The Phenomenon of “Both-And” in Architecture
Of the Book
Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. New York, 1977 by Venturi, Robert.
DR. ZULFIQUAR AHMED
Architecture emerges out of fanatical and unrelenting debate. Architects can no longer afford to be intimidated by the puritanically moral language of orthodox Modern architecture. While Venturi is attributed as the father of postmodernism, he feels this movement perverted his ideas rather than embraced them. This text has the equal significance for Post-Modernism as Le Corbusier''s Versune Architecture, published in 1923, did for Modernism. It is, in other words, one of the pivots of modern architectural history. We know that t he three basic laws of logic: (1) necessary polysemy of terms (ambiguity as minimum), (2) necessary contradiction, and (3) instead of “either-or” – “both-and”. Accordingly, we will have to see everything logical as a violation of these rules.
This chapter is, an interesting parallel, with Robert Venturi – who, it turns out, also was speaking in “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture” about rules of the absurd exactly - and about the need to respect them. Venturi contemplates the “complex” and “contradictory” ways architecture relates to people, cultural contexts, and its own history. The “Both-And” is the mainstream of architecture away from modernism. In this chapter, "Contradictory Levels: The Phenomenon of "Both-And" in Architecture", he called for an architectural tension arising from perceptual ambiguity - an ambiguity engendered by what he termed a "both/and" style. The both/and concept requires an excess of both form and meaning in order to create a complex, contradictory architecture: "It can include elements that are both good and awkward, big and little, closed and open, continuous and articulated, round and square, structural and spatial." In this chapter, he prefers "both-and" to "either-or," black and white, and sometimes gray, to black or white. A valid architecture evokes many levels of meaning and combinations of focus: its space and its elements become readable and workable in several ways at once. It also proposes a "both-and" philosophy of inclusion rather than an "either-or" philosophy of exclusion. This "both-and" philosophy allows "both" ARCHITECTURE "and" ELECTRICITY to co-exist, instead of "either" ARCHITECTURE "or" ELECTRICITY being the only valid rationale for reasoning. This philosophy allows qualities such as double-meanings, paradoxes, and metamorphosis to exist, along with contradictions.
It allows situations where ".. at one moment one meaning can be perceived as dominant; at another moment a different meaning seems paramount." So too, the ELECTRICAL ORDER can be "both" structural "and" spatial at once, as is witnessed when looking up at an ELECTRICAL DISTRIBUTION POLE and seeing "both" the ARCHITECTURAL structure of the COLUMN "and" the speed of light CYBERSPACE of TELEPHONE LINEs in situ. ARCHITECTURE, is "both" evolutionary "and" revolutionary. Recontextualizing these common ELECTRICAL elements as an ARCHITECTURAL ORDER allows "the organization of a unique whole through ordinary parts." To include the ELECTRICAL ORDER, and ELECTRICAL ARTIFACTs such as ELECTRICAL DISTRIBUTION POLEs, into the lexicon of ARCHITECTURE would allow new meanings for these forms to reveal themselves. Formalism is actually ornamental: "Modern architects have substituted one set of symbols (Cubist-industrial-process) for another (Romantic-historical-eclecticism) but without being aware of it." This chapter also is suggesting that in the world created by communications technology, there is nothing outside signs and images. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was impossibleo anticipate the social, economic, and cultural transformations communications technologies eventually would bring about. While recognizing the importance of the shift from an industrial to a postindustrial society, Venturi''s architectural revision remains bound to and by industrialism as it is embodied in the automobile. Though posed in terms of the difference between the primitive and the modern or the infantile and the mature, by this chapter having uses the distinction between simplicity and complexity to differentiate high modernism from the postmodern architecture needed in today''s world. The complexity of the Strip, then, emerges at the edge of chaos.
To the contrary, aleatory associations and unexpected juxtapositions create "difficult" wholes that cannot be comprehended by the neat-and-clean distinctions of the logic of noncontradiction based on the exclusive principle of either-or.