Why Awards, Architects, Some Animals, and Critics Always Arrive Late
The recent awarding of the Pritzker Prize to the ninety-year old Arata Isozaki, in addition to anterior cases of the award going to nearly posthumous names, makes you think of the evident incapacity of architecture to talk about something else that isn’t the past. And maybe this doesn’t just happen with the Pritzker Prize. Maybe the idea of arriving late is a more extensive problem.
Living with a perpetual feeling of arriving late has converted itself into a modern day pathology in our day and age: the consequence of living in an urban world that is always under pressure.
However, architects, for whatever reason, have made this idea of arriving late their mere way of being in this world. We are all rushing around, and starting as students we learn to live on deadlines, not being able to escape what is always urgent, no matter how much planning we do.
The fact that perpetually arriving late, which at the same time congregates an unsettling feeling of guilt and an unexplainable fear of being punished, is best depicted through the image of Achilles and the turtle. Still today, and with more than twenty centuries of distance between us, as architects we cannot avoid feeling just as much pity as well as a mutual understanding for poor Achilles. Since the wise Zeno decided to grant a small advantage to the reptile, (and that when Achilles covered this distance, at the same time the turtle would advance a little more, and back and forth as such to infinity) it isn’t that it’s painful that no one has been able to cross the finish line, but rather we feel it to be our own the ridicule that continually makes the hero of fast feet not able to catch up with those of his turtle opponent.
This race against time, in which the pursuer implicitly lives as he who always misses the bus, is curiously a way of relating oneself with time from an exterior point of view, shared by the architects and the Greeks. One late arrival, by the way, is similar to the systematic delay of architecture with its own time, where the slowness of architecture itself makes it lose all possibility of being present.
Despite this old discipline seeming like a privileged mirror from which one can see the facts of different eras, the truth is that, in reality, it is only an unrhythmical reflection. The consciousness of this is the only reason that explains why, with no modesty, architects repeat – especially in the early hours of the morning – the sentence by Octavio Paz when he said that architecture was “the incorruptible testimony of history.” Because despite his literary excess, there it is recognized, as in any political statement, that architecture occurs only after the true facts which it tries to preserve.
Maybe it is precisely for this reason that the expression “vanguard architecture” seems comical. It belongs to the same group of rhetorical figures as “military intelligence” or “living dead.” And, by the way, speaking of this last one, if architecture and architects arrive late, it’s not even worth mentioning the critics.
In fact, in this story of always arriving late, the critics occupy the last space; behind even the historians (who, at least like stopped clocks, are correct twice a day). A shared position with another animal that also always arrived late, even though this one did seem conscious of it: the white rabbit invented by Lewis Carroll, an inhabitant with a vest, watch, and top hat from “Alice in Wonderland,” who incessantly repeated: “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” as he who knows that the immediate present is only for the unconscious.
And it’s not that the white rabbit always arrived late, it was that he himself was tardiness. Glued to a watch, yet he was incapable of understanding time. In a similar way to those who contemplate the light that comes from dead stars from millenniums ago thinking in the beauty of the present.
All in all, it is certain that I was going to entitle this architectural theory of arriving late in this profession with something long yet clear: “about time in architecture with Achilles, a turtle, a critic, and a rabbit as excuses,” but, as always, deadlines don’t allow us to have more time to think about it. You know how it goes, deadlines are deadlines.