Architecture and Play
Potlatch #20 (30 May 1955))
Translated by Gerardo Denís
In his Essay on the Social Function of Play, Johan Huizinga establishes that "In its primitive stages, culture has the attributes of a game and develops in the form and the framework of games." The author's latent idealism and his narrowly sociological understanding of the higher forms of play do not diminish his work's basic worth. Moreover, it would be futile to try to find any other motive behind our theories on architecture or drifting than a passion for play.
Even though almost everything that happens in this world provokes our anger and disgust, we are nevertheless more and more able to find it amusing. Anyone who understands by this that we are given to irony is missing the point. Life around us is arranged so as to be moved by absurd forces and tends unconsciously to satisfy its true needs.
These needs and their partial fulfilment, their partial understanding, everywhere confirm our hypotheses. For example, a bar called AT THE END OF THE WORLD (Au bout du monde), on the edge of one of Paris' strongest unities of ambiance (the rue Mouffetard, rue Tournefort, rue Lhomond area) is not there by chance. Events are only fortuitous insofar as the general laws governing their category are unknown. An effort must be made to reach as great an understanding as possible of the elements making up a situation, beyond the utilitarian imperatives whose strength will constantly diminish.
What one wants to do with architecture is a fairly accurate analogy of what one wants to do with one's life. As the saying goes, beautiful adventures can only begin and be played out in beautiful surroundings. The concept of beautiful surroundings will change.
Already now, it is possible to savour the ambiance of various desolate areas that are as ideal for drifitng as they are scandalously unfit for habitation, but where the system nevertheless crowds in the working masses. Le Corbusier himself, in Urbanism is a Key, admits that, in view of the miserly and anarchistic individualism of construction in highly industrialised countries, "under-development can be as much the product of surplus as of scarcity." This observation can naturally be brought also to bear on the neo-medieval promoter of the "vertical community" himself.
Widely dissimilar individuals, taking apparently similar approaches, have modelled some intentionally puzzling styles of architecture, from the famous castles of King Louis of Bavaria, to the house in Hanover that the dadaist Kurt Schwitters has apparently pierced through with tunnels and forests of pillars made from agglomerated objects. Each of these constructions contains something of the baroque character found in all efforts at creating integrated art that would be completely determinant. In this regard, it is worth noting the relationship between Louis of Bavaria and Wagner, who himself must have been pursuing an aesthetic synthesis in the most difficult and, in the end, the most fruitless manner.
We must make it clear that if the architectural manifestations which we are bound to exalt are in some way related to naïve art, we value them for another reason altogether, namely their embodiment of the unexploited future potential of a discipline that is to an overwhelming extent economically beyond the reach of the "avant-garde." It is impossible not to perceive the trappings of a formally reactionary mentality, closely related to the social attitude of paternalism, in the exploitation of the commercial value absurdly attached to most modes of expressing naïvety. More than ever, we believe that the ones who are worthy of some respect must have had answers for everything.
We will not desist in our intention to participate as intensely as possible in the realisation of the risks and power of urbanism.
We are well aware that the provisional, the free realm of playful activity, seen by Huizinga as opposed, as such, to "ordinary life" characterised by a sense of duty, is the only possible field of action held back fraudulently by taboos with pretensions of endurance, of true life. The behaviour we seek tends to establish all the conditions favourable to its complete development. What we must do now is change the rules of the game from arbitrary conventions to ones with a moral basis.