Singapore Strait: An Urban Portrait
The Urbanisation of the Sea
Milica Topalović
The space of the North Sea is almost fully planned and it has been loaded with the task of increasing economic production from both new and traditional maritime sectors. At the same time, it has been emptied of cultural significance.

Through different projects from academia, art, literature and practice, from analysis to design, The Urbanisation of the Sea explores synergies for designing this new spatial realm.

Port City expert Carola Hein, professor of History of Architecture and Urban Planning at Delft University of Technology, and Nancy Couling, associate professor at the Bergen School of Architecture and researcher of the urbanised sea, combine forces to guide the reader through this complex and fascinating topic.
Land as Project: On Territorial Construction
Infrastructure Space
Milica Topalovic
The scale and speed at which earth-work projects can now be implemented warrants an examination of the problematic of land reclamation for territorial expansion. Touching upon the role of major infrastructure projects that have reshaped Singapore’s coastline, the essay charts a route through the history of what are not just constructions of land and infrastructure, but also of political power relations.
The Architecture of Territory?
Cartha Magazine
Milica Topalovic
Fifty years after The Architecture of the City, should architects consider the Architecture of the Territory?

In the mid-1960s, Rossi’s book revolutionised ways in which architects engaged with urbanisation. The megalopolis, the urban region and the levelling of differences between the city and the countryside, were the characteristic urban phenomena of the period. Fifty years on, the scales of the urban have continued to magnify, and architectural tools for dealing with them have continued to erode. Rossi’s text remains relevant; it sounds even truer today. Should then the scope of the discipline of architecture be broadened once again, beyond the limits of the city, to include urban territories? Do the scales of urbanisation today demand a larger view?
trans 24
Bas Princen and Milica Topalovic
From the essay: “The oil palm is an image, an object whose possible meaning is not yet fixed. It should not be mistaken for the icon of tropicality and leisure, but it should also not be dismissed as a symbol of indifference and hypertrophy of global consumption. Instead, the oil palm could be seen the marker of a new geography of the underrepresented and the unfamiliar; an image that suggests a possible transformation and still evoking the excitement of the unknown. What are the hidden stories of the production forests?”
FCL Magazine 02
Milica Topalovic in conversation with Narelle Yabuka
A study of the hinterland and productive territories around Singapore, as well as the flow of sand and other resources that have fuelled its growth, led Assistant Professor Milica Topalovic of ETH Future Cities into the ‘negotiated territories’ of map production. In this interview she talks about the nature and processes of her research, and uncovers her interest in a new urban paradigm for the region of Singapore—a ‘missing map’ of the future tri-national metropolis.
San Rocco 02
Rolf Jenni, Christian Inderbitzin and Milica Topalovic
Rolf Jenni, Christian Mueller Inderbitzin and Milica Topalovic: When you published Il territorio dell’architettura in 1966, the phenomenon of the “città diffusa” had already appeared. Could you sketch an impression of how the Italian “territory” has been transformed between then and now? Which aspects of this transformation do you consider the most important and most surprising?

Vittorio Gregotti: Italy is very different from other European countries. The only thing that these all have in common is having a dense network of settlements. Europe and Italy represent a special case compared to the rest of the world, where development is dense but made of many parts – where small and medium-sized cities still have a recognizable dimension. Then there are phenomena of conurbation, as can be found around Naples and Milan. These are phenomena that should not be misunderstood as frequently happens, because in Italy the administrative system that defines the areas of the jurisdiction of an urban centre does not follow a logic of unification based on economic or infrastructural factors.

These fields or areas stand as historical administrative areas or units, but they have become quite detached from reality. The difficulty in Italy, as in other nations, is that these administrative dimensions are often political in nature and inevitably produce conflicts between each city and the others around it. All of this creates an obstacle that can only be overcome with difficulty by those who still have the will to engage in urban and territorial planning. The fact that this will to engage no longer exists is another matter altogether.

