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Review - Book - Architecture and Authorship

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By Iain Borden

Architecture and Authorship.
Edited by Tim Anstey, Katja Grillner and Rolf Hughes.
Black Dog Publishing, 2007. £24.95

The notion of authorship has always been central to architecture – who makes architecture, and what does that person actually do? Surprisingly, despite exceptions such as Andrew Saint’s Image of the Architect (1983) and Torsten Schmiedeknecht and Julia Chance’s Fame and Architecture (2001), few have chosen to explore this puzzling affair.

This is particularly strange given the ongoing debates concerning the architect’s role within increasingly large and complex collective teams, as well as issues with copyright, digital reproduction, and the architect as celebrity and signature designer.

So Architecture and Authorship is timely – but it’s also very good. Firstly, the collection rightly refers to ideas outside of architecture, but never loses sight of the fact that it is, above all, a reader in architectural theory.

So while philosophers and theorists like Freud, Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault make an appearance, so also do architectural writers like Kenneth Frampton, Reyner Banham and Manfredo Tafuri, and numerous architects, including Alvar Aalto, Le Corbusier and Rem Koolhaas. Given that the book also refers to an impressive range of historical and contemporary material, it’s a skilful act of curatorship.

This much is evident from the introduction, where the editors carefully examine what the architect authors (an object, a social service, an artistic creation?). They go on to consider the architect-author in the context of social and self-organising systems (who authors vernacular architecture?), as well as that of the architectural practice itself (viz Team 4 and its rapid change into practices named after sole male figures).

The main body of the book is then divided into four subsections – not, as the editors point out, to cover all aspects of authorship in architecture, but to arrange a series of insights and interpretations.

Thus in ‘Affirmation’, essays explore how architects have tried to sustain control, how they have created treatises and manifestoes, and, in turn, how the architect is presented as an author. Tim Anstey is particularly insightful here in his investigation of the use of rhetoric from Alberti through to critic Colin Rowe. In the next section, the essays proclaim the ‘dissolution’ of authorship, especially in the context of ‘interactive, networked and emergent technologies’. Here Stanley Matthews on Cedric Price shows how the architect as author is challenged and dissolved but simultaneously reborn under another guise.

In ‘Dislocation’ we find challenges to architectural authorship from outside the profession, including a stand-out essay by Katja Grillner on 18th-century garden design, where the author ‘does not invent, but rewrites’.

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