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Designing conflict in images

Extension of the Lombardi Library” in Bari by the Ma0 architecture studio (2004-2005)

The media are a place where architecture is produced. This assertion, which a decade ago many would be reluctant to accept, has now become commonplace in debates on architecture. Since the advent of mass culture –since the early dawn of modernity- the media have been a place for architectural thought, design and building. This has only intensified with the development of the Internet and communication technologies. As described by Tafuri, the boom in social media, which are taking shape as veritable inhabited environments, means the separation between the ‘space of the image’ (reproducing the work) and the ‘space of life’ (experiencing the built work) is no longer possible.

It was Beatriz Colomina who delved into the rapidly increasing overlap and feedback between both of these spaces and explained how the development of the mass media at the beginning of the 20th century led images to begin to be inhabited, and led significant episodes of modern 20th century architecture to be interpreted with this lens. Through fascinating works dissecting how images are built and serve as vehicles, authors like Andrés Jaque in Sales Oddity, Marina Otero in her doctoral thesis, and Elii in projects like Arquitecturas de Robinson Crussoe have continued exploring the role played by images in contemporary times. These works describe how images instrumentally feed into and reconfigure something more than built reality. Images can shape and impose lifestyles (Jaque). They can work as vehicles for embedding political fiction in events and in history (Otero). They can also repress life experience, curtail its possibilities and domesticate wishes (Ellii).

Whether images of architecture are shown separate from or embedded in life, they cannot be conceived as innocuous, neutral, non-ambiguous entities like the old exempla included in treatises on architecture. Far from being pure representations at the service of designs or mediators in the presentation of a result, images are discursive. They are narrative constructs, live elements that actively participate in building significance and meaning. Working with images in a design therefore is not a merely aesthetic task. It is also ethical. In other wordsit is political. It forces architects to take a stand regarding a given state of things, particularly when the images are open to being appropriated. This imperative therefore is even greater in designs with social content, as their benevolent images are highly sought after by propaganda-generating structures conceived to “whitewash” questionable policies for organising and managing space and land and resource use (here is an example).

In an interview  that, though i30 years old remains up to date, Giancarlo de Carlo asserted that the meaning and use of architecture can neither be foreseen or planned, but that we can have architecture marshal the conflicts and balances triggered by the conditions in which it is produced. This assertion could also hold for images.  As stated by Carlo, conflict is an essential ingredient in spawning architecture. “Imagining” conflict –projecting its explicit display in images of architecture that will circulate, may be our ally in instating the most essential engagements.

Text translated by Beth Gelb
Paula V. Álvarez es una arquitecta con sede en Sevilla, fundadora de la práctica editorial Vibok Works . Su trabajo reúne investigación, edición, diseño y escritura desde una perspectiva experimental y crítica. Su principal interés de investigación es cómo el encuentro del enfoque académico de los Estudios Culturales y de la Ecología de los Medios con la experimentación arquitectónica desde inicios del s. XX hasta nuestros días puede habilitar una comprensión más profunda de la renovación de las técnicas de arquitectura en el seno de la globalización electrónica y la cultura tecnográfica.

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