In remarks on The Manhattan Transcripts, Bernard Tschumi has noted that architecture – conceived as a tripartite system of objects, movements and events – has the capacity to operate at multiple registers of reciprocity, indifference and conflict. In other words, building forms can coincide with their programs, provide a deterministic form for indeterminate programs, or create forms that purposefully clash with programs. Each choice is subjective (aka not neutral) and political.
More recently, in a statement accompanying a multimedia exhibition at Sci-Arc entitled “The Figure Ground Game,” architects Jeffery Kipnis and Stephen Turk proclaimed as their primary curatorial desire “to see comedy achieve an equivalent status to tragedy in architecture.” Projects that were included in the show possessed, in Kipnis’ words, a “prejudice against rectitude,” and a “deadpan playfulness.”
Given this conceptual backdrop (Tschumi’s reference to the design process versus built outcomes, and Kipnis’ interest in reception and composition), the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee School of Architecture & Urban Planning (SARUP) proposes the theme “Play with the Rules” for the 2018 ACSA Fall conference. What are the rules that encircle the production of architecture? Both within and outside academia, architecture is continually confronted with a myriad of constraints: budget, site, program, codes, schedule, structure, clients, accreditation, etc. How can these parameters be mobilized to ends that rethink the role of rules in architecture? Can rules be a form of play? Rather than limiting what we can do, how might rules be rewritten (or recast) to generate new possibilities for architectural production? How can play influence rules, such that the latter operate as part of a speculative enterprise that manifest new forms of expression? What is the relationship between codes and canons? What are the norms and the deviations that currently inform local and global zeitgeists? In an era of heightened technocratic control, is it possible for architecture to anticipate, and even script, nascent futures?
The conference posits these questions in light of an exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) entitled “Serious Play: Design in Midcentury America,” which opens in September 2018. The exhibition will explore a variety of designers who embraced the spirit of whimsy, arguing that during a time of high anxiety in the United States, one solution was to design playfully. Amplified in the Eames quote above, the MAM exhibition explores the idea of play as a form of design thinking and as a discursive term appropriate for all ages.