing from post-structuralist authors, emphasized the entitlement to an architecture of decomposition, disjunction, transgression, or deconstruction, or that verbosely spoke of architecture’s problematization, decomposition, denial, and silence.

When in 1988 the exhibition Deconstructivist Architecture was put on at the MoMA in New York, the triumphant advance of a “critical” architecture seemed inexorable, but only a few years later it had already disappeared again from the international debate on architecture, while the related architects (Koolhaas, Gehry, Eisenman, Hadid, Libeskind, Coop Himmelb(l)au, Tschumi) today remain among the ranks of the globally prominent.

This lecture sets out to approach the seemingly interdisciplinary phenomenon of a “critical” and “post-critical” architecture by referencing the political and social climate of the nineteen-nineties, with the intent of contextualizing the vehement criticism of a “critical” theory and practice in architecture having stepped onto the stage of the architecture debate starting, significantly, in 2001. Here, “critical” architecture can be traced back to neo-Marxist and linguistic approaches, while the “post-critical” approach evinces vestiges of (neo)pragmatic currents. Of issue is, not least, the dialectic aspect of “post” that establishes a binary model—critical versus post-critical—to be scrutinized.

Ole W. Fischer, born 1974, studied architecture at the Bauhaus University in Weimar and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH). Since 2002 he has been a freelance architect and also teaches architectural theory at the Institute for History and Theory of Architecture (gta) at ETH, in the fall of 2008 as a visiting professor. His dissertation (2002–2008) explores the programmatic transfer of Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy to the theory and work of Henry van de Veldes. In the summer of 2004 and 2005, he was a guest researcher at the Foundation of Weimar Classics, in spring 2005 fellow researcher at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and in summer 2008 a scholarship recipient at the Akademie Schloss Solitude. Ole W. Fischer founded the discussion platform “MittelBau” at ETH and is co-coordinator of “Explorations in Architecture” as part of the Swiss contribution to the Venice Biennale 2008. He publishes internationally on issues related to the history and theory of architecture (including Werk, Bauen und Wohnen; JSAH; MIT Thresholds; Archplus; An Architektur; GAM; Umeni) and is coeditor of Precisions: Architektur zwischen Wissenschaft und Kunst (Berlin: Jovis, 2008).

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