The reason for this situation is that we have surrendered. No one has the desire to formulate hypotheses about the future anymore, and this situation has been getting worse since 1966. There is a fantastic book called La megalopoli padana (The Megalopolis of the Po Valley, 2000) by Eugenio Turri, an Italian geographer, that describes the megalopolis of the Po River area interpreted as the degeneration of Jean Gottmann’s concept of the megalopolis from 1961: an urban system that has become unified without any kind of project or plan, eating up the agricultural territory around it. This is the most amazing thing, this renunciation of any attempt to predict or hypothesize about the future.

RJ, CMI, MT: We have made an interesting discovery in Italy that we call territorial globalization. In our research, we didn’t find places that still function based on a local or rural economy. From the nation’s coasts to the summits of the Apennines, nearly all of the areas we looked at have been affected by global economic relations in various ways. This holds true for other parts of Europe, too. Could you comment on this phenomenon?

VG: Well, we must first clarify what globalization is. It is not the relationship between civilizations but rather a neocolonial attempt to homogenize values, behaviours and consumption. This is the condition in which capitalism has found itself since it shifted from being industrial in nature to being financial and global in character. Financial capitalism generates points of view regarding its relationship to architecture and landscape that are completely different from those of industrial capitalism.

First of all, industry no longer has a relationship with the landscape; instead it has a relationship with a place that is purely based on short-term convenience, so contemporary production is entirely de-territorialized. This is a particularly important phenomenon compared to what happened in the past with the spread of the service sector and with the new possibilities that were opened up by communications technologies and their homogeneous messages. If you go to Shanghai or Mexico City, in the centre of the city you find not only the same stores with the same brands, but also the same values, behaviours and expectations that the media has promoted.

Obviously, the interconnection between things has become stronger in Europe as well: here, too, there has been huge development in both intersubjective and collective intellectual communication. This completely different form of communication has been changing local culture greatly over the last thirty years, sometimes in a positive way, but sometimes with lethal consequences for the culture of our discipline.

It is my opinion that local communities do not have the ambition of contributing to our civic future through their uniqueness; instead they prefer to imitate the overarching culture of the global community. For almost half of the twentieth century, a country like Italy was organized primarily on the basis of agriculture. Now agricultural production is entirely secondary, or it has been industrialized, and so it functions differently. Rural culture in Italy, in turn, has been urbanized in terms of both its tastes and its expectations, just as it has throughout the rest of Europe. All social behaviour has become urban in nature, even if you live in a farmhouse in the countryside. Even our ways of thinking have become urban: they all reflect an urban condition whose terms are defined by the oligarchies in power.

RJ, CMI, MT: It is tempting to say that the character of these transformations undermines the very notion of territory. Territory is, by definition, created by the presence of political borders and other boundaries, as well as the clear distinction between countryside and city. In contrast to the notion of territory, the concept of the field suggests the loss of borders and clarity. Since the 1960s, we might say, territories have been vanishing and the field has been forming. How would you define the relationship between these two concepts of “territory” and “the field”? Are they in opposition to one another?

VG: No, underlying these two concepts of territory and the field there is the notion of geography – or rather anthropological geography, since natural geography does not exist. Geography is all based on the fact that the community decides on whether to leave certain natural areas as they are, turn them into agricultural resources, or use them for construction. French geographers paired geography with history, perceiving that within a certain basin, zone or area there are a number of settlements and that these settlements have relationships that are based on the way in which people have settled there over time for economic and political reasons.

This situation has been consolidated throughout the twentieth century to the point that in the 1960s Jean Gottmann outlined a theory of territory that raises the question of how a territory could be organized according to the issues of distance and the different roles of its component parts – the idea of the city-region. This concept enjoyed little success, however, because there was an abandonment of the idea of imposing a territorial design due to and with the productive change of global capitalism. There was a renunciation of imagining this type of organization, which offered the possibility of managing the territory.

