learning architecture


a PhD in live projects and architectural education

Freire versus de Carlo

This is as much as I could manage of the chocolate cake on Friday afternoon. As I mentioned earlier, I sought to excuse myself for a double family celebration at the weekend: the sixtieth birthday party and civil partnership of a close relative. The latter came first, and was a private family affair and a very big secret until the birthday party, at which the union was announced to assembled surprise, excitement and joy. It was a wonderful weekend, although I still regret not being able to finish my slice of cake.
Returning to Glasgow I returned to two texts that I’ve been reading this month. Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Giancarlo de Carlo’s Architecture’s Public (or Architecture: too important to be left to architects?) as published in the book Architecture and Participation. These two texts are on my rather rambling bibliography, a kind of kick-start reading list that has been growing in different directions rapidly, perhaps not reflecting with any accuracy the eventual course that my studies will follow. However, in the excitement of starting the long journey towards a PhD, being able to read, note and think on a daily basis is nothing short of bliss. To me at least, but then maybe I’m just a nerd.
These two texts keep coming back to me, because I am developing a hunch about how de Carlo’s plea for a participative architecture can be re-read using Freire’s theory of pedagogy. This may be nothing more than the repeated occurrence of similar themes, but I have a suspicion that the two texts read well together (although I confess that at this early stage I have no idea whether the two authors had any knowledge of or relationship to each other). There are convincing echoes of one in the other, and the rough concurrence (Freire first published Pedagogy of the Oppressed in 1968; de Carlo presented Architecture’s Public as a lecture in Liége in 1969) makes these even more provocative.
So here are the very barest of bones of an essay or paper that is forming in my mind.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed describes a struggle for equity in an educational context with the manifesto of a new, democratic and liberating pedagogy. A dialectical relationship between oppressor and oppressed (in which neither is likely conscious of their role) is revealed, critiqued and challenged. The titular pedagogy proposes that the oppressed – with the assistance of certain key oppressors who (realising the violence of their actions) cross over to the ‘side’ of the oppressed – liberate both themselves and their oppressors by means of a revelatory and dialogic pedagogy.
Architecture’s Public, on the other hand, is a loud and optimistic call for a revolution in architectural practice. Referring extensively to the failures of the Modern Movement, de Carlo implores architects to reject an authoritarian mode of planning in favour of process planning, through which open ended objectives allow a continuous and democratic formation of architectural programmes.
(Forgive me if those are bastardised summations, but as I have already said, I’m still new to all this.)
Three things strike me about the relevance of these texts to each other. All underline emphases are mine.
One: de Carlo identifies the unreformed architect to be an oppressor, and therefore worthy of consideration in the light of Freire’s text.
The metamorphosis [ of developing new characteristics in architecture and new behaviour patterns in authors ] in other words, must coincide with the subversion of the present condition, where to be an architect is the result of power delegrated in a repressive fashion, and to be architecture is the result of a reference to class codes which legitimate only the exception, with an emphasis proportional to the degree to which it is cut off from its context.
Two: Genuine ‘renewal’ (de Carlo) or ‘revolution’ (Freire) comes from small groups of ‘elites’ (de Carlo) / ‘oppressors’, and not from those oppressors who offer false clemency or generosity.
de Carlo:
…this was only the consequence of a more serious failing that the Modern Movement inherited from the amorphous matrix in which it was generated: the deliberate programmatic attitude of an elite. I do not criticise the size of the group – the fact that only small groups can set off processes of real renewal seems unquestionable – but rather the group’s choices in defining its field of operation.
…another issue of indubitable importance arises: the fact that certain members of the oppressor class join the oppressed in their struggle for liberation … theirs is a fundamental role, and has been so throughout the history of this struggle … [ but ] they almost always bring with them the marks of their origin: their prejudices and their deformations, which include a lack of confidence in the people’s ability to think, to want, and to know. Accordingly, these adherents to the people’s cause constantly run the risk of falling into a type of generosity as malefic as that of the oppressors. The generosity of the oppressors is nourished by an unjust order, which must be maintained in order to justify that generosity.
Freire could be said to has described the very trap into which the vanguard of the Modern Movement fell by dint of their false generosity: a pretense to solve the problems of the built environment in the machine age.
de Carlo:
The field which the Modern Movement intended to conquer (and did in fact conquer) was that already occupied by academic or business architecture; a field restricted to relations between clients and entrepreneurs, land owners, critics, connoisseurs, and architects; a field built on a network of economic and social class interests and held together by the mysterious tensions of a cultural and aesthetic class code. This was a field that excluded everything in economic, social, cultural and aesthetic terms that was not shared by the class in power. It is true that a few ‘heroes’ had intentions and produced works beyond these limits, but always leaning out of their elite positions, never stepping out to stand on the other side: the side of the people – those who use and bear architecture.
Or, as Garry Stevens puts it so eloquently in his book The Favored Circle:
In a way, then, it was inevitable in the heyday or modernism that the users’ opinions would count for nought. Thus, wen the heroes of the Modern movement moved across the Atlantic and up the hierarchy of the architectural field in the late 1930s and after the war, their advocacy of socialist housing solutions was discretely let slide into oblivion and their social objectives disappeared. Finding themselves in the most elite areas of American academia, in the Ivy League and associated universities, their natural affinities with the economically powerful reasserted themselves. The remnants of the threat to architecture’s autonomy was finally done away with by turning the Modern movement into the International Style, and the ancient alliance of the two fractions of the dominant classes re-affirmed by placing this style in the service of corporate America.
Three: Both Freire and de Carlo are calling for a dialogic and process based form of pedagogy / planning (delete as appropriate).
de Carlo:
The discipline and its ideology are connected by a reciprocal necessity … but identifying with the users’ needs does not meaning planning ‘for’ them, but planning ‘with’ them …
Pedagogy which begins with the egoistic interests of the oppressors (an egoism cloaked in the false generosity of paternalism) and makes of the oppressed the objects of its humanitarianism, itself maintains and embodies oppression … that is why … the pedagogy of the oppressed cannot be developed or practiced by the oppressors. It would be a contradiction in terms if the oppressors not only defended but actually implemented a liberating education.
A more coherent reading of Freire and de Carlo will follow in due course. Your thoughts, corrections and comments are most welcome, especially if you know more about these two writers than I do.

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One Response

  1. peter rudd says:

    James – fascinating research – thank you for sharing! I practice and teach and feel that there needs to be structural change to how we work as architects. Now is a good time too – recession can bring radically new thinking, if we’re smart. The oppressor oppressed dichotomy reminds me a bit of deleuze’s writing on capitalism – http://coromandal.wordpress.com/2008/04/24/but-down-below-there-are-desires/

    best wishes for your research!

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