This post opens a new section in that we will try, in the shakespeare’s language.

And to open that new section, our fellow teoretical contributor Jana Leo’s article/review about the MoMA’s exhibition will do the honors. Is the english version of a post published a couple of days ago. [ed. note]

Jana Leo is Ph.D, Autonoma University of Madrid and Master on Architecture, Princeton University.




¬øWhat does Terence Riley mean by ‚ÄúNew‚Ä? in New Architecture in Spain?

The title ‚ÄúNew Architecture in Spain‚Ä? contains ‚ÄúArchitecture‚Ä?, as a discipline, ‚ÄúSpain‚Ä? as a country and ‚ÄúNew,‚Ä? as a quality. There is no concept, just context, unless the meaning of ‚ÄúNew‚Ä? is to be defined within the show. In this case, the weight of the whole exhibition is held by a very skinny word with only three letters: ‚Äún-e-w‚Ä?.

‚ÄúNew‚Ä?, is a word of common but undefined use, since its many different meanings, when held together, undifferentiated, create a sense of ambiguity.

The show displays current projects and recently built work in Spain. In its first sense ‚ÄúNew‚Ä? implies the context of time. 1.<‚Ä?New‚Ä?: Recent. Having been made or come into being only a short time ago>. In its second sense ‚ÄúNew‚Ä? relates to use. 2. <.‚ÄúNew‚Ä?: Never used, untouched or pristine, as in new construction >. These two senses of the word ‚Äúnew‚Ä? set the conditions that the architecture has to meet in order to qualify for the show. Here ‚Äúthe new‚Ä? is the filter but not the full criteria for the selection, otherwise the title of the exhibition would be: Recent Architecture in Spain.

Considered in passing, Riley‚Äôs usage of new, appears to set a clear or automatic criterion. Terence Riley tries to preempt, or elide, the question of why one project was selected and another was not with reference to ‚Äúthe new‚Ä? as a criterion for the selection. However ‚Äúthe new‚Ä? is the requirement, but not the valuation of the criteria. It is in the valuation of the word ‚Äúnew,‚Ä? that Riley‚Äôs illusion of automatic selection fails. The exhibition, according to MoMA‚Äôs website, promotes two types of work: ‚Äúeighteen projects, each of which are a major architectural accomplishment completed in Spain within the last few years ‚Ä?and ‚Äúthirty-five significant architectural projects that are currently in design or under construction.‚Ä? While the fiction of automatic selection holds in the case of the eighteen ‚Äúmajor‚Ä? works, since they are merely a list of all the recently completed large works in Spain, the fiction falls apart upon consideration of the remaining thirty-five works. There are many more than thirty-five ‚Äúsignificant‚Ä? works currently under construction or in project phase in Spain. That the design and construction in the show are recent is a fact, but facts are not a criterion for anything.

Here a tacit agenda emerges.

‚ÄúNew‚Ä? is a ‚Äúpositive‚Ä? word that communicates nice emotions in all its usages, except one‚Äîwhen it means 3.<‚Ä?New‚Ä?: beginner, as in new at the job learner, a person who is inexperienced at work >. Does Terence Riley consider the new architecture in Spain an architecture that has lots to learn, and the Spanish architects that he includes in the show, beginners? Or does ‚Äúnew‚Ä? refer to a newborn architecture in Spain? Or is Spanish architecture considered here a source from which to learn, the beginning of something: its principle?

The spanish word for beginner, ‚Äúprincipiante‚Ä? shares its root with the word ‚Äúprincipio,‚Ä? or principle. In the architecture in this exhibition principles are mostly absent. In almost all major projects there are clear and coherent strategies but no ethics. The logic is clear but the architecture, as public work, does not carry the weight of meaning. The fear of political changes, brought about by democratic elections, inhibits the architects from taking political positions and Architecture‚Äôs competitions, (while searching for impartiality) promote specialization and the loss of ideological context. This explains the process but does not justify that architects avoid responsibility for the construction. In the case of the thirty-five ‚Äúsignificant‚Ä? projects, all designed by Spanish architects, most of them by commission, the situation is worst. Architecture projects that could be the origin of ‚Äúan architecture that is another;‚Ä? projects that not only built the edifice but a new conception of architecture, are so scarce in this exhibition that when they do appear, it seems accidental.