This occurred especially in Europe, where in fact the density of settlements, combined with the possibilities provided by communications technologies, would have allowed the assignment of different roles and functions to various parts without merging them into a single confused urban field. The endless aggregation of buildings that resulted is simply the consequence of speculation. There are no other reasons for this, except the vague (and primitive) notion that freedom should be understood only as a lack of obstacles. According to this approach, everyone does whatever the hell he wants to. This particular understanding of invention and of freedom is essential to understanding not only the Italian situation, but also, I believe, that of the European Union. The reason that “the territory” is no longer organized is that we have given up on the idea of planning.

The expansion of the city – its infinite expansion – has resulted in sprawl (or slums, in developing countries). Along with this development, citizens became city-users, and the city became a series of camps with very precise borders between rich and poor areas, between areas occupied by people who migrate to the city for work and areas where temporary inhabitants live and between the parts occupied by foreigners, and those inhabited by the city’s regular residents. There are entire areas of territory outside the city that have been transformed into such “camps”, and these can be extremely useful, because they are places that can be easily supplanted by more financially expedient territorial uses.

RJ, CMI, MT: In your book Il territorio dell’architettura you urged the architects to broaden the territory or scope of architecture beyond the matrix of the traditional city – to make contact with the territory, and to measure, modify and utilize it. Do you think that this approach is still valid today?

VG: I have to make a clarification here. We must be careful, because the term “traditional city” does not mean much. There are very different types of traditional cities; Greece invented the polis while Rome invented the complex concept of civitas, whose combination of different elements occurred without any sense of order. The Roman city was much more complex, much less ordered and much less clear than we think, and I think this is true of many ancient cities; they were far more complex systems than we realize.

Then, we must consider that there is an important issue related to the size of the city. When the scale of the city is perceived, understood and remembered by its citizens, this perception produces an identifiable image and a shared memory. But if, for instance, the city has a population of thirty million, then this is no longer possible.

Today the architect is extremely weak. The architect now has less and less influence with regard to the development of the territory and the city; he is one of the less important actors. Think about the fact that large-scale building projects today are usually overseen by powerful real estate companies that have certain priorities – marketing, economics, safety – a fact which makes architects entirely secondary players. To give you a specific example, when it came to redesigning the Milan trade fair in the city’s centre, they held a mock competition that got prominent architects involved, but the only thing that mattered in the ultimate selection of the winning entry was the economic aspect, despite the fact that the project associated with this proposal was the most anti-urban of them all.

RJ, CMI, MT: The territory’s form is the result of both natural processes and human activity. To acknowledge this form, you once wrote, is to experience “a shock between geometry and geography”. The construction of territory can therefore be an aspect of the architect’s competence. How, then, should we approach the territories of today through architecture?

VG: The relationships between things are as important as the things themselves. The spaces between buildings need to be designed just as much as the buildings do. If we had the opportunity to control very large development projects, we could imagine attempting to address the territory and its geographical, historical and natural features. If we could look at things from this point of view, I am absolutely convinced that we could put forward interesting proposals. The problem is that the architectural culture of recent years has gone in the opposite direction – the direction of the object – and is more interested in enlarging the object, than in fostering the relationships that can exist between objects.

RJ, CMI, MT: André Corboz, among others, has made the argument that territory has become fully urbanized – that it has been conquered by the city. Through technology and infrastructure, any location, no matter how remote or hostile, is now accessible to an urban dweller and fit for urban living. Furthermore, the city itself seems to be ever more emancipated from the constraints of geography and the conditions of the physical context in which it is situated. Corboz thus concluded that under these conditions “territory can no longer serve as a unit of measurement of human phenomena”. But what does that tell us about territorial planning and design? Have these practices become completely arbitrary, decorative processes?

