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Amsterdam - 14, 15, 16 November 2002

Towards a new philosophy with a smiling Borges and a frowning Chaplin

Louis Fernandez-Galliano

<this transcription has not yet been edited but since there was a big demand for it we decided to have you enjoy the rough transcript already>

I knew something was wrong when one of the organisers asked me: "are you going to bring old-fashioned slides?". And being rather old-fashion myself, I started realising I had been invited by mistake. Then I read the first sentence of the introduction: "Everything flows, said Heraclitus" and I remembered that Heraclitus is the philosopher who cries. Those of us who go to old fashion places, like musea, are used to see the laughing philosopher and the crying philosopher at once. At the Rijksmuseum you have your own couple. I brought you the Madrid "couple" by Rubens. Democritus is happy because he has managed to reach serenity to survive this world of chaotic flows. Heraclitus cries, because he is aware that he cannot stop the flow of things moving, the flow of time, that brings people and things to extinction. Therefor, perhaps, I have a message for this audience: Flow can be fascinating but also frustrating. It can be pleasurable, but also painful. Heraclitus is the one who cries.

The misunderstanding that brought me here is a book I wrote 20 years ago, which has recently been translated (laugh) about the flows of energy in architecture. I tried to convince my colleagues, with no success, that they should go from the Flow scenario of Leduc [probably Violet-Leduc, architect who worked on Notre-Dame:ed] to the hot moving eye of Magritte; that they should understand architecture as processes, not as objects. As most of us, we are enchanted to see how scientists as Leonardo (da Vinci) or Prerogin (?) using observation or mathematical simulations arrived to the same results when they were trying to describe complexity. How they were fascinated with the emergence of order from chaos. This to us was perhaps a new paradigm, and we thought if architecture can learn something from complex systems and from the emergence of short islands of regularity coming from this chaotic flow of fluids, of processes, of energy, maybe we can understand architecture not as "frozen music" as Goethe said, but as frozen energy flows. We were also aware of the similarities between Duchamps' Rose Selvay and Prerogin spiral chemical waves; in both cases very simple mathematical algorithms were creating order out of chaos, not dissimilarly from the ...automatons of ... [piece missing who created with very simple rules, when you see the firs 20 rows, nothing interesting happens, but when you see the first 700 very interesting regularities begin to appear. Us, architects, we were aware how the representation of flows had helped us to disentangle from the functional models and functional notions within architecture. We knew that we had to represent things in order to understand them and to design them. We even hoped that the whole functional representation of the history of architecture, the one with blobs and arrows, was going to be replaced by different a pattern, a different landscape of waves, in which architecture of movement would be perceived in a different way, from the standpoint of the awareness of complexity. Having been trained in modernity we were aware that our basic flow diagram is the "grid"; a wonderful one, with a build up within the channels of movement; but at the same time we knew that in our post-modern times there was a social and physical layering that created different patterns of perception, and different patterns of constructions of the built environment. After all the basic question was "how to approach disorder [or this order]" will we turn our back to it? (like this gentleman in London 1940) or will we look at it (like Marrol) and try to find patterns in apparently chaotic environments. Of course Chaos has been very glamorous; even Donna Karan made a perfume called "Chaos"; some years ago the Venice Biennale was launched with a motto "The architects are seismographers, a trembling needle that simply registers the shakes of society". Therefor chaos and turbulence were fashionable; very much in the tradition of the avant-garde's; from the scenographies by Alexandra Axer, the Russian designers in the 20s, for the Satanic Ballet, to your own artist, the Dutch Constant with his labyrinths of ladders of the New Babylon.

The deliberate creation of complexity has been a common purpose of the avant-garde's. Today we are not menaced by this fake complexity of the artists; we are not menaced by the fake complexity of the new Babylon, but the new horizontal Babel of a sprawl. These are the flows we must pay attention to. In Holland they have been well described and criticised, by people like Adriaan Geuze. If we go

Adriaan Geuze, for instance, made this model for 800.000 new houses that were going to built in Holland, explaining how a sprawl and the build-up destroys the land. The American architect and photographer Alex McLean, has also described the sprawl beautifully, showing to which extent it becomes a virus, infecting the land, and how growth for growth sake is the ideology for cancer cells. Other photographers such as Andreas Gusky, showed us also the beauty and excitement of crowds, of this wongs of elementary particles. This ... which are good representation of our society of individuals; but we know as designers that the wonderful flow of human life, of human desires, unpredictable turbulence must be framed, must channelled, this is our task. We have been able to do it with some success, with things such as moving merchandise all over the world, with the modularity of containers; but then there are other wild flows that sometimes appear in front of the containers; the mass migrations, which we do not know how to control or how to design. The Afghans in the Tampa Cargo, or the Albanians in the Italian port of Brindisi, are explaining to us the real flows that we should try to design and control, the sprawl tide, the flow of migrations. We try to do it, with very repressive mechanisms. When they hide in lorries or ... boats, and we try to apply to them this dictatorship of the eye, we have criticised in other areas.
But we do not manage to do it, because they are simply going away from the collapse of traditional architecture, and this is a crisis of our own making; which beautifully described by the tool of newspapers cutting, coming from different sections of the same newspaper, the same day, The New York Times.
2 mountains mountain of mad cows' ashes in Britain, a mountain nobody knew what to do with, so it was a store; and a mountain of sugar in Santa Rosa, California, bought by the government to maintain prices, and again a mountain nobody knew what to do with.

