Architecture and it’s Past – Part 7 – Jeffrey Kipnis – ‘Honour thy Bungling Epigone’

Lecture date: 2010-05-21

Mark Cousins presents Jeffrey Kipnis as a great teacher of architecture, who came to AA to start the graduate design courses. He claims to be indifferent to the problems of hard history; however, he benefits from it and relies on it entirely. He claims to I admire it, but just don’t like to read it. He wants to address the question of how do we teach history. He states he is a hard pedagogue, he believes in adults, children, even if they don’t behave like one would expect. A good way to teach children is through brute force and repetition. Jeff points out an oddity in Bedford square: the four temple-front buildings, and their uncanny treatment of the classical rules of composition. When he started teaching architecture, he questioned whether architecture is something you can teach and studied the pedagogical histories of other disciplines. Some of them have a very strong pedagogy, like chemistry. Not physics, in that field every great physicists has studied with other great physicists, and so happens with mathematicians. Music has a great pedagogy, painting has no pedagogy whatsoever, there is virtually no relation between the quality of a painting and that of their education. Jeff refers to the talks of the previous day, pointing that there is a big difference between power and authority. Authority is the ability to force someone to bend their will. Power is actually the capacity of making someone to act on your behalf through their will. He does not believe that architectural facts work through demonstration, but through seduction, trickery, subterfuge; they are much more like powers. When you are writing a theory you are basically proposing a way of teaching something differently. A ‘good pedagogue’ is someone who takes the work of geniuses, writes it down into exercises, so that it can be disseminated as mediocrity, hoping that in this process new geniuses might arouse. [Showing a painting by Roy Lichtenstein] He went to NY to write a painting criticism. He claims that as nobody was writing contemporary architecture criticism, he could immediately be the best in the world. He got interested by how the decisions of curators are made, what is better about one painting that another one. Jeff then analyzes one of the last paintings of the artist, indicating how he copied the style of seven different painters. He claims to be interested in the building, not so much in the interpretation of the building. As in the Wolfflinian method, the relationship between a painting and another painting is more interesting than the relationship between a painting and a central issue. If you want to do a good painting of an apple, should you eat an apple or look at another painting of an apple? Generally, you can convince someone to copy another painting and point out that every tiny difference is a manifestation of tremendous freedom. Derrida formulated an argument about this: a copy produces the original as the original. A good interpreter can ruin anything: so he got interested on how to work on the techniques to produce effects. So the whole issue of the pedagogy of history is governed by that problem. Mark and Jeff himself began to write a paper about the role of architecture criticism and they took as a premise that it is pointless to criticise a building or a project in architecture like you would a movie or a book or a painting because basically, that kind of criticism and that kind of judgement has to do with the consumption. By the time that the building is built, what can you do? Lets say that there is a terrible critic on a building: what can you do, leave it? or don’t look at it anymore, tear it down? They had this idea about the good critic: someone that can perform a building for an audience, even if that performance has nothing to do with the architectural intention. The job of the critic is to add something to it and to bring it to life. Being interested in architectural effects, Jeff conducted a research project with his students on what were the client-articulated values for a new building, naming seven: codes (safety, stability, viability) cost, comfort, convenience, familiarity, pride, pleasure (the first three of them are regulated by law). He points out how unimportant are those values for students during their architectural education. The reason why architects do not pursue that in their own work is simple: they are easy. Clearly, an architect interested in architectural effects is not going to be interested in those seven effects, to the point he would not even call them like that, but building effects. In American housing, a main issue is how close you can get the kitchen to the garage. This kind of issues, might be called dental issues, how to do it right. An architect should be good at this


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