by Hélène Frichot. Bloomsbury, December 2018. 264p.ill.ISBN 97813500042087 (pbk.), $29.95.
Reviewed November 2019
Barbara Opar, Librarian for Architecture, Syracuse University Libraries, email@example.com
Hélène Frichot, professor of Architecture in Critical Studies and Gender Theory at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, is at the forefront of critical theory in architecture. She presents architecture not as object, but as indistinguishable from its surroundings, “a thing among things” (p. 8). Her work explores practices at the periphery where practice “troubles disciplinary boundaries” and creativity intersects with other disciplines including philosophy and literature (p. 10). in choosing these practices she challenges the idea of iconic architecture in ways often perceived as improper or threatening. Drawing on the ideas of Isabelle Stengers,a philosopher of science, Frichot presents eight distinct scenarios of practices “undertaken in intimate relation” with guiding concepts which she labels as environment-worlds, things and thinkables (p. 10).
Part One explores the idea of environment-worlds where the organic and inorganic are brought together. By way of example, Frichot describes Tacita Dean’s films, in which Dean relegates architecture to the background and instead creates atmospheres. In the second section, Frichot turns to ecology with information on how the term evolved, then explaining it through the lens of philosophers like Guattari.
Objects and things are the subject of Part Two of the book. The first practice Frichot describes is that of Agnès Varda and her documentary films. Reflecting on the distinction between things and objects, Frichot summarizes the architectural discourse, reflects on the work of Christian Kerez, and presents views such as those of Mario Carpo. The Paris pavement photography of Chelle Macnaughtan is the practice scene in this section.
In Part Three (Thinkables), Frichot discusses the science of phenomena (noology) and how concept-tools are necessary to have thinkables. The examples of practices she chooses are those of Michelle Hamer and her tapestries depicting noology and Michael Spooner’s prints and models illustrating the exhaustion of concepts.
Frichot concludes by stating that she has tried to survey “matters of care and how they can be mapped across a series of creative practice scenes” (p. 205). The author demonstrates how the idea of architecture is in constant change. Because her examples are unique and often tangential to architecture, this a challenging read. She admits to the challenge in citing her commitment that she “will hold tight to the impossible slipperiness of things and their complex relational matrices” (p. 11). Another work in the same vein, The Other Architect: Another Way of Building Architecture,”accompanying a 2015 exhibition of the same name at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, likewise includes examples which straddle the boundaries of architecture, yet with greater alignment with the discipline of architecture.
This reviewer would recommend the Frichot book for schools with advanced studies. A thorough index and comprehensive bibliography add scholarly value.