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Indifferent Urbanism or Modernism Was Almost Alright

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					Indifferent Urbanism or
Modernism Was Almost Alright
Robert Somol


Both critical and market-driven ap-            emergence and self-organization as they often       Recent architectural and urban design-re-              Against this backdrop of the extended enumer-
                                               serve as crude covers for an equally scle-      search has become increasingly reanimated by two       ation of Modernism’ s failures, the new consensus,
proaches to the city (radical and prag-
                                                                                               concerns: representation (what warrants expres-        hidden behind (or instantiated through) a rapid
matic) have made a fetish of difference        rotic market, and make more difficult any
                                                                                               sion or requires signification) and agency (how do     turnover of conflicting architectural and urban
over the last half century: from collage       projective political imagination or specu-      things get done or who has the authority), or, in a    ideologies and styles, has been an unquestioned
cities and contemporary digital visions        lative ideological leap. The challenge for a    slightly more specified formulation that registers     embrace of difference. From early varieties of
of presumably non-standard production          design politics today is not to provide for     the contemporary bias for exchange, particularly       Postmodernism on, the crisis of expertise and the
(the repetitive differentiation of cellu-      aesthetic and economic difference, but          among the cybernetically-inclined, communica-          inability to credibly identify any form of collective
                                               rather to project a credible vision of the      tion and participation.                                consent has resulted in the representational obses-
lar transformation) to niche marketing,
                                                                                                   In this particular post-war construct of Mod-      sion with how to figure difference–from collage
just-in-time production, and consumer          collective. Not a market, a constituency
                                                                                               ernism, when it wasn’ t seen as eschewing forms        and contradiction, through the unconscious and
profiling. Indeed, the value of difference     or a patron, the city needs an audience, a      of applied representation entirely, the question of    parasites, to continuous variation and the non-
has achieved such a cult status across all     fan base. Consider the extreme normalcy of      what was worthy of being represented was pre-          standard–and the procedural question of how to
ideologies of architecture and urbanism        Orange County, where the same spatial           sumably self-evident: the spirit of the age, tech-     generate it. The sundry, invariably antithetical,
that, like motherhood and apple pie, it        template instigates radical extremes of         nical-material systems, the needs of a universally     modes of abdicating expertise have ranged from
                                               collective formation. Escaping the econ-        generalizable human collective. The professional       giving the people what they want (advocacy planning,
now represents an apparently unassail-
                                                                                               agency for this translation from facts to artifacts    community charettes, design preference surveys,
able consensus. Against Modernism’ s           omy of the same and different, therefore,
                                                                                               was equally obvious: the objective expertise of the    the celebration of the vernacular and everyday
presumed homogeneity, Postmodernism,           it may be possible today to advance an          architect-planner. Beginning as early as the 1950s,    forms of architecture without architects) to more
in all its diverse guises, has marketed a      alternative economy of the indifferent. An      however, a well-rehearsed series of internal and ex-   abstractly autonomous or unconscious modes of
vision of the heterogeneous. While once        indifferent urbanism sponsors experimen-        ternal transformations made this shared consen-        form-generation. While early versions of the latter
a productive terrain of investigation for a    tation in diverse lifestyles precisely be-      sus subject to increasing suspicion and doubt, just    aimed to remove the subjectivity of the architect
                                               cause it can take anything that one throws      as its corollary faith in neutral forms of expertise   in favor of variously specified design procedures
liberative agenda, the space of differentia-
                                                                                               also began to evaporate. For the last half-century     (architecture as conceptual art), in today’s neo-sur-
tion today has increasingly been absorbed      at it. So, after 50 years of variations on
                                                                                               Modernism has survived, paradoxically, only            real context they often conversely imply removing
by the market and technological default.       the themes of this new orthodoxy, it may        through the critiques of its myriad discontents,       the objectivity of the architect in favor of algorith-
Though perhaps seductive to those in           be possible to replace difference and dif-      uniformly accused (for various ends) as offering       mically-scripted construction processes (building
former Feudal-Communist or existing            fidence with indifference and intention,        only homogenous and reductive forms of language        as chia pet). Combining ecological metaphors and
Bureaucratic-Socialist states, it is impor-    at last declaring that modernism, even the      and knowledge, its period of institutional critique    computational logics, the indexically autonomous
                                               plan and planning, was almost alright.          by now far in excess of its period of imagined         moment of the day, with its rhetorics of emergence
tant to resist the fashionable logics of
                                                                                               dominance.                                             and self-organization, issues from a new form of




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posted:7/23/2011
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