On Fiction & Function
in conversation with
Kutan Ayata & Simon Kim
April 4th 2018
Fiction, as pervasive as it is in our everyday life through films and books, is less discussed when it comes to architecture. In this conversation we chew over how these fictions we construct go through the process of becoming realized while not losing their weird qualities, along with what it even means to be weird in the first place.
Babble Mag [bbL]:
We are curious as to how the two of you met and how that has informed your particular areas of research?
Simon Kim [sK]:
Actually, we met here, at Penn. I’ve been teaching here steadily since 2010, and then Kutan started teaching in 2013.
Kutan Ayata [kA]:
Two thousand and thirteen is when we met, and we’ve been in constant contact through exchange in reviews and other platforms as well. Some things kind of click right away, both intellectual and personal clicks, I would say. He’s easy to get along with and a fun person to be around. That’s very important for a serious thing like architecture.
For each of you, how does fiction play a role in the work that you do?
In relation to the other topic which we are discussing as well, function; and function and fiction, you look at the broader discipline of architecture and how fiction is articulated in general, it is usually played through what one might call program. The narrative is usually articulated through the notion of program. I find that to be incredibly superficial. Program is pretty much the only thing we don’t control as architects. What happens in the buildings, how it is used, how it is abused, how it is appropriated, and how it changes over time, is where we have the least amount of say. But maybe this is more of a topic about typology, rather than program. If the typology is such, where it is highly specific, such as let’s say, a stadium, obviously there are constraints around which we have to develop an architectural project. But there are projects that go far beyond the specifics of a typology, in which program, for our practice, plays less of a role in making decisions about many aspects of architecture. This is kind of a position in which the fictional narrative can shift away from constructing a true program into maybe a material fiction. There is always something more to architecture or the architectural object than its program. There is always something more than what we see it in, how we establish it. There is something unexplainable. It’s the moment maybe any object withdraws from our perception. This is where Graham Harman is also a very interesting figure. I also want to draw a very careful line, not claiming an absolute supremacy of this kind of philosophy over anything else; or resting architecture on the singularity of one philosopher’s approach. But there’s something really interesting in that we were always interested in the thing in and of itself. We were never interested in something outside of it, where we define the thing through other means. That’s where we find a little overlap in our interest with Harman. Where the notion of fiction becomes interesting is where if the reality of something is inaccessible, it can only be represented. And in that representation lies a huge space, a space where we as architects operate, and where we generate our projects.
We don’t build. We do representations.
I see building as one form of representation. Most of our time is spent claiming representation as a future reality, and all we have to deal with is a set of assumptions. If those sets of assumptions become exciting through a fiction, it begins to guide our work. Material fictions refers to taking a playful look at a shift between the plausibility of what something is and how it appears. And that shift, or that space, for me, is where I’m interested in playing out the fiction.
In light of your statement, that architects don’t make buildings, they make representations, we wonder whether that puts a limit on the field; since architects are intrinsically invested in the notion of building?
For me that actually opens it up. If we define architecture as the building is the end goal, I think it is very clear where that would take us. It takes us to a direction of a service, where a big part of this profession already operates. That is also to deny a huge disciplinary history of how architectural thought is expressed. One thing that is interesting, when you practice, the building is so much out of your control; you are kind of imprisoned by its plausibility. Rem Koolhaas once stated, “95% of what you do is a waste.” If you hedge the reality of an ambition only in that 5%, you are kind of wasting your time. So for me architecture really happens in that other 95%. That doesn’t mean building is unimportant, or is not the goal. It definitely is the goal. All our efforts go into getting these ideas to be realized. But exploring architectural ideas mixes with many mediums and we are interested in these many different ideas of expressing and communicating them to others whether it be through talking, drawing, model-making, writing, lecturing, rendering, imaging, and all kinds of other forms.
Yeah, actually I will agree. This will be the only time I preface this with any kind of historical analysis, simply because right now, I am super-over using history or past precedents as an alibi. But when I think about Functionalism, I think about the phenomenal and literal transparency of Robert Slutzky and Colin Rowe, that the building expresses its interior workings, or as Kutan may say, the programming, of itself. There is a operation that the building is doing in its façade that is an honest appraisal of its internal workings. This reduces the idea of thickness and depth, and the great capacity of poche.
I think Functionalism has been rendered obsolete.
The Fiction part is interesting, because I think Kutan and I would both think of it in a different way. When I first thought of Fiction in my career, was when I read the Retroactive Manifesto of Manhattan, by Rem Koolhaas. He takes the history - after doing the analysis in Delirious New York - and decides he is going to retrofit it with something new, so that he can insert his own imposition. Otherwise New York, as he wrote, as a culture of congestion and a complete building enterprise, is nearly done. So Fiction is an unusual method and, if you take it on, it can open up spheres of possibilities to world-build in what would otherwise be very narrow closed arenas: to take on figure/field, which has been done to death; to take on character; to take on representation. To fictionalize means you can turn it over, to invert relationships of power and therefore establish something new. How Kutan would do it would be through the Parafictional, and how I do it would be through non-human agency.
There are things in the world that exist, that don’t need to explain why they exist and do not need to apologize (for their existence).
They are non-human, they have behavior, they have desires and cultures of their own that may not be for us. Architecture as a tradition has been so human-centric that it has held back rights to any other agency but human ones. We are too cold, give us some heat. Or it’s way too hot in here, lower the temperature by 10 degrees. It’s a fallacy that has clearly made itself known in the Anthropocene.
So these are qualities of the non-human agent that are withdrawn from building. So is that best expressed in representation, the means in which architects usually operate in? Are these withdrawn characteristics somehow lost when we enter the realm of the physical?
No, I think that they find themselves in two different effects…
Read the rest of the talk in Issue No. 001 of Babble Mag!