Undisciplinary is the personal wiki of Martin Zemlicka.

Reiner de Graaf - the Risk of Realism

25.11.2014, Architectural Association, London



The 20th century taught us that utopian thinking can have precarious consequences, wagering the fate of mankind on the uncertain outcome of grand intellectual speculations. But, if the course of history is dialectic, what follows? Does the 21st century mark the absence of utopias? Isn’t that equally dangerous, if not more?

What are the risks of realism? What ensues in the wake of an almost universal realization that what is good and what works are not necessarily the same? What are the dangers of a world that embraces a definitive divorce between what is just and what is effective?


  1. The fall of the Berlin Wall is generally attributed as a success of the west.
    1. There is a flipside to this: the Wall was constructed as an anti-fascist measure.
    2. Even before the wall fell, the USSR offered unilateral disarmament.
    3. Regarding the collapse of the east, Gorbachev should be given credit.
    4. Rainer is interested if this duality is also present in the history of architecture.
  2. 1972 Pruitt Igoe demolition.
    1. Jencks - end of modern architecture.
    2. Featured in Koyaanisqatsi
    3. With the way history works, with the demolition we got rid of / rejected Metabolism, Ville Radieuse, Team X, etc.
  3. Reiner tried to reconstruct the series of events that led to the demolition. Also see The Pruitt-Igoe myth, film.
    1. Since the 30s, St. Louis had depopulation
    2. People leaving cities, poorer people stay in the city.
    3. 1949, US Housing Act, unlocked federal funds for housing.
    4. Yamasaki, solicited. In the early 50s during the design phase there was still segregation, blacks were to live in Pruitt, whites in Igoe. By the completion, segregation abolished.
    5. Beginning years: 97% occupancy rate.
    6. Then the beginning of the suburbanisation trend.
    7. Ironically, the segregation abolished by the Supreme Court was re-installed by geographic segregation.
    8. By the early 70’s, St Louis’ population halved, Pruitt-Igoe population quartered.
    9. Architecture press changes mind and starts criticising the project.
    10. Change in legislation meant that the government no longer paid for maintenance and cleaning, with reduced residents the costs were unbearable.
    11. Demolition and huge fame.
    12. This is not just historical bickering, let’s compare to today.
  4. The whole city of St.Louis around Pruitt-Igoe is gone. Compare aerial images, there is almost nothing in the area.
    1. St. Louis has huge homelessness.
    2. St. Louis has huge crime.
    3. IBM awarded St. Louis an award for using smart technologies to stop crime, which they supplied.
  5. We can see a trend: tech companies are taking over tasks from public offices.
  6. Picketty - capital in the 21st Century
    1. Used to suggest that architecture’s utopian and societal era is linked to the times when inequality was low. 1914 - 1989
  7. 1914 - 1989 we had utopia
    1. We know the risks that entails. The question is what we will have after. We know what we had before - feudalism.
    2. While in the past (during utopia, Pruitt-Ingoe) there was a divide between a rich and the poor that needed to be addressed, now there is a divide between the included and excluded. The change here is that the excluded don’t have to be taken into account when implementing growth/change. Quotes Baudrillard, America.
  8. The world used to be split into “democratic” (had elections) and “totalitarian” (didn’t have elections). Now there is a new category, an in between, composed of countries that have elections but you know the result beforehand. eg: Venezuela, Egypt.
    1. Architects work a lot in the in-between countries. So much so that there is a celebration of them in the profession. On their efficiencies.
    2. Qutotes Foster, Koolhaas, Eisenman, Gehry, Tschumi, praising such regimes.
  9. Question time notes:
    1. “I didn’t mean to be pessimistic.”
    2. Speaker points out that nothing was proposed. Answer: “I’m not of the school, and this is a very Dutch thing in a way, that if you have an analysis you also need to have a solution.”
    3. “To treat finance as an aspect of design is absent in architecture”
    4. “If you go to any computer conference, any TED talk, you see this whole wave of naive optimism.”