Situated Freedom - Towards Speculative Fabulation. Exploring the work of Rem Koolhaas/OMA
Within my research, which is addressed to ‘Situated Freedom’, I investigate how contemporary architecture can transform the real and situate horizons of possibility through creative experimentation. The thesis argues for architecture’s potentially liberating effects; through what Jacques Rancière has called ‘a redistribution of the sensible, a politics of aesthetics,’ creating what Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari have called ‘lines of flight.’
Thrown into a situation, architecture is confronted today with a particular set of choices within the global neoliberal capitalist world order. In which economics and clients demands define much of the context architecture has to operate in. The question arises — with the quest for change, wishing to make the world a more emancipatory place — what is actual freedom? Is it the capacity to transcend the coordinates of a given situation, redefining the situation within which one is active? If so, what could an act of consciously changing the world through architecture as aesthetic practice be?
This research takes as it starting point that it is architecture’s impetus to make the world a better place, starting anew with each project by imagining potential possibilities of freedom within the constraints of the real, in each particular situation, is a necessary endeavour to counter the many crises humanity is confronted with today. This research sets out to highlight alternative spaces of situated freedom within particular situations. It is an attempt to rescue another history of the possibility of freedom in architecture by investigating the aesthetic practice of Rem Koolhaas/OMA. To do so, I engage with philosophers known for having addressed the possibility of freedom even amidst oppressive constraints; philosophers such as Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari, and Jacques Rancière. These thinkers help me to develop an understanding of the moments in which the political and aesthetic understandings of freedom become intertwined. Architecture understood as an aesthetic practice plays a role through the spatialisation of power, in the shaping of human subjects, in other words, through processes of subjectification. By pursuing situated freedom, the possibility to challenge the dominant power structures and propose an alternative future, and more open processes of subjectification, I argue, is something architecture can participate in.
With this research I call on an architectural practice that is practiced ‘otherwise,’ operating from within productive constraints and directed towards situated freedom by way of aesthetic practice. Such an immanent approach cannot function without a research practice mapping the diverse conditions of our world; coming to an understanding of specific conditions in which architecture has to operate, and explore new ideas that challenge the existing normalising power structures. It is an architecture, not enslaved by the arbitrariness of each condition — although it operates from within each condition — but finds its permanence in ideas (its mentality), one that strives forever for degrees of freedom, with the believe that emancipation can only emerge through and by (within) each particular condition, creating possibilities of situated freedom.
Through a series of ‘unfinished conversations,’ aimed at opening a multitude of dialogues between architectural projects, concepts and thinking with philosophy, art and film. I investigate architecture as a performative practice engaged in the production of subjectification through its assemblage of matter and experience. It is a method that avoids the aesthetic analysis of strict formal or purely content matters related to the program of architecture alone. It is based on an assemblage thinking that breaks with the form/content duality since there is both form of content and form of expression. Working with concept tools, and in dialogue with artworks my aim is to expand and deepen the conversation about how the aesthetic practice of architecture is able to arrive at different degrees of freedom in three particular situations.
Aiming for situating freedom, I argue, implies a gesture beyond what is, beyond the current status quo. I expect an aesthetic practice to do more than what accounts for a given situation. The aesthetic practices I am after gesture beyond themselves, create something beyond what is. I pursue a distinctive way of dealing with the meanings we are offered through a construction, a fiction, a narrative, which not only makes the world present itself, but invites interpretation and transformation, thus acquiring a broader significance. In other words, the work should be ‘exemplary’ and suggest moral implications beyond the situation it operates within. The work of Koolhaas/OMA, I argue, thinks architecture ‘otherwise’, creates different degrees of freedom, and possibilities of situated freedom, not simply by commenting upon a condition, but by transforming it, enjoying it, and creating running room beyond what has been found. This also means tapping into and continuing experimenting and aligning with another history of examples and ideas that investigated similar kinds of freedom.
Through a series of ‘unfinished conversations,’ opening a multitude of dialogues between architectural projects, concepts and thinking with philosophy, art and film, I investigate architecture as performative practice engaged in the production of subjectification through its assemblage of matter and experience. A method avoiding an aesthetic analysis of strict formal or purely content matters related to the program of architecture alone; an assemblage thinking that breaks with the form/content duality since there is both form of content and form of expression. Working with concept tools, and in dialogue with artworks I aim at political action to expand and deepen the conversation about how the aesthetic practice of architecture is able to arrive at different degrees of freedom in three particular situations.
I have chosen to investigate three particular situations and their related projects because they are located in the middle, where neoliberal society is full on. Situation One (1) ‘Three Mediations of Three Private Swimming Pools - Semiotics, Semi-Autonomy, and the Time-Image,’ addresses the domestic: the paradoxical complexity of three private swimming pools: the pool on the roof (semiotic), the pool in the courtyard (semi-autonomy), the pool in nature (time-Image). All three pools, in different ways, situate freedom through the commodity fetishism of the commodified image. Situation Two (2) ‘The Central China Television Headquarters - Modulating Contradiction - Towards a Tectonics of the Irrational Cut,’ addresses the institutional. How can we rethink monumentality; the icon as representation of power, modulate contradiction, and arrive at irrational tectonics. Situation Three (3) ‘The Public Sphere of the Seattle Central Library - Any-Space-Whatever,’ explores if an engaged citizenry can be staged; theatricality can be rethought in architecture. The three situations explore how spatial and aesthetic techniques of framing -- architecture as device, syntax and specific knowledge – at different scales – from object to city –, has potential to situate freedom.
Katja Hogenboom, December 2019.