VG: If these practices were simply decorative, it would be better not to deal with them at all. Nobody would care. There is always this misunderstanding when the discussion comes down to territory or geography and these are understood simply as a backdrop. In an area with a big city operating as a matrix with respect to its surroundings, relationships and developments obviously depend on this centre. The city spreads out in different ways over its surrounding territory. Starting from a recognition of these circumstances, it is possible to begin to develop a few ideas. One may think that this spreading out over the surrounding territory is infinite and without interruption, or one may think that the territory is arranged according to a discontinuous pattern. This is another method of organization, which is totally different, and this is the central problem of the entire debate.

The problem is that in the 18th century a discipline called “urban planning” was born, but now it practically no longer exists. Planning has become economic planning, or large-scale political planning or geographic planning, or else it has shrunk to the point of focusing on the isolated architectural object. There are no more intermediate steps: from the architectural point of view, the concept of urban design has disappeared. At the same time, the whole idea of the regulation of large urban systems has disappeared; this now lies within the purview of economists, geographers and politicians, not that of urban planners.

RJ, CMI, MT: In Italian debate during the 1950s and ’60s, the concept of il territorio (territory) played an important role in the work of various writers and groups. Apart from you, Rossi and Tafuri, for example, Muratori and Archizoom used it as well. Could you tell us how the concept of il territorio appeared in this context and what its specific meaning was? How did it compare to territory, or le territoire?

VG: When Il territorio dell’architettura was published, no one used the word “territory”; it entered the cultural debate only in the 1970s. Before that, we used words like city or metropolis, but not “territory”. For instance, the Archizoom group had a fascination for technology. They did not deal with the territory; instead, their designs flew over it – the land no longer existed. They had an abstract idea of the ground, not a concrete one. In contrast, there were others, like Muratori, who saw the ground in terms of its history, distilling an architectural style from the understanding of this history.

Several interpretations have been given since the discovery – which occurred ten years earlier, between 1951 and 1952 – of this relationship with history. The big difference is the fact that the CIAM began to discuss modern architecture’s relationship with history, and this became a big issue. “The Heart of the City” was the title of the groundbreaking debate, which I myself witnessed, among the great architects of the modern movement about the meaning of history, and about whether or not history was something that was compatible with the methodology of the modern. This discussion occurred at the 1951 CIAM congress in Hoddesdon, and it was what largely characterized that period. These positions not only react to one another, but also obviously have differences that over time have undergone a change in perspective.

Looking back, the terrific discussions that I may have had with my friends in those years now seem of little importance. Muratori is a typical example of someone we all considered to be highly conservative. For instance, his project for social housing in Mestre was considered very conservative, particularly compared to Quaroni’s, which we all considered very appropriate and suitable to the site. This view, which would change over the years, produced very radical differences at that time.

In my 1966 book, I was playing with the profound ambiguity of the word territorio, because in Italian this word can have two meanings: it can be used to define the area in which a discipline operates, but it can also be used to define the physical geography of a place. A friend of mine who is a psychoanalyst suggested the book’s title to me precisely because it brought this ambiguity into play. The book investigates the specificity of the territory of the architect, both as a territory of expertise and as an expertise with regard to territory. Perhaps this double meaning of territorio exists in French, too; I am not sure that it exists in English.

Aldo Rossi, for example, maintained a very rigid notion of territory from the point of view of the first meaning of the word – that is, the field in which the architect has to operate. For me, the interesting thing was the ambiguity of and the relationship between these two meanings, while for him the territory of architecture had very precise boundaries: those of classical architecture. He moved within these limits and demanded that everybody else do the same. His rationalism was of a passionate kind, whereas mine is critical in nature.

RJ, CMI, MT: In your design practice over the years, you have continued to work on an exceptionally large scale, usually with a strong focus on the relationship between the architectural object and the landscape. You have also written that implementing large-scale works led you to examine principles and methods that would adapt to the realities of production. Could you talk a bit about large-scale design strategies that have proven feasible over the years, both conceptually and in relation to the realities of production?

