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  • Expanded FieldsArchitecture/Landscape/Performance
  • Cathryn Dwyre (bio) and Chris Perry (bio)

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Species Niches performance pavilion. Courtesy Harrison Atelier.

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At first glance, one might consider architecture and performance to be antithetical to one another, in so far as a building is generally characterized by qualities of stasis and permanence while performance, understood here in terms of movement, is its opposite, temporal and impermanent in nature. However, beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, the discipline of architecture embarked on what has been at least a century-long experiment to embody and express the dynamic qualities of movement. On the one hand, this experiment has materialized in the form of literal movement in space—that is, the design of kinetic building elements, such as flexible wall partitions, and an emphasis on representing the less tangible aspects of architecture: the movement of bodies in space. On the other hand, it has materialized in a more figurative manner, as architectural form that, while static in nature, lends aesthetic expression to the dynamic qualities of movement. Or as a building that, while fixed in place, might function as a vehicle for engendering social and political forms of mobility.

In large part, this interest in temporality and impermanence at the turn of the twentieth century had to do with broader technological, scientific, and socio-political influences. In addition to the Industrial Revolution, which introduced the machine and with it a new cultural mindset characterized by speed, Einstein’s theory of relativity was a revolution of another sort, a complete reconceptualization of the universe as inherently relative and subject to perpetual change. Amid such technological and scientific paradigm shifts, architecture commenced a re-evaluation of its fundamental relationship to time. Contemporaneously, the social and political revolutions taking place throughout Europe evoked qualities of movement, albeit in a more figurative manner, compelling a new generation of architects to speculate on the capacity of buildings to induce social change. Indeed, the term “social” entered architecture for the first time during the modern movement, expanding the discipline’s traditional discourse on material, geometry, and space, to include matters of use.

Although the Second World War interrupted this development, after which some historians ventured to declare its technological and social manifesto a failure, a second generation of modernists emerged in the 1950s and 1960s with a renewed interest in the social potential of architecture, and with it qualities of temporality and [End Page 2] impermanence. Similar to their predecessors, this second generation was inspired by emerging technological and socio-political movements, which during the 1950s included electronic media, computing, advertising, and a cultural climate characterized by the implicit speed of mass production and consumption. In the 1960s, many of these technological influences carried over into a new decade of anti-authoritarianism, fueling a progressive period of social, cultural, and political change, which in its challenge to the implicit stasis and permanence of tradition became expressive of a figurative mobility in society. Comparable examples from the period can be found within landscape architecture, wherein the design of public urban space by progressive landscape architects, like Lawrence Halprin, often sought to empower rather than constrain the user.1 As such, the design of public urban space in the sixties and early seventies was conceived not as a mechanism for maintaining social order but rather as a catalyst for producing new forms of social, cultural, and even political agency at both individual and collective scales.2

It is from within this rich architectural lineage that Bernard Tschumi emerged in the mid-1970s. Critical of the aesthetic mannerism and technological functionalism associated with first as well as second generation modernists, Tschumi’s early work might be viewed as a critical and much more conceptual expansion of the discipline’s general desire to challenge conventions, first and foremost the traditional assumption that architecture is a field identified principally with qualities of order, stasis, and permanence.3 On the contrary, Tschumi’s theoretical projects from the seventies celebrate qualities of disorder, temporality, and impermanence through a critical reassessment of “architectural space,” drawing upon a wide range of extra-disciplinary influences as a means of doing...


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