The theory of architecture
The word theory comes from the ancient Greek verb "theorein," which means "to look at" or "to observe." The center of architectural theory then is the observation and interpretation of architecture and all its aspects. As is now common in cultural theory, architectural theory is concerned not only with an elite or canonized part of the built environment, but with spatial practices in general. It does not attempt to escape into hypnotic metaphysics or complex cosmologies, which then, summarized as a catechism, are supposed to lead to prescriptions for buildings. It seeks to understand the actual, real forces that shape the environment, even in their mediocrity. It analyzes the conditions under which this production takes place and makes assumptions about the possible social, political, and cultural effects of specific interventions.
Of course, it also involves communicating these architectural considerations and interpretations. Texts are an important tool in this process. However, they are not the only way to communicate perceptions of architecture: Drawings (floor plan, section, and elevation), images, films, models, lectures, and conversations also serve this purpose. Always aware that none of these media might somehow be able to convey the direct experience of buildings and spatial situations.
Architectural theory is part of different social, economic, political and aesthetic discourses. It also initiates discourses itself and responds to them: affirmatively or by seeking ways out of an unsatisfactory status quo.
The great European achievement of the 20th century was that architecture, as an intelligent organization and cultural expression of our
society, as homes, as places of work, as public and leisure spaces, benefited broad masses of the population. Politicians, architects, and urban planners worked to achieve this by taking an interest in these broad masses of the population. European architectural theory has also been largely in the service of this pursuit.
The masses may not exist today. But collective interests, desires, and threats still exist-even if we are not always aware of them. It would therefore be all the more important for architects and urban planners to take a renewed interest in the social role of their disciplines, so that they can develop new strategies and offer them to policymakers. This is precisely where architectural theory could play an important pioneering role by perceiving, analyzing, interpreting, speculating, and, in short, proposing programs.
Such a critical architectural theory does not reduce dreams to facts, but formulates - according to Bruno Latour - things of concern on the basis of these facts: "The critic is not the one who exposes, but the one who gathers. The critic is not the one who pulls the rug out from under the naive believers, but the one who provides arenas for the participants to gather. The critic is not the one who vacillates arbitrarily between antifetishism and positivism like Goya's drunken iconoclast; rather, he is the one for whom what is constructed is fragile and in need of care and caution." Only from this understanding can architects and urban planners reclaim the future.
Bart Lootsma, 2022