VG: Let’s take the case of Pujiang, a new city of 100,000 inhabitants near Shanghai. It is located in a place where initially there was nothing but a few houses, but it was crisscrossed by a large number of waterways. The strategy has been to try to focus on the only thing that Chinese culture and European culture have in common: the pattern of the city, its orthogonal layout. This concept of using the orthogonal grid as a regulating and mixing device is a very important one, and it has always been present in the tradition of European cities. It is a tradition that incorporates monumental parts and less monumental ones, thereby creating a functional and social mix that has been one of the most important elements of the European urban tradition. These two elements then encounter a landscape that has its own specific characteristics and provides certain opportunities. The landscape of Pujiang, however, is a flat one where there was water, which could become the dialectical element that was integral to the overall composition of the city.

Of course, this concept is challenged by a multitude of other elements involved in the process, such as the client, planning regulations, Chinese habits and attitudes, and the harmful influences that the Chinese have absorbed from the Russians and the Americans, among other things. All these issues must then deal with regulations, size, techniques and other problems of this kind, which are the ones that ultimately articulate architectural form. For us, the confrontation with reality is unavoidable, and it is necessary that this relationship becomes critical, not just a mere reflection of the state of affairs.

In Milan, 26 April, 2011
Oase 84
Milica Topalovic
From the editorial: In Milica Topalovic’s essay she asks herself what it is that makes a model into a model and, based on work by the artists Guillaume Bijl, Hans Schabus and Gregor Schneider, reaches the conclusion that the crucial factor is the ‘reality’ of the model rather than the more obvious reduced scale. […] Models situate themselves somewhere between instrument, representation, object and sculpture. They hold the capacity to represent a diversity of intentions in a very direct manner. In architecture that representation is characterized by the plausible and lucid rendering of original ideas, at a stage that everyday reality has yet to reach. This is how Milica Topalovic encapsulates the model in her contribution: ‘If architecture is a veritable genre of space creation, then the model is fictional. If architecture serves to stabilize, reinforce and build up the structure of the real, models can be understood as the architecture of the imaginary. If architecture can structure our sense of reality, models can loosen and disrupt that structure – revealing the freedom that we have… . On the horizon of reality lies a skyline of paper volumes, cardboard coulisses and canvas cathedrals: everything reality does not yet believe in.’
San Rocco 00
Milica Topalovic

Here we stand
Like an Adam and an Eve
The Garden of Eden
. . .
From the age of the dinosaurs
Cars have run on gasoline
Where, where have they gone?
Now, it’s nothing but flowers
. . .
This used to be real estate
Now it’s only fields and trees
Where, where is the town?
Now, it’s nothing but flowers
Talking Heads, “(Nothing but) Flowers”
Naked album, 1988

It looks like it’s about trees rather than about architecture, and about gardens and forests instead of a city. Buildings and trees change places: trees are in the foreground, colourful and detailed, and buildings are in the background as discreet contours.
Garden Ideology
Each tree or plant is considered a unique being and is represented as such. Groups of trees and plants are not organized according to any formal school of landscape design. They are organic, as found; each group is an unrepeatable fragment of a larger continuum of Nature. Trees are the main protagonists in the space of the New Naive.

Garden Sociology
Trees are selected based on their physical characteristics. The trees depicted are young, with slender forms. They are of ordinary, unremarkable species, the kind found in suburban tree nurseries, at wasteland sites and on high-rise balconies. They provoke sympathy with their fragility and simple beauty, and they look as if they need care; they are the innocents among trees.
Chairs, small furniture and sometimes everyday objects, bikes, garden tools or kitchenware are also represented as personalized and unique participants of this space. The little garden habitat provided by trees is populated in this manner. The chair-characters are small, often zoomorphic and grouped in the space playfully, as it were, avoiding orderly or hierarchical configurations. Through this allegorical scene of everyday life, human presence is conveyed, in a soft focus.

