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The Fiction of Reason: Tafuri and the Avant-Garde

Though many architects reject the system of rational urban planning by presenting utopian designs, critics like Manfredo Tafuri consider the most experimental projects of the 1960s and 1970s as meaningless paper architecture with no concern for the social reality of the city. He connects the contemporary architecture with the historical avant-garde of Italian rationalism, which was always related to social transformation and critical resistance against established society, and considers modernism as a development in which the avant-gardes - visions of utopia come to be recognized as an idealization of capitalism, a transfiguration of the rationality into autonomous form. Yet, Tafuri also relates Le Corbusier´s rational designs to multiple readings that also include a surrealist sensibility. He constructs the architectural concepts around the struggle between the universal values represented by nature and the rational values represented by technology. A case in point is the Beistegui Apartment in Paris (1930–31) who was a collector of surrealist art.
The architecture of the 1960s and 1970s overthrew the modernist principle of formal composition, functional fit, and constructional logic by opening up the discipline to the realm of artificiality, consumer imagery, Pop art and science fiction aesthetics. Yet, critical positions, such as Tafuri, speak of a technocratic idealism, claiming that this submission to the present totalizing technologically advanced conditions of production and consumption would strip the emergent experimental lineage of a social and political efficacy. Tafuri dismisses both the modernist ideology of the functionalist plan and the naïve belief in progress. Both positions make architecture the efficient agent of capitalist 'planification' and, indeed, complicitous with the commodity system, that fully arrived in postwar consumer culture. Hence, such projects cannot serve as operative criticism, which aims at the reengagement of the discipline, because the autonomy of architecture closely connected to its social functions.

The Fiction of Reason: Tafuri and the Avant-Garde

Ingrid Bock

Institute of Architecture Theory, Art History and Cultural Studies, Graz University of Technology, Austria

 

Introduction: Tafuri’s Operative Criticism

Though many architects reject the system of rational urban planning by presenting utopian designs, critics like Manfredo Tafuri consider the most experimental projects of Italian rationalism of the 1960s and 1970s as pure paper architecture and mystifications with no concern for the social reality of the city. He dismisses both the modernist ideology of the functionalist plan as well as the naive belief in technology and progress. Both positions make architecture the efficient agent of capitalist 'planification’ and, indeed, complicitous with the reification by the commodity system, that fully arrived in postwar consumer culture. Such projects cannot serve as operative criticism, which aims at the reengagement and reassessment of the discipline, because the autonomy of architecture closely connected to its social functions.

In his article “L’Architecture dans le Boudoir: The Language of Criticism and the Criticism of Language,” 1974, Tafuri features Aldo Rossi’s Analogous City, 1976 (Fig. 1), and claims that the observer of modern architecture “is forced to reduce to degree zero every ideology, every dream of social function, every utopian residue.” (Tafuri, 1974, 48) With the title, he refers to René Magritte’s painting “La Philosophie dans le boudoir,” 1947, that shows only an animated dress and a pair of shoes in an estranged, eroticized space. While the analogy between buildings and clothes dressing a human body is traditional, the image implies, for Tafuri, the notion of architecture as an ideological corpse.

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