These "Twin Peaks" describe the agricultural policies in the European Union and in the States; our common agricultural policy and the farm bill of president Bush; which are destroying the third world agricultural and provoking the mass migrations; crazy design flows provoke crazy deposits. This cows burning and the dusk of the oil economy, the way we deal with fuel, the way we deal with food is changing completely, and we are aware we are reaching the end of something. This end of something, from the sunset of the oil economy, we were promised to be rescued by the New Economy, or the Now-Economy, or the net-Economy; does not matter (in the two version, the smiling and the menacing; architecture of course come also in two versions, a smiling and a menacing one). Here in Holland took a special development, the new tulip fever of blobs, a blobs bubble, all over the place; now that the bubble has been punctured, now we understand that the new economy, was basically an economy of a spectacle. Our neighbours yesterday, when the speakers had dinner on top of Louis Vuitton launch-party, understood it well and when they launched their New York headquarter they dressed and presented the building as a folded dress of the model; then the next season they presented their ... in front of the warped aluminium shells of the Pompidou restaurant by Jacob McFarland, therefore co-opting the blobs.
Understanding that finally the business of fashion, like the business of architecture, like the business of politics or the business of war, is a spectacle, that the new economy was basically a spectacle economy, and that the keyboard of the new economy was the dashboard of screens.

Has September 11 changed anything? We don't know. We do know that it came at the height of the logo wars. The copy of the economist of that very week, explained that brands were good for us; pro-logo against the no-logo of Naomi Klein. And of course people were divided between those who felt they needed brand-aid, and those who felt logo victims. Some were in favour, most financial companies and famously your own Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who said yes to this economy of globalisation, of spectacle and of brands; and some others said no, infuriated by the presence of logos in the most remote corners of the world. The same Donna Karan who launched the "Chaos" perfume, bought up (???) its shop when a demo was announced nearby in the same city (London), "belisangolly" was bought up (???) by Santiago Sierra the Mexican artist showing in the gallery to express his protest against the sequestering of art activity by the art market.
Now, and with this I finish to those who keep up pointing at me, "5 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minutes"...I have still 1 minute. Whoever is there, with this kind of vigilance ...

Logos, as I said, can be wonderful, can be glamorous, but they can also be painful. Soon onto our skins. Now that architecture has become the true factory of dreams, more than Hollywood; we design our dreams with the same instruments: the Cad computer program, then our weapons, the Guggenheim and the Stealt Fighter planes, and the F117, and V2 spirit bombers, were designed with the same instruments.

We are trying to build a fortress Europe of 28 members, as a haven of order surrounded by chaos and disorder, and we think we can get away with it.

And while we build the generic city with junk space, we fill the orbits with the space junk.
Above our heads (7000 logics registered 15 years ago, god knows how many now!). So perhaps in these times we should replace Democritus and Heraclitus with 2 new philosophers: a smiling Borges, hiding in his labyrinths from a world in turmoil; and a frowning Chaplin hurt by the desperate disorder of a turbulent world.

When... we live in this time of uncertainty, sometime we wish that this globe would be crystal balls showed the future in them. But forecasting is a very difficult business, particularly when it is about the future. So I leave it here, but meanwhile do not go with the flow; and remember that Heraclitus is the one who cried. Thank you.

Questions and Answers

John Thackara: May I ask some questions?

Louis Fernandez-Galliano : (from the other side of the podium) What? ... You interview me in the distance? have more space between us … ? (laughs)
JT: the connection between what Janine Benyus was saying and what you've been talking about is disconnect between specialists in architecture, biology and engineering, and other forms of knowledge. That's indeed why we asked you, and we are very glad that you have come, even if you did write the book 20 years ago (laughs). Do you think that those disconnects are being connected? Are architects looking outside their traditional knowledge fields for inspiration and input?

LFG: I don't think so. No I think that if oil is cheap architects won't think of energy; they will only think of energy if oil is expensive. I wrote this book 20 years ago. OK. What has happened, after the first and second oil crisis. But in the 80s and 90s fuel, energy, was cheap; we managed to have it cheap; therefore all of these preoccupations, or interest, were put into the back room. I think it is not our own desires or our own efforts, but rather the prices of the oil barrel that is going to determine the debate.

JT: I reckon this is going to be an Eco-shock like the oil-shock, and then we are going to change, but it would be a rather last minute thing.

updated Monday 31 March 2003
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