The loose constellation of greenery, furniture and other things is lifted out of a familiar domestic setting and placed against a bright, abstract background (a reflective surface or a shadowless white). This simple gesture carries out a more complex operation, through which the space of everyday life (community space, domestic space) is, after a long absence, brought back under the lens of theoretical and aesthetic architectural inquiry. In the New Naive’s airy mise-en-scène, everyday routines – such as reading, talking with a friend or relaxing under the trees – are performed as aesthetic rituals.
“Like Humans Do”
Though often absent from the image, the New Naive’s human character introduces a particular cultural ethos: an air of restraint, a simple manner of life. Everything that used to “make homes so different, so appealing”, modern consumerism and pop culture, has departed. The implied individuals don’t “share space” with artworks, or with any other objects that would promote their social status, political orientation or sexual identity. The living space appears calm, tensionless and freed from any aesthetic pluralism, from parallel narratives and jump cuts. There are no external agendas or other will: culturally, the New Naive is a homogeneous territory.

Liberation from Architecture
Architecture has a weak expression, providing no more than a subtle backdrop in this theatre of the everyday. Though at first it may seem abstract or minimalist, the design process is more focused: the usual interest in the strong outward appearance of an architectural object is tempered, and attention is instead deflected away from the object toward the foreground, the enclosed space, the light, the action. The roles are reversed; architecture steps down and sets landscape and interior free from their traditional subordinate roles. In this seemingly benign transformation, a quiet revolution takes place: New Naive architects declare the suspension of the profession, design without obligation to architecture as it is usually known.

It looks like the New Naive architect also searched for ways to unlearn his skills. For example, he tried to move against the drawing rhetoric he had been taught, replacing his usual technical repertoire with a new authority derived from the drawing of children. The childish, naive-looking manner in which the space is depicted seems to suggest that leaving behind formal jargons of architecture can enable a more essential understanding of space to emerge: a space of sensation, of bodily experience, a “space before the analytical distancing that language entails”.1 This would allow qualities of randomness, spontaneous creativity and balance with Nature, a return to both the design of space and its inhabitation. All it takes to change architecture is changing its language, and this, in turn, will change space and life itself.

Clearly, what is at stake are, on the one hand, human relationships: the multiple, often indeterminate groupings in contemporary society, including family and neighbourhood. On the other hand, there are the relationships between people and nature. Both domains are seen as threatened and nearly dissolved in present-day society and the present-day city. The New Naive proposes that both could be restored to their vital, even native, modes in an environment freed from the normative influences of architectural and urban space. A new kind of architecture – one attuned to the body, the senses and a delicate childlike quality lurking in contemporary urbanity – could contribute to the vision of a close-knit urban society living with nature.
This agenda is being formed through several distinct architectural strategies.

Plan as Natural Order
A plan is a “horizontal world” composed fact-by-fact, with careful attention. An apparent intellectual structure organizing the plan, such as universality or hierarchy, is withheld in favour of less controllable principles, such as juxtaposition, simultaneity and proximity. The rhetoric of the plan avoids the usual syntax; the plan doesn’t say much about the program. Space is conceived as “organic”, elastic. Sometimes it is compressed to the utmost, into a kind of a cellular structure, and at other times structure is irregular and open: things can just happen amidst the forest of trees and columns. In this procedure, naivety and the nature metaphor go hand in hand. The effort to conceal the presence of design intelligence here – to “look undesigned” – serves as a promise of an architecture based on the natural order.

The New Primitives
Among links between the New Naive and other currents of artistic naivety – for instance, at the beginning of twentieth century in the works of Henri Rousseau, Paul Gauguin and the Fauves – is their shared fascination with the primitive. Surely, the primitive is never a quest for the lost past or mythical origins, but rather an intervention in a specific social, psychological and cultural context. Like in any accomplished naive genre, proponents of the New Naive present this case lightly, turning it into a piece of fiction: they talk about nests and caves, and build tree houses and primitive huts. Naives, of course, know no shame – and therein lies their power. For avant-garde art, “primitive” essentially meant “pre-modern” – the (exotic) world standing in conflict with forces of colonial modernization – but in this case, the interest in the primitive has an entirely opposite character. It suggests a future, post-modern and post-urban condition in which the city dweller begins to seek a place of escape, away from the city and “the obsessive homogeneity of the modern dwelling”.2 That idealized locus is no longer in a distant “land of exotic otherness” as it was for the avant-garde but, surprisingly, is found in ordinary, even banal, places: in suburban houses, shops, town halls. It is the attraction of “the other and the outside” revealed among “us”, in the “here and now”.

