iii. Gas and Heat
iv. Dust and Neglect
v. Ignorance and Bigotry
vi. The Bookworm
vii. Other Vermin
x. Servants and Children
Around the 1880s, William Blades made a public denouncement of 10 enemies of books, supplemented with an extensive list of books destroyed on various occasions in history by such enemies. I would align myself with the rank of bibliophiles, but would have never gone as far as to imagine joining such a crusade on preserving physical books. Naturally, the dissipating occupation with material preservation of books could be partly attributed to the availability of publications online (evidently so in my citation of Blades’ 1880s writings from library search engine).
Nonetheless, I became fascinated with this idea of drawing out enemies to books, or literature, which lacks a material association now but rightfully so in Blades’ times. I began to wonder, if we are allowed to shift our lens to architecture, which has been walking between the im-/material tangent, would it be possible to draw out 10 enemies of architecture? And if such an operation is possible, how should we include the idea of “enemies” in discussing architecture?
Allowing ourselves the liberty to point our fingers here, we came up with a list of 10 enemies of architecture. The list was born out of boredom, at a casual coffee talk at the Café der Provinz in Vienna, when we allowed ourselves to look for historical references and recent gossip and experiences.
Therefore, this list should assume no authority. Instead, we encourage any curious reader to take on the same task and come up with your own list:
iii. Building regulations
iv. Artificial Intelligence
viii. Climate Change
x. Preservation/ Conservation
Reasonings for the ten enemies of architecture:
i. Victor Hugo, 1831, “This Will Kill That”, Notre-Dame de Paris.
ii. Louis Kahn, 1952, Traffic Study project , Philadelphia, PA (Plan of proposed traffic-movement pattern).
iii. From some practice experience at design offices.
iv. From recent explosive reactions to A.I. image generator from the creative communities.
v. From a conversation that followed a MSc Architecture thesis presentation in the Explore Lab studio this year.
vi. For the fun of pinching our beloved theorists in the community.
vii. Not specifically to a particular name, but the phenomenon of celebrating individual offices as heros in the field and the ramifications of it.
viii. Playing the devil in the climate-architecture debate here, what if we switch the hats here and ask, is climate change the enemy to architecture?
ix. From some observations of tourist shopping streets in Vienna.
x. The resistance to adapt in the name of preservation might figure as enemy to some.
We have a list of sworn enemies to architecture now. Now what?
"Natural Enemies of Books is a response to the groundbreaking 1937 publication Bookmaking on the Distaff Side, which brought together contributions by women printers, illustrators, authors, typographers and typesetters, highlighting the print industry’s inequalities and proposing a takeover of the history of the book. Edited by the collective MMS (Maryam Fanni, Matilda Flodmark and Sara Kaaman), Natural Enemies of Books includes newly commissioned essays and poems by Kathleen Walkup, Ida Börjel, Jess Baines, Ulla Wikander and conversations with former typesetters Inger Humlesjö, Ingegärd Waaranperä, Gail Cartmail and Megan Dobney, as well as reprinted from the original book."
- Kathy Walkup, et al., 2020, Natural Enemies of books, London: Ocassional Papers.
‘’Almost all women are the inveterate foes, not of novels, of course, nor peerages and popular volumes of history, but of books worthy of the name. It is true that Isabelle d’Este and Madame de Pompadour and Madame de Maintenon, were collectors; and, doubtless, there are many other brilliant expectations to a general rule. But broadly speaking,women detest books which the collector desires and admires.’’
- Andrew Lang,1881, The Library, London.
‘’It would appear that book collecting is a truly feminine pastime, containing many elements which appeal to their sex; romance, intellectual curiosity, love of the beautiful and the quest of something difficult to obtain. But feminine collectors should beware of pitfalls, for sometimes this mania arouses the baser instincts such as envy, extravagance, and self-indulgence. Wives have been known to spend their marketing money on books instead of daily break and to waste hours reading book catalogues instead of attending their housewifely duties.’’
- Anne Lyon Haight, 1937, Are Women the Natural Enemies of Books.
To our bibliophiles, the experience of encountering books would not come too foreign. The serendipitous joy from such encounters through the medium of books is almost corporeal. We come to find ourselves in a new light.
Indeed, it was my experience encountering this anthology of women bookmakers titled "Natural Enemies of Books" last winter season at PrintRoom Rotterdam, with a performative reading by the artistic research collective "To See the Inability to See" (Arefeh Riahi, Maartje Fliervoet and Martin La Roche Contreras). [more infor at printroom.org]
I wonder: Can we reframe our discussions in architecture without the figures of enemies?
The figure of the enemy provides a motive to act. It is not difficult to imagine enemies in architecture. There has always been an inclination to talk in heroes and devils in architecture. And the positions are not entirely fixed. Heroes can be corrupted, as it was with revisiting modernists’ legacy; and evils can be redempted, as it was with redeeming natural decay as an empathetic practice. As we return our gaze to our contemporary, conversations in the field are commonly confronted with the morality of the practice of architecture as more shed light on the enshrined injustice in the field. Enemies are everywhere, and many would feel the urge to assume a position to fight against such evils. Subsequently, the result is exhaustion. Exhausted bodies lie around fatigued, disappointed, hopeless.
If we can understand enemies not as figures, but as relations between bodies, maybe we can redefine this hostility not in predatory terms, which one can only kill or be killed. Maybe we can redefine this hostility as rivalry, in which parties on both sides can engage in the necessary hostility in given situations, but with the emphasis on the reciprocal co-creation/destruction of ideas at the end. The rivals do not attempt to kill in a fight. Instead, the rivals are concerned with honing their skills, that is, their personal growth as a subject. Maybe the metaphor sounds tired already.
But what if we do not look at the figure of the enemy in architecture, but we look at the figure of the significant, of those we care about? Can we let go of the dangerous idealism and allow ourselves to accept compromise? Should designers let go of setting new trends and accept their limited reach of audience? And yet, can we enjoy architecture? And what does it mean to enjoy something for someone like you and me?
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare;
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows;
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass;
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night;
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance;
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare!
-Facsimile from the book Bookmaking on the Distaff side, “Leisure.” From the Poetry Bookshop of London. Design, woodcut and hand colouring by Lucia Wakefield.
The “leisure” alluded to here has a strong naturalistic incline. It is to savour the beauty of nature as the picturesque, and to long for a simpler rural life by the urban subject, as pointedly illustrated in the accompanied image, where a city-attired woman is hurrying through the rural backdrop. But if we can quietly put aside the burden of reacting to this modern idea of leisure, maybe we can discover the value of taking time to see, to stand and stare in our contemporary time. It is to let go of hurried conclusions and fast emotions. It is to let go of reactionary frustrations and unwilling instigations. Maybe we can learn to take time. Maybe then we can learn to let go of having enemies in architecture. Instead, we turn our gaze towards the subjects we care about. And this caring takes time.