Antoine Picon delivered the best lecture of the past two and half years at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.  As a speaker, he hit on all the important tendencies within the profession, including the prioritization of surface, the fall of tectonics (or construction through parts) and the move towards inflection (an accent to space comprised of fluid rather than separate parts), and the creation of atmosphere and effects.  Part of his interest was in relating architecture now to history and the past, citing Koolhaas as one who deeply understood Modernism and was thus able to act in the present using knowledge of the past; this connection made him able to act.

In the history of construction, he spoke of the cultural dimension of technology; the choice of how to build and of what is not merely the act of the architect, but also reflects the culture of the architecture’s place; England embraced iron as being able to create organic form, while the French resisted this, instead assuming a more traditional vernacular gabled use of steel.  Historically, structure and material were not divorced, but were considered one and the same.  He is interested in reflecting on the return to this co-mingling or unification.  He also spoke of the time required to divorce an architectural object from either a material or structural classification; it took nearly three decades for reinforced concrete to be perceived as a material, rather than only a structure. In many ways, he viewed the current trends towards deconstructivist architecture as one that exposes and misconstrues material and structures.

 

 

He also believed that architecture had a link with the way we experience our own bodies, and that it was construction, that allowed us this introspection.

Of particular interest was his exposing of the question of structure as truth or lie.  Louis Kahn would advocate for a truth to materials, and avoidance of “hollow” columns; Paul Rudolph would use false columns.  Similarly, the Wainwright Building used false columns to greater emphasize the structure; “the best way to be faithful is to lie” said Antoine Picon.

In one of his most provocative statements, he stated that the Parthenon as a model for architecture was dead; the idea of a pure structure, one that held the fascination of modernism, is no longer a valid model in the 21st century.  This is partly in response to the greater complexity of architecture, in which new systems erode the clarity of structure and space.  There exists no longer any stable tectonic principles, which he believed is not necessarily an ideal situation.  He believes that architecture needs to reconnect with memory and history and create a new tectonic narrative; this is what my thesis will take on.

As a side note, although I had discussed the Parthenon as a model of column architecture, I had avoided pictures of it or referencing it in my essay.  In retrospect, I believe it to be my unconscious awareness that, as a model, the Parthenon eroded my own argument or search for progress.

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