To construct such a space of fresh aesthetic and cultural sensibility from an ordinary, banal one, the New Naive, in keeping with its character, applies a strategy of erasure. Buildings often appear like white erasures, Baldessari-style cut-outs placed within images – white ideograms, at once abstract and iconic. Caught by a flat, white object floating in the image space, the eye tries to extrude it, to put it on the ground or “redraw” the missing part of the image. Additional visual techniques used in the construction of the image bring naive art to mind once again: the treatment of composition as a two-dimensional collage, illumination without cast shadows, scale and perspective manipulation. Miniscule furniture or thin, small building elements, for example, are crucial to effect of familiarity and pleasantness that the space as a whole achieves. Looking inside, into the white interior, the erasure of elements, details and textures produces a similar effect. In even light, white surfaces collapse together, and space loses depth. Failing to cast shadows, the objects and human figures appearing in images lack context and seem to be pasted to the image surface. The action of looking turns into an unconscious attempt to reconstruct spatial relations.
The resulting image is not strange, and not even new. To the contrary, through subtle manipulation of ordinary, recognizable relations (colour, scale, proportion, etc.), the New Naive succeeds in transforming precisely the familiar image into an object of fascination.

White Noise
Save for, perhaps, its associations of lightness and simplicity, and for a distant relation to early modern architecture, the use of white is not symbolic; in fact it seems that the opposite is the case. Here, white can be understood as an absence of meaning, an erasure in both physical and semantic space.
It should be admitted: architecture can be unbearable. It can be polluted; it can overstimulate the senses and the mind with the static of countless distracting references and narratives written into building elements, material surfaces and architectural relations. Against that visual and semantic noise, erasure is used as a counter-principle, creating a unifying quality of “silence” that is of the kind found, for instance, in a white-paper model. White is thus much more than a colour: it is the main design strategy, a (metaphorical) operation of turning a building into paper. It is the way of thinking, the logic of architecture.
In this approach, naivety is indispensable. The strategic withholding of knowledge (an apparent naive ignorance) nonetheless wields a critical edge. With systematic brilliance, the proponents of the New Naive “don’t understand” architecture, precisely in order to open up a space for “wonder” about what it might be. Not only architectural axioms, but also every architectural concept and object are brought into question: what is their necessity or redundancy, their essence? What remains after erasure are a few irreducible facts, concepts and forms – the beginning of a new language.

House and City
In a quintessentially modern house (think of the Villa Savoye, for example) everything “seems to be disposed in a way that continuously throws the subject toward the periphery of the house”, toward the view. “The look is directed to the exterior in such a deliberate manner as to suggest the reading of these houses as frames for a view”3 or in fact a series of overlapping frames. The relationship of modern dwellings to the city in which they are found is almost always that of “lookouts dominating a world in order”,4 as Le Corbusier himself wrote. In this sense modern architecture had reinvented a window frame as a problem of urbanism. 
In a similar manner, New Naive houses are often conceived as viewing devices. Series of overlapping (white) screens frame and make a montage of views of both interior and exterior into what appears as a single, three-dimensional display of simultaneous images (for example, “grey rooftops”, “a green wall”, “a bedroom with a cat”, “a clear sky” and, ultimately, “whiteness” itself). Against an abstract white screen, a framed view often loses depth and transforms itself into an illusion of an image display, enhancing the perception of a house as a technological artifice. Through the seemingly “endless” layering of screens and frames, domestic life is directed as an elaborate spectacle of voyeurism and performance – of looking while simultaneously being aware of being watched. In contrast to modernist “lookouts” dominating the orderly world, these houses are inward-looking, and even slightly defensive; the subject of fascination is the interior. An occasionally revealed view of a city introduces a sense of detachment: when displayed against a dematerialized white surface, a regular, dense and chaotic cityscape, for example, turns into a fictive image of a historical artefact that looks as if it is losing its purpose. Through the fiction of the framed view, the New Naive creates a place of escape from the city. A house becomes a detached, futuristic lookout with a view of the city of the past.

