Architecture and it’s Past – Part 8 – Mark Cousins – ‘Architecture and it’s Unconscious’

Lecture date: 2010-05-21

Mark Cousins


MARK COUSINS: I’m Mark Cousins and I teach. Being a teacher is kind of despised by everybody, specially students. I am going to condense the argument, which can sound as a historical argument, but might be as well treated as a logical argument: a series of axioms which have several consequences. I will make two related propositions: that architecture started in the nineteenth century, and there is nothing architectural outside the scope of that discourse and practice. It spreads, until it becomes a system that terminates in modernity. I am forced to use the term modernity, which I do not particularly like, but it solves the issue ok talking about one nation, the East, the West, rich poor etc. In that sense, architecture is a modern practice, not derived from a culture, because of this we have the problems with history which we have been talking about. They are not historical problems about architecture, but problems which are generated by a new practice called architecture in the nineteenth century, which needs to project the concept, the name, the category of architecture across time and across space. Now, very confusingly, we have texts called, for instance, the history of housing, which very mechanically start by saying that since the beginning of time, human being needed shelter and therefore architecture. That is very baffling, as a lot of people do not have shelter. There was a very funny piece by Mark Twain that revisits the issue of Adam’s house in paradise, by having Adam wake up in a kind of American National park and he is fine until he receives the proposal of cutting trees and having a dwelling. The whole piece is about his lament for this situation. Architecture is a nineteenth century invention. Some might have read Michel Foucault’s study, ‘The Birth of the Clinic’: his concern is that when we say medicine, we mean modern medicine, and it is a system a practical and conceptual arrangement in which something like this appears: that the figure of a doctor emerges. The place, is the hospital, because it becomes the place of the treatment of patients, but more than that it becomes the archive of medical knowledge, it becomes the site of the trainment of doctors. It will be soon linked to higher education. Part of the trainment is done under the roof of the University. The doctor himself is therefore linked to a series of professional relationships, regulated by a professional body, part of it consists in delegitimizing competitors. It will be recognized that medicine is such a nineteenth century invention. It cannot be reduced to an essence, it’s an articulation, it’s an ensemble, that is medicine in Modernity. Of course there are certain regions and cultures which have their own knowledge of the body, and of healing methods, but they are not, as to say, part of modern medicine. Modern medicine has a logic that includes certain things and excludes others. I propose to apply the same analysis to architecture. Architecture in the nineteenth century involves the following elements: the push to establish architecture as a profession, a new type of status within the capitalist system, it is consistent with it, but self-consciously not reducible simply to the sale of goods and services. It develops forms of training, which soon become linked to the University, so it becomes a professional matter inasmuch an educational matter. It demands more books about architects, journals. The same could be applied to law and the lawyer. Foucault in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’ says something really interesting about the rise of modern practices and discourses: although they’re established in this specific way, they immediately seek to acquire a greater cultural legitimacy and prestige by adorning themselves with an ancient history. So, the rise of architectural history in the nineteenth century is not testimony so much to the scholarly inquire into the architecture of the past, but to decorate architecture with the legitimacy of it. There are intellectual rights over the use of the word architecture. Everything is now architecture. The problem of architectural history it is not the history of the world’s buildings, but its struggle is a search for legitimacy. In terms of creating a profession for themselves, architects fail to have the monopoly that doctors or lawyers have. It could hardly be over design in general, it could hardly be over the building, so there is a black hole. What architects have managed to establish is: we are the only ones who can open an architecture office. It brings more obligations that rights. This could be extended to that argument in anthropology or post-colonial cultural studies; the countries where architecture arises tend to be also colonizing countries. That ar



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