I wanted to share with you my response to an article that appeared in the June 2005 issue of Record entitled " After Theory". Please see my letter below. I appreciate that Record is including important issues that cut across education and practice. I hope that my opinions may be of interest to your readers and may be suitable for inclusion in your Letters section. Thanks for providing a much needed forum.
Theory is dead?
I read with great interest and a certain sense of dismay a feature article entitled "After Theory" in the June 05' issue of Architectural Record. The place of theory in schools of architecture and the influence of theory upon contemporary architectural practice is indeed an important topic for debate. The article however well written and provocative perpetuates an anti-intellectual stance that if taken to its ultimate conclusion can serve to diminish both the potential of architectural education and architectural practice. Whenever architectural education (in the guise of theory) or the practice of architecture (in the guise of reality) eliminates the complex duality represented by theory and practice both realms are lessened.
The positions and conclusions presented are based on a small group of individuals proposing a view of theory that appears extremely short-sided. The pronouncement that theory is over is in fact another theory. Without the existence of the idea of theory one could not even speculate that theory has run its course. Theory allows us the possibility to posit and intelligently discuss such propositions however untenable they may be. After repeated attempts, over thousands of years why has it been so difficult to kill theory? Might not theory have a duration and permanence that will outlast us all?
Perhaps the most questionable propositions made in the article are that theory is irrelevant and it is an enemy of innovation. Martin Heidegger in his Introduction to Metaphysics addressed what at the time surfaced as a critique of the uselessness of philosophy. He turned the criticism around by asking how philosophy uses us. Similarly, we should not with such confidence declare we are done with theory until theory is done with us. Any ability we may have to think intelligently about innovation in architecture will depend on the quality of our thinking about innovation. If theory, to forcefully applied, has its limitations perhaps we might agree that thinking well about architecture remains an important foundation for both education and practice.
We are caught today in what could be termed the pragmatism of the literal impatiently advocating that the materialization (both virtual or real) of architecture will be our saving grace. This kind of literal thinking may need from time to time the figurative and imaginative ballast theory may provide. The difficulty is that theorists at the level of Vitruvius or Alberti do not come along very often. This is probably a good thing. However when and if it happens hopefully we will be capable of detecting it through what has become our extremely literal lens. Might we be our own worst enemy?
Frank H. Weiner
School of Architecture + Design
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University