The topic proposed for the second edition of Critic all is the autonomy of architecture, recollecting and reframing the reflections that over architecture’s specificity have been produced within the discipline itself. If there is an approach that argues that architecture cannot be an isolated medium, that is, autonomous – not only in regard to social culture but above all, the worldly social, political and economic environment in which it is immersed, – we also have to face those visions that, conversely, consider that architecture is strictly a self-referential discipline, and therefore, it employs a self-sufficient language whose verification is determined by a collection of predefined historical forms.
However, there is a single set of facts, ideas, forms and styles, one that grows larger over time. All this knowledge belongs to us and it may and should be interpreted as an architectural event. And there is an infinite number of paths for the interpretation of those facts, ideas, forms and styles. There are those which make use of new critical tools, alien to the instruments of the architectural discipline, inherited from other intellectual and scientific fields. Others, instead, reclaim the delimitation of the discipline itself to be the main scope of the critical task.
Modernism set up the replacement of an architectural discourse for that of science and technology, therefore emptying the place of architecture. As a response, Postmodern thought reinforced its mechanisms of signification by means of difference and identity, propelling the intensification of disciplinary self-referentiality that characterizes autonomy. Today we know that any discursive contribution cannot be fully constructed from its interior, whether absent or reasserted, but rather from the surroundings of architecture.
Once we passed the Millennium, the pragmatism that characterizes global capitalism questioned any critical discourse on autonomy for its lack of operational effectiveness, re-inscribing the critical discourse of architecture in a world without disciplinary, cultural, economic, geographical or political limits. Are the globalization model and the disciplinary autonomy self exclusive? Is it useful or even plausible to re-frame the concept of autonomy in the current context? Is it possible to give up the limits of disciplinary knowledge and yet preserve the identity and purpose of architecture?
Globalization extends through the economic, social, political, technological, warfare and ecological realms. As heir to Postmodernism, its distaste for Utopia and ideology promotes a concealed recognition of the status quo. If we were to re-draw once again the body of architecture – its organs or even its anatomy – with the intention of discerning its identity in relation to the complex global interdisciplinarity, we should have to do it in the formless context of global realism and mass-media, removed from the art-object reification of architecture on which autonomy was predicated. Definitively, we ought to understand architecture as complex but not Utopian, transversal but not critical, operative and not abstract.
Thus we propose the term out-tonomy as a framework to overcome such dichotomy. Discipline is no longer a place, or reserve that the ‘academy’ defines, setting a boundary between the self and the alien. It is a gaze, a reading or modification. It is a glance which, simultaneously directed outwards and inwards, is alien to the architectural discipline, yet also resonant with it.
The autonomy of architecture does not reside in its technologies or methodologies. Rather, it relies in its capacity to respond freed from pre-established theories, critically untethered to specific techniques, exclusively catering for the systematic managed and chosen for each time. Such autonomy requires to position ourselves out of the matter we want to analyze, manipulate or produce, knowing, at the same time, that we cannot make decisions without being directly involved in that matter. Because nothing is done on things but between them.
Recognizing the paradox it involves, the term out-tonomy proposes the combination of an internal autonomy, described from within as the preservation of a certain discipline delimited by memory, history and its specific techniques, with an external autonomy, that is defined from the outside and influenced by other fields and cultures, attentive to society, politics and economy – the forces that rule the world. Whilst they may overlap with each other, both concepts are merged into a specifically contemporary gaze through the suggested new term.
Lying between the desire of ‘unit’ and ‘self-referral order’ as a translation of the concept of discipline and the pursuit of ‘fragmentation’ and ‘autonomy of the parts’ as translation of the importance of the accurate and current, the dichotomy could be solved insofar as we recognize that both visions have created a situation where they no longer confront each other but simultaneously blend.
Such double condition enables to place ourselves at both sides of the limit, until we get to simultaneously see the interior and the exterior. The awareness of being inside because of looking from the outside and, conversely, of recognizing ourselves in the outside when seen from the inside, is a contemporary trait that we seek to collect, display and confirm at this conference.