I cannot resist reproducing in full Luis Fernández-Galiano's review of three books by the young Italian theorist Pier Vittorio Aureli, published in Arquitectura Viva 158.
Pier Vittorio Aureli ‘Less is Enough’
The architect and professor Pier Vittorio Aureli has just published an electronic book, Less is Enough, with Strelka Press, the editorial branch of the research institute promoted by Rem Koolhaas in Moscow, and the launching of this lucid and timely tract on austerity and asceticism gives a good excuse to look at his two previous works, The Project of Autonomy (2008) and The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture (2011). Co-founder of the collective DOGMA, Aureli has taught extensively outside Italy – at the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam, the Architectural Association in London, and Yale University –, which explains why texts strongly rooted in the political and architectural debates of his country appear first in English. The two being reviewed here are meticulously edited by Joan Ockman (The Project...) and Cynthia Davidson (The Possibility...), who have managed to present the author’s ideas in limpid, pedagogical English prose.
The Project of Autonomy is a convincing description of the ideological debates in Italian architecture of the 1960s, a stimulating intellectual panorama that Aureli analyzes under the prism of the Rome-born philosopher Mario Tronti, whose political thinking he relates both to the architectural proposals of the Tendenza gathered around the Milanese Aldo Rossi, and to the utopian designs of Archizoom and Superstudio in Florence. The current senator Tronti was half a century ago the driving force and theorist of ‘operaism’, a radical Communist movement that would also involve the young Toni Negri, and which in time would bring about Autonomia Operaia. Aureli links the autonomy of the political, as defended by Tronti – who strove to reconcile the ideas of Karl Marx with those of the jurist of Nazism Carl Schmitt – with the autonomy of the architectural, as advocated by Rossi through the categories of type and place; and also connects the view of the philosopher of ‘society as factory’ with the No-Stop City of Andrea Branzi and his Archizoom companions, who proposed a zero degree of architecture that owed much to the urban ideas of Ludwig Hilberseimer, rediscovered at the time by a colleague of Rossi, Giorgio Grassi. This political and poetic landscape of Messianic effervescence – set against liberal democracy and the old guard represented by Bruno Zevi, Giulio Carlo Argan, and Ernesto Nathan Rogers – culminated and ironically also came to an end with two exhibitions, the one curated by Emilio Ambasz at the MoMA in 1972, and the Triennale di Milano directed by Rossi in 1973, a melancholy epilogue that Aureli duly records, while showing his dismay at the de-politicization of postmodern society.
Similar sentiments and anxieties inspired The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture, an effort to define the political and the formal in architecture through the opposition between the city with limits and urbanization without them, polemicizing with the urban theories of Cerdá, Hilberseimer, Archizoom, and Koolhaas, and finding in the late work of Mies the best expression of an ‘absolute architecture’: an archipelago of well-defined forms rising on clear-cut plinths in the amorphous, unlimited sea of urbanization. Aureli finds the origins of this strategy in the work of four architects – Palladio, Piranesi, Boullée, and Ungers – who confronted the city project from the angle of architectural form, and combs through their work from a viewpoint closer to theory than to history. Defending the Greek polis against the Roman urbs, and thus nomos against lex, Aureli, like Tronti, resorts to Carl Schmitt to explain limits from the optic of political differentiation between friend and enemy, and to support well-delimited places and forms in the city over the systems and indefinite flows of urbanization, which has imposed its economic logic everywhere.
In his latest work, Aureli questions the current clamor for austerity, pointing out the ambiguity of its ascetic component, which can be both a tool of oppression and a form of resistance. Going through the history of monastery life, from the hermits and the abbeys governed by the Rule of Saint Benedict to the altissima paupertas of the Franciscan reform, and stretching the story to include the bohemian poverty of Baudelaire, the precarious life of Walter Benjamin, or the simple room proposed by Hannes Meyer as an alternative to the Existenzminimum, Aureli censures the monastic minimalism of Pawson, the pastoral humility of Zumthor, and even the asceticism of Steve Jobs for its pseudo-religious spiritual aura, and encourages us to replace the Miesian ‘less is more’ with ‘less is enough’, making the shedding of material things the basis of a life freed of the anxiety of production and possession. With his determination to bring into the current debate the political dimension of more ideologized times, Pier Vittorio Aureli has acquired a voice of his own, a voice that deserves to be heard.
Arquitectura Viva 158
From the introduction to Less Is Enough
"Asceticism ... allows subjects to focus on their life as the core of their own practice, by structuring it according to a self-chosen form made of specific habits and rules. This process often involves architecture and design as a device for self-enactment. Because asceticism allows subjects to focus on the self as the core of their activity, the architecture that has developed within this practice is an architecture focused not on representation but on life itself – on bios, as the most generic substratum of human existence."
Pier Vittorio AureliGo to Strelka Press, publishers of Less is Enough
Markus Miessen in conversation with Pier Vittorio Aureli
Quote from the interview above:
"How can knowledge be transferred and produced in a meaningful way today?"
"By learning to not be hyperactive. This is a criticism that I address first to myself, every day. To not produce too much, to not design too much, to not travel too much, to not promote too much, to not network too much, to not be everywhere all the time. In short: to learn again to be sedentary and laconic. To learn that refusal, omission and inaction are also positive ways to do something."