Architecture and Revolution: Contemporary Perspectives on Central and Eastern Europe

By Neil Leach | Go to book overview

6

Policing the body

Descartes and the architecture of change

Andrew Benjamin

Perhaps the most remarkable legacy of the regime in Romania is the architecture of Bucharest. The complicated problem of what to do with this legacy is the subject of this paper. 1 The problem is both architectural and philosophical. Repeating the destruction that created the present city by a further act of destruction is not an intervention. What must be done involves developing ways of understanding the regime's own urbanism and thus ways of countering it. Fundamental to both is thinking a conception of the new or the other which demands the abeyance of destruction on the one hand and the refusal of a nostalgic sense of recovery on the other. (The latter would be the new as the rediscovery of a lost tradition.) Approaching this issues via Descartes may seem aberrant; but the real strength of the Cartesian formulation of the interplay between the philosophical and the architectural is that it is premised on the interconnection between destruction and the new. The limits of Descartes therefore are central to thinking the limits of this conception of modernity.

One of the problems confronting any attempt to present conceptually, let alone enact, fundamental change will be the housing of that which occurs in the process and as the consequence of such change. While it will always be essential to hold to particularity, it remains the case that this problem will endure within philosophy as much as it will within architecture. Not only must there be the possibility that change can be registered, given the impossibility of sustaining a successful link between change and either the utopian project or a metaphysics of destruction, it must also be the case that there will be a form continuity. What this means is that an integral part of the problem stems from having to give formal presence to a discontinuous continuity. Within the context of the countries comprising the former Eastern Europe, part of the challenge to be faced if the authoritarian regimes that characterised their former existences are no longer to be politically or architecturally present, is how to house the future. (This is, of course, a question concerning the present and not an imagined future.)

Engaging with the issues that arise will demand the resources of architects, political scientists and philosophers. Philosophy is positioned by such questions because philosophy has consistently concerned itself with the problems of cessation and continuity, and inclusion and exclusion. 2 Analysing the way these problems are taken up will open up differing ways in which the interplay

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