I don‚Äôt believe that this lack of principles on display at the MoMA reflects the reality of Spanish achitecture. Rather this lack is due to the fact that the projects‚Äô selection does not try to show the reality of the Spanish architecture, but instead highlights the pieces of work that are news in the sense of novelty. ‚ÄúNews‚Ä? as a noun means 4. <‚Ä?News»: broadcasted event >. Is being in the news the aim of this show? Is the search for ‚Äúnews‚Ä? Terence Riley‚Äôs curatorial line? Or, is it related to the trajectory of the location where of the exhibition take place? It is the MoMA‚Äôs Modern an old-new one? Is a modern art museum the place for news?. Perhaps the ‚ÄúModern‚Ä? in the Museum of Modern Art, refers merely to fashion. 5. <‚Ä?New»: modern>. The architecture advertises itself. In fear of being accused of having bad taste, principles and politics are avoided. Those projects selected for their value as novelty are easy to identify, and have been chosen by the MoMA to promote itself. These projects are further reproduced in the media and are literally the ones appearing in the news. Many projects, despite not making the news, are notable in the architecture world. 6. <‚Ä?New»: novelty, new development, not to the use>. Novelty architecture focuses on scientific or technical discoveries, on new construction methods or new materials. ‚Äîinnovation in the architectural world but not innovation in the world, not a revolution. New projects, with a new vision, but without a new spirit: projects that do not recognize the neccesity to create another world. In in this sense, their significance beyond the discipline is doubtful.

Very few are the projects that actually are a change for the better. <‚Ä?New»: different from the former or the old, fresh.>. However, it is in this sense of new, as different from the old, where the real strength of the new is alive. As the index of change this is the only one that has a philosophico-political agenda neccesary to question the existent and to create the future.

It is sad to have to ask: Why there are no works in this exhibition that rise against the rules of production and speculation by building islands of resistance in the middle of gated developments? Where are the projects that balance community and autonomy? Where are the projects that give place to unattended human neccesities? Always is the time for heroic architecture even if it does not have a place.

Cases of poetry and resistance are very rare. Many cases of functional formalism (the program confused with function, and perfectly conventional, is added as an afterthought) that, given its abundance and priority, MoMA appears to support with devotion.

Devotion and not freshness is what defines 7.<‚Ä?New»:novice >. Novice, besides meaning novel, also means one who has been accepted into a religious order but has not yet taken the final vows. Is Terence Riley affirming that the selected individuals have been accepted into the architecture order? Is architecture a ‚Äòclan‚Äô? I cannot find another explanation for the lack of criteria and reflection in the selction of the Spanish architecture in this exhibition, other than the fact that the pieces work are not the first priority of the show. Perhaps the investigation was not sufficiently profound, or perhaps any investigation into Spanish architecture was not deemed necessary, since the function of the thirty-five projects of Spanish architects is to act as background to the others and to show devotion to the clan of architecture, where through the show they have been afirmed.

Missing are the ones that should be here; instead the excess of the ones that are and shouldn‚Äôt. Many projects, like carpet, literally cover the ground. This superficiliaty, and its celebration, is the greatest sadness. This exhibition celebrates construction as an exercise, as an occupation a distracted and continuous conquest. During the last ten years, construction in Spain has been so fierce that the waste lands are considered a monument. Occupation as a means of passing time, and as conquest‚Äîa possession of space by force, an aggressive action against ‚Äúthe emptyness‚Ä?. What is Spain doing in New MoMA? 8. <‚Ä?New»: discovery >. Is Spain a new discovery on process of collonization?. Is it Terence Riley ‚Äúdiscovering‚Ä? Spain.

The occupation of the ground is part of the phenomena of constraint and dispossession that has ocuured continually since the beginning of the Spanish Civil War (1936-2006). Spain, dispossesed of its character by a forty-year dictatorship; tortured by the feelings of inferiority germane to the humiliated; lacking self confidence; offers itself again as ground to be possessed. The scale of the offering is such that it could only come about if the dispossession is complete. <A woman (american) told me that wounded by her husband’s (spanish architect) continuous infidelities, she copulated with each and every member of a basketball team) >. The structure of repression swings from the most absolute restriction to the wildest riot. Spain, after many years of dictatorship spent with closed borders, and after years of adaptation to its new democratic state, opens itself to internacional participation and does so in a measureless, excessive fashion, offering itself in an architecure bid.

The scale of the offering is perverse. Perverse

because the most formal projects sit in the very location of the political conflict, (Bilbao) and the very same individuals that were part of the long dictatorship advocate radical projects, (Galicia). Figthing terrorism with archiecture and the re-fashioning of rightist politics: is this perverse or simply brilliant?.

This perversity is diffused by the presence of thirty-five spanish architects, who serve as a distraction from questions of the political contexts of the eighteen major projects. Those thirty-five projects, in a double peversity and dispossession occupy the ground with a powerful formal presence and apparent political neutrality, as if the political dimension in Spain is an open wound that cannot be touched.

© Jana Leo

Febrero 7-21 2006. Nueva York-Madrid-NuevaYork.

Jana Leo is Ph.D, Autonoma University of Madrid and Master on Architecture, Princeton University.