07: Question of qualities



A question of qualities is a collection of essays that is part of the Writing Architecture series by the architectural critic and professor: Jeffrey Kipnis. A question of qualities, as a publication is an exquisite celebration of what a critic can become if an entire life is dedicated to architectural analysis and erudition, the latter first. It is nothing else than a celebration of architectural imagination emanating from one brilliant individual through decades of writing. 

The book opens up with the eponymous essay: A question of qualities, and is a text that deals beautifully with the recent work of Morphosis (San Francisco Federal Building, Caltrans building and the Cincinnati Campus Recreation Center) in light of personal exchanges with architect Thom Mayne. Exile on Ringstrasse (Excitations on Main street) is about the genesis and explications of Coop Himme(l)blau's architecture. And then something magical is primarily about Steven Holl's Nelson-Atkins extension building, and is probably the apex of this book in terms of turns of phrase and admiration, with such exquisite quips like the following one:

More than an optical instrument, then, the Bloch (extension building at the Nelson-Atkins museum) is a light manufacturing factory. Whether it originated from the sun or an electric light fixture, before any single photon is allowed to leave the Bloch for someones's eye - inside the galleries or out - it has been processed and reprocessed; bounced, bent, stretched, and filtered by physics, educated by history, groomed by psychology, and scented by poetry. This new light of the Bloch is its radical claim for a new authenticity - Jeff Kipnis

The admiration for Herzog & De Meuron's architecture is reluctantly felt with the essay:  The Cunning of Cosmetics, where Kipnis accepts H&deM radicality through their oeuvre not in terms of extravagant form but in terms of their desired affects and elegance of their architectural values,.

A similar sentiment is later expressed by Kipnis against the use of computers :

The power of form making the computer conveys carries with it a potential loss of freedom, Its seductions could transform the architect from an expert at responding creatively to changing situations to an expert at imagining and realizing fantastic forms - Jeff Kipnis

Recent Koolhaas, is as an explication of OMA's success and most famous technique: reductive disestablishment, the capacity of OMA to reduce a project to its essential components giving way for the capacity to offer radical alternatives and a non-ending fight with the establishment. Although this text is also an analysis about OMA's failed competitions (Jussieu - Two Libraries - Paris, Miami Performing Arts Center, Tate Modern, Cardiff Bay Opera House), they are only seen as successes in terms of the way they influenced the discipline despite their failed attempts at construction. 

Moneo's Anxiety is a retort to Rafael Moneo's own book titled: Theoretical Anxiety and Design Strategies where he analyses the work of eight different architects and colleagues: James Stirling, Robert Venturi, Aldo Rossi, Peter Eisenman, Alvaro Siza, Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, and Herzog & De Meuron.

Throwing stones - the incidental effects of a glass house is a story of Philip Johnson's most famous building: The Glass House in Ponus Ridge Road, New Canaan Connecticut. More than that, it is an essay that chronicles how through many decades the elusive character of Philip, allied with his own house's additions, continued to influence architectural discourse for many decades, whether in terms of new architecture added to the site (i.e. the studio, the folly, the sculpture gallery, the tower ) or in Johnson's publications about his own work.

A time for freedom is about the late execution of Le Corbusier's final building: the Church in Firminy France, through the will and hands of Jose Oubrerie. A building that is referred as the final puzzle piece in Le Corbusier's trifecta (along with La Tourette and Ronchamp). Drawing references to Vincenzo Scamozzi executing the Teatro Olimpico and Villa Rotonda, buildings attributed to none other than Andrea Palladio, as well as the famous case of the Sydney Opera with Jorn Utzon's, Kipnis makes a case for Rem Koolhaas as the continuator of the idea of processional started at Firminy by Corbusier and Oubrerie, through the Jussieu Paris library competition entry and finalized with a single surface project as is The Seattle Library in Washington U.S.A.

Twisting the Separatrix narrates the philosophical and architectural collaboration between Peter Eisenman and Jacques Derrida, and to a lesser extent: Bernard Tschumi. 

Toward a New Architecture is the only essay where we see Kipnis not only as the critic but Kipnis as an architect. His interests in form are of note, as expected, and are seen through a series of collaborations and competition entries such as the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh along with Andrew Zago and Baram Shirdel. This essay also offers an extended analysis of what he terms: InFormation and DeFormation (terms for creating a new type of architecture and a new philosiphical shift from Derrida and Lacan to Deleuze) in architecture through the works of: Baram Shirdel and Andrew Zago, Peter Eisenman, Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind and Rem Koolhaas.

Bataille asserts that architecture's definitive social role is to reinforce established authority. According to him, the silence conjured by a cathedral may feel like reverence for God, but it is in actuality nothing other than the evidenCe of the covert suppression of dissent against the authority of the Church - Jeff Kipnis

A question of qualities is mesmerizingly elucidating and candid, extremely didactic, and unrelentingly bold, Kipnis's texts are a tour-de-force overflowing with passionate and exacting analyses.