The New Naive
Is Not Naive
Naivety was often misunderstood. Anything from Gustave Courbet’s Deer in the Forest to Andy Warhol’s Flowers was regularly being taken at face value. But the myth of innocence and ignorance is not relevant here; the artless and the artful, the naive and the worldly usually take each other’s guise. It is understood that the naive manner is not “sincere”, but rather stylistic and strategic.
As an artistic strategy, naivety emerged in the early twentieth century as one of the modern avant-garde movements. Interestingly, the pejorative sense of naive as “gullible” and “uninformed” appeared at precisely the same moment, eclipsing the prior affirmative connotations of “natural” and “unaffected”.5 Naivety begun to represent a counter-world to that of modern European civilization: the black, the primitive, the wild, etc. More than that, however, it began to include everything “exotic” beyond the geographical limit, the experience of life that lay outside definitions of modern normalcy and “the homogenizing control of (modern) knowledge”.6 A similar fascination with the vernacular, the spontaneous and the ordinary can be traced throughout modern architecture. Seen in this way, the function of naivety appears corrective, critiquing and balancing the dominant knowledge regimes of the modern era. An assumption can be made that, in a sense, the Modern and the Naive always went together. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, naivety has been used as a strategy of intervening in the history of modernism.

The ways in which the New Naive questions modern paradigms have already been hinted at in this text: its distrust for universal models, its reinvention of architectural language, its disinterest in the idea of a city as an intelligible spatial entity. They seem to suggest that architecture can continue to be a relevant reflection of society but in a radically reversed perspective: they propose that the house offers a means of reinventing a city, a family and a community as a way to reform society, and they see locality as an agent of shifting balance between urban space and nature, and promote everyday life as the critical cultural practice. This is small-scale modernism, if that is conceivable. In any case, they seem to know much more about the power of small things.
Moreover, it is a modernism for a complex world, one that is not just universally growing and progressing, but also ageing, stagnating and shrinking. In this context, the relevant knowledge of architecture concerns not only the problem of growth, but also that of erasing its traces.

In its indirect and unpretentious way, the New Naive is thus concerned with envisioning the future of the urban. It might be called modernist, or it might not; it doesn’t matter, really. Sure, they bow to the twentieth century, from l’esprit nouveau to the culture of congestion, but what they really want to talk about are some clean white spots and some small trees that they see springing up in the cracks of the global metropolis.
So, what will happen to cars and parking lots? And what about suburbs and malls? And what about towns and cities?, I hear you asking. They don’t know actually; nobody does. But if we give it some time, the world may turn out very differently. Like in the song, in the end there will be nothing but flowers.

August 2010

1 Beatriz Colomina, Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996), 264.
2 Toyo Ito, “Theoretical and Sensorial Architecture: Sou Fujimoto’s Radical Experiments”, 2G (Barcelona), 50 (2009), 8.
3 Colomina, Privacy and Publicity, 283.
4 Ibid., 306.
5 Kelly Mark Cresap, “Warhol and the Art of Cultivated Postmodern Naivete”, Ph. D. dissertation (University of Virginia, 1998), 15; downloadable at
6 Christopher Green, “The Exotic in the Banal: The Other Side of the Douanier’s Charm”, in Henri Rousseau (Riehen and Basel: Beyeler Museum AG, 2010), 17.